To pay or not to play, that is the question – the debate on this issue continues

November 27, 2008

There are alot of bands that get caught in the pay to play snafu. Perhaps there may be some information that they can use or just use it as food for thought in making choices on the direction you want to take your band. This by no means is gospel, just thoughts and ideas on how to deal with this situation. First off a venue that asks bands to pay to play just demonstrates that they do a poor job at promoting their own venue or they are saying that your band sucks and no one will come. It is their job to do the proper promotion....sure the bands on the bill will do some like flyers, etc...but that should be all the bands should do.

Second, it should be all about what that band draws and that is how that band will be paid verses the success of the overall show. With that said, this is the bands incentive to promote the show as just mentioned. Each band gets a guarantee perhaps with the exception of the opening band since they are mainly playing for the opportunity to promote and expose their band to an audience (they should not pay to do this). From there after the night is over the ticket sales are added up and a percentage of the sales are split up between the bands to add gravy to the guarantee.

Third, when you hear of a band doing the pay to play thing it does tend to communicate to people out there and is interpreted by the public that the band selling tickets is nothing and is of no regard or significance...or outright horrible. YES, we know that sounds harsh...however that is how the public is interpreting it...regardless of the following or talent a band may have, just saying it how the public sees it. If a band wants to insure that they are not painted with this negative brush, the guilt by association thing, don't pay to play. Participating in the pay to play communicates that your band is desperate to play (when in fact you may not be), again, this is how the public will see your band and it all just hurts the overall image of your band.

Bands need to stay away from any show that they are asked to sell tickets to play...because basically you can sell the tickets to raise the $500 or $1000 the tickets represent, or just hit up your grandma or dad and tell them that your band needs the money so that your band can play this place. Even your wise old grandma would question why you have to pay money to work somewhere. Now if you do feel that you have a nothing band and that your band may not even be in existence in 3 months, than by all means, pay to play and have a good time while you can since you know your band is not planning on being a force in the music scene for years to come. If a venue offers to give you say 50-100 tickets to pre-sell as a courtesy to the bands built in entourage of friends with no strings attached, that is very cool and whatever tickets of the pre-sells sold you give them the money and return the balance of the unsold tickets to the shows promoter as you load in your bands equipment.

Next time a venue asks for your band to play, check your bands schedule to see if your whole band is available for that date and if you are let them know you are available to play. Then ask what the guarantee is for your bands performance, if the promoter says that they are not paying anything for the opening band, so at that point you and your band mates need to determine if you even want to play the show or if there is a way to use the show to promote something with your band, merch/CDs for example. If the promoter that offers your band the show and then tells you that you need to come down to the venue and pick up 50 or so tickets to sell and sign a promissory note on the tickets (and by the way, if you are under 18, you are considered a minor and anything you sign is NOT considered a legal contract). After the promoter tells you this about the tickets, you then say, "hey that is great, alot of times our bands closer friends like to do a ticket buy from us and whatever of these 50 or so tickets that we do not need, we will return them back to you the afternoon our band does load in." That is what you should say...period. Now if the promoter says, "Oh no, the tickets we give you to sell you have to sell through in order to play at their venue."

At that point a band should respond with something like this...... "Our band has a history of handling promotion on our end to properly advertise a show that we are performing at to insure that the show is an overall success. Our band provides a service and we perform a set that audiences enjoy and come out to see consistently whenever a show for our band is announced. We can certainly perform at your venue, yet we are unable to have a condition in the performance contract that states we need to sell through the tickets you want to give us for pre-sale. While we enjoy the opportunity to get advance tickets to offer to the bands closer friends, we are a band the focuses on putting on a great performance which is why the person came to the show in the first place, we just can not take away time from focusing on our band rehearsals to sell through the tickets you give us."

Now if the promoter responds back to the supreme professionalism you just demonstrated to them without ripping them a new one for even asking you to sell tickets, and then says, "Hey, thanks for discussing this with me, yes, we can strike the aspect of your band selling so many tickets prior to that nights performance. After discussing this with you, our venue can now clearly see that you are a professional minded band and that you, like us want the show to be a success."

In the case the promoter responds to you with, "Sorry guys we have to ask that you sell tickets to be able to perform at our venue." OK, here is a good response back. "While we are very much aware of the various responsibilities a venue has in putting on a successful show, we as a band also have a responsibility to the venue and the audience that comes to put on a great show that meets or exceeds their expectations. While we appreciate the opportunity to play at your venue, at this time we are going to need to release your venue from consideration at this time. If anything should change with your venues procedures with regards to advance ticket sales, please touch base with us and give us an update and we can look at what dates our band may have available to perform at your venue."

There you have it. Sorry if some of it seems harsh, yet all you guys and gals in bands need to make a statement on this aspect of playing places. We are just calling it as we see it and how the public is looking at this subject...and we feel we have also offered some ides you may choose to use to solve this situation...they are just ideas...we would rather engage in looking at solutions instead of just saying the pay to play thing sucks. Bitching gets nothing solved.

On the flipside, also consider the venue owner’s prospective as well. A venue can not afford to have en entire show made up of bands that draw 10 of the bands closest friends either. They do not exist and pay the high costs of their overhead just to give a band with no real fan base a place to play, that is how they go out of business. If you are an opening band at a venue and you are not under any direst to sell tickets to play the show, do whatever you can to promote the show and make it a success. You will become an asset to the venue because your band is one that goes above and beyond to help the shows you are on be a total success.