Independent Rockstar

Insight for Independent Musicians

Pay to Play?

So I was at a record store recently and a girl came up to me and asked me if I wanted to buy a ticket to see her band at the Knitting Factory (Hollywood) for $15. I politely declined and she continued asking people around the store. She was freaking out because they needed to sell 70 tickets or they were going to get “blacklisted” from the club.

Wow.

Depending on where you’re from, you may or may not encounter these pay-to-play scenarios. It’s pretty common here in L.A. at certain venues. The promoter basically requires a guarantee from the bands that they will make a certain amount of money. The promoter gives the band a number of tickets to sell and is usually held accountable to pay off most or all of the face value of the tickets that they’re required to sell.

Personally I don’t have any moral objection to this arrangement. The club is in business to make money and the promoter has to pay the club and make a profit on top of that. That’s business. If you don’t like business then that’s fine – play in your garage and don’t ask anyone to buy anything from your band. The reality is that your band is a business too. The difference is that the club probably is a little more in touch with the fact that they are in business and a little better at it than most bands are. This is why you have bands who are willing to commit to selling 70(!) tickets to play at the Knitting Factory – even though they can’t sell 70 tickets.

So the question is…what is it worth to play the Knitting Factory, the Whisky or the Viper Room? That all depends. If it’s your life’s dream to play the Whisky then maybe selling 50 tickets is a good deal for you. If you’re committing to selling the tickets because you think someone might be there from Interscope Records and sign you to a recording contract then you are WRONG.

When you are ready to be signed then you won’t have to sell tickets. The promoter will already know who you are, or at the least, you will be able to prove to them that you draw a lot more than 50 people.

The problem is that a lot of bands put way too much importance on the “prestige” of certain venues. If you’re promoting the show as if the venue itself is the star of the show then you’ve got the wrong idea. Your band IS the show. The show is wherever your band chooses to play. You bring the party. You don’t pay to play because you don’t need to.

What I suggest is that you play the venues where you will draw the highest percent of capacity. If you draw 80 people, then find a venue in your hood that holds 50. Don’t play the Roxy where the room is going to look practically empty. Play to as full of a room as you can. The energy will be MUCH better. The perception will be MUCH better. Imagine these two scenarios:

a) You commit to selling 70 tickets to a venue on the Sunset Strip that holds 500. You’re having a hard time selling the tickets and you resort to begging so you don’t have to fork over the money out of your own pocket. You end up playing with 5 other bands and the show runs behind. You go on late and have to cut your set short. Your show is decent, but the room is at less than 20% of capacity. Your fans mostly enjoy the show, but not too many of them would want to do it again anytime soon after having paid $15 for the ticket, $15 to park, and $5.50 per Bud Light.

b) You play Joe Shmoe’s down the street. It costs $5 to get in, parking is free, bud lights are $3 and it’s close to a large chunk of your fan base. The owner of the place lets you put on your own show, so you recruit two other great bands that you vibe with really well and everyone gets to play their full set. The place is packed so the energy is electric. As a result, the performance is great. People get turned away at the door because there isn’t room for them. Everyone inside has a great time and tells all their friends – especially the ones who got there too late and got turned away. Everyone is looking forward to the next show. (oh yeah – and you actually got paid too!)

Same band, same number of fans. Which band do you think has the right idea? What is the difference in people’s perception of the band after each scenario?

This is HUGE. If you bring all of your fans to come see you at a venue that’s too big and too expensive for you to play at then you’re setting yourself up for failure. As soon as people perceive that you’re failing in any way then you’re basically screwed. Things will go downhill very fast. People will not spend time and money to come see your band unless they are CONVINCED that you will rock and that your shows are the place to be. Nobody said it would be easy. That’s why there are thousands and thousands and thousands of bands out there and you probably only spend time and money on a handful of them.

So when you’ve firmly established your rep in your neighborhood and everyone knows that they need to get to your shows early and that they are going to rock – then kick it up a notch at a slightly larger venue. Always be bigger than the venue. YOU are the show – not the venue. YOU bring people. YOU have the power. You don’t have to be over-the-top about this and you certainly shouldn’t be arrogant and unprofessional – just know it in your heart and negotiate and make your decisions with that frame in mind.

