PAY-TO-PLAY OPINIONS & EDITORIALS (Some thoughts and insights from established musicians)

Pay-to-play promoters and company reps repeat it over and over. When it comes to their gigs/showcases/battles, there’s nothing that can take the place of the exposure your band will get. It’s the most common enticement that P2P promoters will offer. Even though musicians are getting ripped off on opportunities that never materialize, it’s often times the one word they’ll use when explaining why they accepted a pay-to-play event. So...

What about the exposure?

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime! Think of the exposure you’ll get!” Exposure. This word is musicians’ Kryptonite. The concept is so powerful it can even make the most seasoned vets play shows they would normally never dream of doing. If this word is even effective on the old timers, what chance does a new band have?

Pay-to-play promoters understand this. They know it well and use it to their full advantage. If they can convince inexperienced musicians that the benefit to their “career” will be so overwhelming (through playing to huge crowds in a massive unobtainable venue in front of industry professionals offering record contracts) they can get them to do practically anything. The promoter will give the impression that playing their event can lead to the big break every musician has been dreaming about.

The concept of exposure appears to be an addiction many musicians can’t shake. Even though the musician does not experience the outcome that these promoters promise, they will continue to come back for more and more. Like gambling, many are convinced that it only takes that one lucky roll of the dice (the right person to see them, the big show that breaks their career) to make their dreams come true.

You can especially tell when bands fall for it. It’s all over their facebook and reverbnation pages. Instead of playing normal shows and working up the ladder to better shows, their pages are saturated with pay-to-play “opportunities”. They are filled with BOTBs, ticket selling showcases, multiple posts urging friends and family to vote for them on-line for a spot on the Warped or Vans Tours, or opening for some national act. Many bands appear to put more effort into selling tickets for these golden opportunities that ultimately get them nowhere, than actually making music! Like playing the lottery, they’ll assume that if they do enough of these shows, eventually that Big Break will finally happen...or at least they’ll have a better shot at it. The reality is that the outcome is rarely worth the effort. It mostly turns out to be a time wasting drain of energy for your band and the goodwill of family and friends. People see through it and tire of it rapidly.

The fact is, when it involves pay-to-play, this “exposure” is often a hollow concept that is mostly meaningless. Now you may be saying, “Well I know a band who got a big break because they sold a lot of tickets.” But what are the odds? We all know the stories of the local gas station attendant who wins the ten million dollar Powerball. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to everybody. In fact, it hardly happens to anybody. Actually, the chances of either happening are so remote it’s barley worth mentioning. Like they say in Vegas; the percentage is always with the house.

It’s also important to remember that exposure is not exclusive to P2P shows. More exposure will come with every show you play. Everytime you perform live there will be new people to see you, new bands to meet, new friends to make. These promoters are not offering anything special, other than a huge deception. Even when a P2P show is packed, it is only due to high ticket sales from the bands, not the efforts of the promoter. Of course, the P2P promoters will take credit, but it’s credit they don’t deserve.

So what better opportunity to offer bands than exposure? It is the perfect pay-to-play enticement. It can’t be quantified. It can’t be traced. It’s impossible to put any kind of value on it. And when it doesn’t pan out, bands seldom discuss it again. It costs the promoter absolutely nothing and musicians will practically trip over themselves to obtain it. If a band buys into this con job, and is swayed to participate in a show they normally would never do, for the promoter “exposure” can be the most valuable incentive of all.

“Sell tickets to our show and you’ll have the opportunity to get massive exposure.” Exposure. Watch for it. Research it. And keep in mind what it could really mean.

by Bon Von Wheelie

Below are two excellent blogs Matti Eiriksson Frost has allowed us to share. Matti is lead singer and rhythm guitar player for the Quakertown, PA band Frost Giant and is also the administrator of the Anti Pay to Play Pennsylvania facebook group.
A Few Good Arguements Against Pay-To-Play

“In the past week since I've been discussing this, a few people have disagreed with me and offered a couple of arguments I'd like to address.

1. It's never going to change. Well, not with that cheerful outlook, it won't. Look, change doesn't happen just because we wish it to, it takes action and commitment and perseverance. Sometimes sacrifice. Hey, you may have to pass on opening for that big act if it means that you're ripping yourself off and contributing to a system that rips local and indie bands off.

