14 PAY-TO-PLAY TALKING POINTS

If you follow politics (or watch programs like the Daily Show or the Colbert Report) you’ve no doubt noticed the “talking point” phenomenon. It’s actually an old propaganda technique that works very well. Simply repeat a phrase or give the same false information enough times and eventually people start to believe it. Of course it’s not true, but that isn’t the point. If the incorrect idea is repeated enough times, it suddenly becomes accepted.

The pay-to-play promoters have been hitting forums hard with this tactic. They repeat the same phrases and rationale over and over. It is repeated frequently. If they can repeat it enough (spin it), young musicians will start to believe their rhetoric and mimic it.

Next time you see a post from a promoter, an entire website (here's a prime example from Gorilla Music), or one of these “instructional” videos, check to see if it involves any of these popular talking points:


1. We don’t do pay to play. We only do what is called pre-sale.

Pre-sale is actually just a style of pay-to-play. The two terms describe the same practice - turning in money before a show. It is important for P2P promoters and companies to re-label a practice that is well-known and controversial among established musicians. The term pre-sale sounds more musician-friendly. Instead of changing the business model, it is far easier to attempt to replace the old term with one that is more palatable. From that point the promoter can argue that the new term is not the same - even though both have exactly the same result. If confusion can be created by constantly repeating the new phrase, it doesn’t take long for it to be accepted. It’s an old technique that works.

2. The money doesn’t come out of pocket but only through ticket sales. It’s not your money, therefore it’s not pay-to-play.

Pay to play promoters believe this is their loop-hole. They attempt to convince musicians that it’s not their money so they aren’t involved in a well-known scheme. Always remember: where the money comes from really has nothing to do with this practice. It’s the act of turning in the money (or with some recent changes urging family and friends to put money directly into their bank accounts on-line) that qualifies it as pay-to-play. If you are expected to turn in money or have money waiting in a bank account before you play, you are paying to play. It’s that simple.

Actually a good question would more acurately be, who’s money is it? You, the musician, did the extra job of selling tickets (in addition to the job of actually playing the show) and collected money for it. Doesn’t that money then become yours? At the point you exchange a ticket for payment it IS yours until you turn it in.

Think of it this way: If you sold the tickets but then lost the money, who would be responsible? The ticket purchaser has the ticket so they got what they paid for. And it’s guaranteed that the promoter would not replace that money (or even let you off the hook). The lost money would need to come from you. So who’s money is it? Don’t be fooled by this slippery talking point. Technically at that point, the money is coming from you.

3. We don’t require ticket sales to play our event so it couldn’t be pay-to-play.

Some companies and promoters might not REQUIRE it but they EXPECT it. There is only a slight difference between the definitions of “require” and “expect.”
Pre-sale P2P shows are completely set up around ticket sales and how much money you can turn in:
A. Better sales earns the band a better time slot
B. P2P reps call/email frequently to check on the progress of ticket sales and encourage higher sales
C. P2P companies send literature on how to sell tickets
D. P2P promoters make videos and write articles on how to better sell tickets

In other words, bands who will not sell tickets are put at such a disadvantage, it would be a waste of time not to just go ahead and sell the tickets. The band must make the decision to either sell tickets or not do the show.

Gorilla Music is well-known for their statement that they don’t require ticket sales so they would not be considered pay-to-play.

However, in the literature they send to every band they obviously expect it. In the “Letter of Understanding” they list ticket sales as the most important aspect of your contribution to their events:

Also notice in another official document about ticket sales. They expect a band to sell 30 tickets (turn in $240/$300 depending on the event) or they won’t be able to work with you again! Notice the manipulation: You don't want to let the other bands down, do you?


And you'll see with Afton Showcases, bands who don't sell enough tickets will have no guaranteed time-slot. Here is the stats from Afton and a snotty email from Afton rep Amy when somebody didn't like being put


Other companies like 2/20 Productions “Exposed Music Festival” actually throw the bands off the bill if the ticket sales hasn’t met with their expectations.

These companies and promoters put the non-selling musician at such a disadvantage, playing their shows without selling the tickets would be a waste of time. They can claim that they do not require ticket sales, but don't be fooled, they absolutely EXPECT it.

4. We don’t do shows like the old pay-to-play days of the 1980s/90s. Bands had to pay up front and that was P2P. This is pre-sale because we offer tickets that you can sell to family and friends. We offer this as a good way to make money.

Here’s something they don’t tell you...
In those old days of P2P there were tickets too. There have always been tickets involved with this practice. The only difference is that bands were usually required to purchase tickets up front.

BUT...
It was always described as a good way to make money for your band. The old promoters explained that if the band, for instance, purchased 100 tickets for $2 each ($200) they could immediately sell them for $5 and make a profit of $300. Or if they were a really hard working group they could sell them for $7 and make a profit of $500. This was almost a “gift” to bands. Promoters claimed they were implementing this to help the local scene. As history showed, it didn’t turn out that way. It is well documented that pay-to-play did not help the music scene.

Pay-to-play has always been pitched as a great way to help bands make money and connect with their fans, even though the obvious benefit was the promoters’.

Where the current pre-sale style of pay-to-play differs is that the bands don’t buy tickets up front. That doesn’t mean bands aren’t meeting the quota of expected ticket sales. Check Gorilla Music’s fact sheet again above.

Don’t be confused into thinking the current promoters don’t care about how much money they get from musicians. They do! In fact, pre-sale P2P doesn’t have a limit on how much a band can turn in. It’s not uncommon for top selling bands to turn in $500, $800, or sometimes even $1000 before they play a show. In other words, pre-sale P2P can be much more lucrative for the promoter than it was in the old days.

5. If you rent a hall/club and put on a show you are paying to play.

This old chestnut...they just love to repeat it over and over. Paying money to rent a hall/club is called DIY (do it yourself). Besides doing the job of playing the show, you are taking on the extra role of a promoter/investor (and no doubt you’ll actually promote!). You are in charge of everything. You pick the bands, you choose the date, you set the door fee, you take the risk...it’s your baby from beginning to end. Many times the other musicians on the bill are asked for suggestions on setting up the show. It can be a community effort. When the show is over the investor(s) is reimbursed for expenses and the bands are paid. There is no middleman in this scenario.
Besides having all the bands do the promoting by selling tickets, pay-to-play promoters allow no input from the artists. They take 100, 90 or 80% of the money depending on the event. The artist’s percentage should always be larger than the promoter’s. These promoters are unnecessary, very expensive, middlemen. See Tacoma's Night of Punk for more information on how a real show works .

6. We are helping bands to get bigger shows that they wouldn’t normally get themselves.

Pay-to-play promoters would like you to believe that they have the market cornered on big shows. They play the fear card, making new bands think that the only way they can play a big club will be to work with them. They want you to be impatient and panic. They want you to believe you can’t succeed without them. Many bands who do these shows act like the last man off the Titanic and the P2P promoter is there to take advantage of it. Good clubs and big shows are totally obtainable without participating in pre-sale P2P. This is not rocket science. Want to play better shows? Put on a performance people want to see, be patient and keep at it. The better shows will present themselves as long as you don’t panic. Also remember that just because the club is big doesn’t mean it will be packed with people. See examples:

Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands - Seattle


Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands - San Francisco


Afton Shows showcase


7. Selling tickets ensures a crowd. If you’ve sold someone a ticket they will be obligated to show up.

This is not the case. There are two phases to the pay-to-play process. One is to sell the ticket, but the other is to get that person to actually show up. Pay-to-play events have proven this many times over. The number of audience members for each act don’t always reflect the amount of tickets sold. That is because the person who bought the ticket must be also convinced that they’ll need to actually attend the show. Since the pay-to-play audience is normally just buying a ticket to support “their” band, they will assume that only the purchase is needed for this support. They treat these pre-sale tickets more like a raffle than a show. They’ve bought the ticket and that is enough. So besides getting the ticket sales, the band must also work to get those ticket purchasers to also attend. Instead of getting their crowd to show up and pay at the door, the musician is in charge of both selling the ticket and making sure the purchaser shows up.