2. You have a "misguided moral stance". Well, it is a moral stance of sorts, but it's not misguided. I value my art and I am honoring the hard work and sacrifice and money I've already put into the band. It's an insult to ask me to directly or indirectly pay to be on a show. Besides, I've been on the other side, I've sold tickets for my shows in previous bands. The return wasn't worth it.

3. You just can't sell the tickets and you're bitter because nobody wants to see you. Well, this isn't about me or MY band. It's about the music community in your general area and how it is served, or rather, disserviced by pay to play practices. It's not about whether or not a band is capable of selling tickets, it's the very notion that they should be doing it in the first place. Whether or not a band is capable is no indicator of whether or not they're good, as other factors come into play which I am sure will be elaborated on in future posts.

4. You won't get anywhere if you don't play the game. This one amuses me the most because I have yet to see a band who sells tickets get anywhere doing it, including bands I've been in before. I mean, if playing to your friends and the other bands is getting somewhere, you're better off throwing a party at your practice space and inviting a few bands to jam. More fun and less bullshit that way too.

More to come as the inevitable dissension comes rolling in...

Saying "No Thanks" to Pay-To-Play

The greatest thing ever these days is to decline the wonderful opportunity to sell tickets. I don't do it rudely or indignantly, just a polite "No, thanks". They actually look at you like you're crazy. "How can you say no to such a good opportunity? Think of the exposure!"

They don't get it. Let me spell it out for you. And imagine Kevin Spacey's voice saying the next set of words:

You have nothing I need.

Your opportunity does not appeal to me.

I do not need to pay you for the privilege of gracing your stage.

You have nothing I need.

On the other hand, bands have everything YOU need.

You need us to make music and play live so you can draw people into the venues to spend money.

You need us to act as feeder rats to help pad your overhead so you can meet the high guarantees of national or international acts.

You especially need us when there are no such gigs and you're starting at a dead bar.

So take warning- do not fuck with us. We're more than willing to work together and make a show worthwhile, fun, and profitable for all of us, but if you screw us over, your scene will die. We who attach value to what we do will not participate and all you will be left to work with will be bands that do not value their craft and woe to the ears unfortunate enough to hear that cacophony.

Look around you. Look at what pay-to-play has done. Your venues are barely scraping by. There's no scene building or loyalty. The good and experienced bands are going elsewhere or staying home. Why?

You have nothing we need.

Now reconsider your pay-to-play bullshit and come back with a deal that doesn't spit on my life's work

A Few Good Arguements Against Pay-To-Play by Matti

“This is thIn the past week since I've been discussing this, a few people have disagreed with me and offered a couple of arguments I'd like to address.

1. It's never going to change. Well, not with that cheerful outlook, it won't. Look, change doesn't happen just because we wish it to, it takes action and commitment and perseverance. Sometimes sacrifice. Hey, you may have to pass on opening for that big act if it means that you're ripping yourself off and contributing to a system that rips local and indie bands off.

2. You have a "misguided moral stance". Well, it is a moral stance of sorts, but it's not misguided. I value my art and I am honoring the hard work and sacrifice and money I've already put into the band. It's an insult to ask me to directly or indirectly pay to be on a show. Besides, I've been on the other side, I've sold tickets for my shows in previous bands. The return wasn't worth it.

3. You just can't sell the tickets and you're bitter because nobody wants to see you. Well, this isn't about me or MY band. It's about the music community in your general area and how it is served, or rather, disserviced by pay to play practices. It's not about whether or not a band is capable of selling tickets, it's the very notion that they should be doing it in the first place. Whether or not a band is capable is no indicator of whether or not they're good, as other factors come into play which I am sure will be elaborated on in future posts.

4. You won't get anywhere if you don't play the game. This one amuses me the most because I have yet to see a band who sells tickets get anywhere doing it, including bands I've been in before. I mean, if playing to your friends and the other bands is getting somewhere, you're better off throwing a party at your practice space and inviting a few bands to jam. More fun and less bullshit that way too.

More to come as the inevitable dissension comes rolling in...