8. Pay-to-play is the best way to network. It is a promotion tool.

Two bands are “networking.”
Band One wants good shows. They go to all the shows they’d like to play. They go to after-parties and events where bands are. They make it a point to meet everybody who sees them play and watch all the other bands on the show (and they don’t leave early!). They genuinely like to hang out. They aren’t pushy or interested in how much all this networking can benefit their band. They are willing to start with small shows and work up the ladder to bigger shows.

Band Two wants good shows. They are also meeting people but when they do, they try to get them to purchase tickets. These are expensive tickets for shows that have a huge list of unknown bands for a price that is higher than normal shows with local favorites. Band Two is constantly pushing tickets, not just to one show, but every show they play. These shows are filled with bands nobody has ever heard of. People (family, friends, co-workers, school mates) are buying tickets for a marathon mishmash of 10 bands where no one stays for the entire show. Band Two feels that if they can just keep selling enough tickets, they will be popular.

So which band is successfully networking? Band One is hanging out, making contacts, playing with more established bands and putting on good shows. Band Two is selling tickets and trying to get as many people as possible to see their expensive marathon. I can tell you from many years of experience that nobody enjoys being sold tickets over and over (especially when the show is subpar). In all the years I’ve researched pay-to-play shows the fact is that the number of tickets sold goes down not up. Uncle Fred and your cousin Joey will only attend so many shows until they’ve figured you’ve had enough of their support. At some point you have to start attracting the regular music fan who already will not attend the pay-to-play style show. In addition, if you really want to be part of your local music scene, you can’t be disingenuous. Other bands spot a musician who’s making friends just to get ahead a mile away and won’t want to work with you. Don’t believe me? See this real facebook post from a band member who is managed by Gorilla Music (I’ll withhold their name unless I have to prove it in court). By the way, even though they are on the Gorilla Music management roster, they still have to sell tickets!


The only one who will try to convince you that pre-sale P2P is good networking is the promoter that wants your money. And the only “tool” in this scenario is the promoter that makes this claim.

9. Pay-to-play promoters and companies are helping your local scene.

How? By renting a club, spam emailing bands, putting on crap shows with too many bands for too much money, and then having the profits sent back to company HQ (often times out of state)? To help the local scene you must live in that city. Remote control shows run from hundreds/thousands of miles away can never help the local scene. The promoter that helps the local scene actually lives in that location, knows the bands (by individual’s names), knows club bookers, knows the music fans who attend their shows and actually ATTENDS local shows (not just their own but others)...and everybody knows him/her. This talking point is nuts. To help the scene you have to be in the scene. It’s really a no-brainer.

Next time some promoter tells you they are helping the local scene, invite them to come see you. Tell them you’d like to meet them at a show and discuss better ways you can both help the local scene. Find out if they will be attending the shows they are booking (not their hired rep but them). Find out what city they live in.

10. We have expenses that need to be paid. When we put on a show there are costs in sound systems, soundmen, electricity, security, staff, etc.

These costs exist but they are not individually paid by the promoter renting the club for the night. Would you really think that this promoter is sent their share of an electricity bill? The rent of the club is all-inclusive (and these shows are always booked on dead nights like Sundays, where the rent is cheaper). It covers sound system and people to run it, utilities, taxes, security and bar staff. It is an outright lie to imply that these individual expenses are the responsibility of the promoter.

11. Clubs don’t promote bands so you need to promote yourself by selling tickets.

The assertion here is that clubs don’t promote individual bands, only the shows. That’s true. That’s why the good clubs are so careful to assemble a good lineup of bands who will contribute to their shows (and bring in business). They want to put on bands who already have proven that they can draw a crowd and entertain them. The good club will then gradually work new bands into their schedule. When these clubs get a lineup that fits, they actually do promote the shows. But they would never dream of putting on 10 unknown, mismatched bands, charging more than normal and try to promote that. It doesn’t make sense. That is also why these pay-to-play promoters must rent the club for the night. The clubs understand that these shows are not well-known for bringing in crowds that stay for the entire night so they need to compensate by charging the promoter rent.

12. Only lazy bands or bands with no fans will protest pay-to-play. These are usually disgruntled and bitter musicians who have lost battles or can’t sell their quota of tickets.

Only the pay-to-play promoter will make this claim. It is psychological manipulation at its best. No musician ever wants to be labeled lazy or (Heaven forbid) be told that they have no fans. This is a brilliant tactic to keep inexperienced young bands in line. These bands will then go out of their way to prove to the P2P promoter that this criticism doesn’t apply to them by selling as many tickets as possible. The result: More money for the promoter!
Keep in mind that some of the most vocal opponents of pay-to-play are actually older musicians who would never agree to such a rip-off (in fact, during their entire music experience they never have).

These are musicians who have no trouble getting good shows on their own. They have plenty of fans and no need to personally sell tickets in order to get a big crowd. So why would they protest? They know from experience that pay-to-play is only an exploitation of musicians and nothing else. They know that P2P weakens their local music scene and that it is harmful for new bands. They feel a responsibility to tell uninformed artists about misconceptions and untruths that these promoters are continually spreading. A healthy music scene is important for all local artists, those just beginning and those who have been doing it for years.
And on a personal note I believe calling musicians lazy is an insult that should not be tolerated. Being in a band is hard work. This is not an easy road to travel, and anyone who’s tried it would agree. How dare these shyster promoters call musicians lazy!

13. Pay-to-play is common in every aspect of business.

In what area of business is this practice common? Name one. Does the plumber pay somebody to fix pipes? Does the electrician pay to rewire a house? Does the gardener pay to mow lawns, the mechanic to fix cars, the dentist to do a root canal, the garbage collector to remove trash?
Unfortunately performing artists (including musicians, actors, comedians) are one of the only disciplines this scummy practice can be applied to. Even in the club where pay-to-play is implemented, it isn’t practiced on the day-to-day work force. You don’t see the bar staff paying for the privilege to pour drinks and they are not held responsible for how many drinkers will be at the club. The sound person isn’t required to guarantee a certain number in ticket sales before he/she is allowed to run the sound. For the club to be successful, certain services are needed and the people that can provide these services are hired and paid accordingly. Why is the musician treated differently?

Like the bar staff, the sound person or even the plumber, the musician is being hired to perform a service. These pay-to-play promoters/companies are asking bands to play their shows. Therefore they are HIRING acts for their events. It is the responsibility of the promoter or club booker to hire a band that can do a good job (or give a new band a chance). But the P2P promoter wants to hire untried musicians who are willing to pay for this “opportunity”. What other occupation would allow this? More importantly, who would be so stupid to fall for it? Don’t let these people trick you into thinking this is common in other areas of life. It’s not.

14. Times have changed. In the “old days” it was possible to get a crowd through the door with posters and promotion. Today bands must sell tickets in order to make sure there is an audience.

As far as good bands drawing a crowd, times really haven’t changed. If a band puts on a good show, people will want to see them. This has never changed. Yes, it takes some time and patience to build up a following but it can be done. Strive to put on a good show and make great music work up the ladder get the word out, and there will be an audience. Of course, there is an ebb and flow to every music scene. Sometimes it’s hot with loads of bands and people who want to go to good clubs and see them. Other times it can slow down a bit, but it always picks back up. This is normal with every arts/music community. But the fact is, good bands will get a crowd to show up.

The “times have changed” talking point is an excellent way to diffuse any musician who protests pay-to-play. The only thing that really has changed about “the times”, is that now there are many dicey promoters on-line who keep repeating this talking point.