Pay to play? Not your band. Your band knows what’s important and knows how to leverage it’s power. Your band IS the show. Your band isn’t cool because of the venue you play at – the venue is cool because your band is playing there.

About Scott James

Musician / Blogger / Web Designer / MBTI Nerd living in Hollywood, CA
Scott James

48 Responses to “Pay to Play?”

  1. Tom says:

    Hey there,

    you are dam right!

    Greezt from Germany

  2. Ken says:

    Couldn’t be more right on the money. Set the limits of what is OK and not OK for YOU and YOUR band and then hold onto it. Yes, those venues are business and if bands refuse to operate that way, they will have to change.

    My band WILL NOT Pay to play. We STRONGLY PREFER not to play when there is a cover charge. The venue can pay us out of sales and we are more than willing to work with them so that it’s a percentage of income and we share the risk with them. Yes, the venue is a business and you are corrected that the band is too, but this is not my means of supporting myself so I can be very flexible. Frankly I’d be happy to play a fun show for free except, “what’s the value of something you give away for free? Nothing.” Some club owners will take advantage and that’s just the way it goes. Stop playing there if they do.

    NEVER PAY TO PLAY.

    • Thanks Ken. I definitely think there can be plenty of value in things you do for free. I just think it’s important to know where the real value is and make your decisions based on that and not something that becomes falsely inflated because you’re trapped in an illusion.

  3. phillip says:

    You bring up some very very good points. I recently played at the whiskey a go-go. And the place is good to have on your resume and playing on that stage was cool. BUT… everything else was crap!!! Loading and unloading was a nightmare. You absolutely have to bring extra people with you to keep an eye on your stuff while its sitting there on the street with all those homeless and weirdos looking at it. Then if your lucky you can park in front just long enough to take your stuff out until security or parking patrol yells at you to get out of he way, then the only option you have is to park waaaaaay out in B.F.E. and pay 10 bucks,.. Then as i was walking back to the whiskey i was praying that my stuff would still there. Before the show security then told us we had to put all our stuff upstairs and if you know the whiskey those stairs on the side are friggin crazy!! and ive got a full heavy Bass rig. Which i refused to do because one missed step and im a crushed pancake man from my rig. So yeah Its fun once your up there playing but everything before and after is the worst. Its like your almost taking a chance of losing it all when you play there. I was wondering if anyone else has been through the same thing playing at that place?.

    • Thanks Phillip. I’ve played the Whisky. I don’t have anything bad to say about my experience. I’ve had a lot of great times there, but it’s definitely important to see it for what it is. It’s usually a fairly expensive night out for the fans and if you don’t already have status going in then you’re not going to be treated like a rockstar and you may be fighting an uphill battle to give people their money’s worth. I won’t knock anyone for having a go at it, but if you’re really trying to build your audience then I think it’s wise to go for the gig when you have enough status to play without having to sell tickets. If you can’t build an audience at Joe’s Bar and Grill then playing the Whisky won’t help. In fact, it’s likely to hurt you because you’re probably going to beg everyone to pay good money to go see you play a show you’re probably not ready for.

  4. Robert says:

    You can always say you played a place. They never really check it out. You don’t have to buy into the pay to play garbage and 99 percent of the time most of you will never, ever get anywhere without touring of becoming such good musicians that you can work as a sideman. My band in Austin never plays LA, we don’t even play Austin. We go to Europe and tour and we often break even and this has led to us being interview by several labels,. But, labels are dead anyway so times are changing.,

  5. g says:

    Yea Labels are history – as soon as that sinks in – these clubs wont have ‘THAT’ carrot to dangle around – suddenly playing Pay to Play Places wont be as important – just a propped up over hyped house of cards that is ready to implode on itself
    Theres no such thing as a ‘resume’ – for musicians who continue using that in their thought process – FYI
    Spend your time and money into creating songs – recording – an original sound
    MP3s are the new currency – cheap ill admit – if their was an exchange rate – mp3’s would be below pesos
    but – thats what would get people to your show – hearing something they like – Radio play – cant have radio play without a freaking song

  6. kooluke says:

    I DON”T AGREE,PAY TO PLAY HELPS BANDS TO PUSH THEMSELFS.YOU MAY THINK YOU CAN SAY YOU PLAYED SOMEWHERE AND YOU DID”NT,BUT IT CAN BACK FIRE ON YOU.I HAVE BOOK GROUPS AT NO CHARGE AND GUESS WHAT,NONE OF THEIR PEOPLE SHOWED UP.IT WAS LOCAL NEAR THEIR HOOD.GUESS WHO THEY TRIED TO BLAME,YOU ALREADY KNOW.ARTIST TODAY DO NOT HUSTLE THEY SIT BACK THINKING FAME WELL DROP IN THEIR LAP.IF YOU ARE PROMOTING YOURSELF AND YOUR GOOD YOU SHOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM GETTING RID OF 15 TICKETS.ONE THING I KNOW WHEN YOU DO THINGS FOR FREE,PEOPLE DO NOT RESPECT THE GAME.

    • Thanks for your comment Kooluke. I think you may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. I don’t really have an objection to the idea of bands pre-selling tickets. What I’m really getting at is what we assign value to and how we give value to our fans. If you think you’re going to be discovered because you play a certain club then you stop thinking about giving value to the fans and to the club – because what you’re really thinking about is how it all looks to the guy from Interscope Records who you imagine might be there. You’ll take a raw deal and give a raw deal to the people who matter most.

  7. Dave says:

    I’ve never paid to play. I just don’t understand that concept. You are there to entertain the clubs crowd. Anybody that follows your band to the show is just gravy for the club.

    • I think it depends completely on the context. Are you a classical guitar player in a high-end restaurant or are you a band playing at a club? If you’re a band playing a club then in every case I can think of the entire point of the club having bands is to bring in people. The key is to make it a win for the band, the fans AND the club. It’s not bands vs. club owners/promoters. In either context, everyone should be working to make it a win for everyone involved.

  8. Clint says:

    I totally agree. No one said life or the music business is fair. I have been in the business for over 30 years. If you disagree with the pay to play, think just for a second about how many bands and musicians are out there. Millions! The club owners have their pick of talent. Now, once you have the exposure and you are a hot commodity, then and only then do the rules change.

    I can’t say that I am a “fan” of pay to play. But, guys and gals, it is what it is. I promise you that the music will always be fulfilling. But the business will always be a grind. Put together a band that the public can’t live without, have a hit record or some kind of gimmic that sets you apart from the rest. Then you won’t have to worry about any issues like pay to play. Until then, you might want to practice this principal that I learned a long time ago; “Don;t be a star before you are”. Life has to be lived on life’s terms, not yours. Get with the program or get out. Denial only leads to anger and more frustration.

    • Right on Clint. I think in some cases venues have a lot of leverage because of a large talent pool, but in a lot of cases they don’t. Way back in the day in Rhode Island there were relatively few places for bands to play. Clubs had more leverage and audiences were bigger. Now there are a lot more places to play, which changes the market. Bands with audiences have the leverage and they have their pick of which clubs to play rather than the other way around.

      I think it’s important to know that if you’re going to play a venue with a lot of leverage then you’d better bring some leverage or your own or you and your fans are going to be leveraged.

  9. Dickey says:

    Pay to play and the bands that believe in doing so drives prices down and takes money out of my pocket. That makes me VERY GROUCHY! Any band that does not insist on a set minimum for the night, and NOT the door % are traitors to their profession, scabs of the worst kind! in my book. I am EXTREMELY militant about this. I have gotten very nasty with a few clubowners who have tried to screw me. I’m a nice guy, but mess with my $$ & you’re steppin’ on a rattlesnake! The clubowner has to pay his liquore distributer,waitstaff,electricity,water,repairs,etc. Why should the band be any different. What if he told his liquor distributor “Hey, I’ll pay you a % of the liquor sales. Guess what would happen? Those kegs would be back on the truck faster than you could wink an eye. I lug too much equipment (Pedal steel, guitar,2 amps,effects,etc) Not to get paid for it. @#$#^%^&* Pay to play!!

    • You can set a minimum if you’re earned it. If you haven’t then if I were a club owner I’d tell you to get lost. If you don’t bring anyone to your shows then you can end up costing the club money and wasting people’s time. Club owners and promoters have families and expenses and hopes and dreams just like you and I. Marginalizing them doesn’t help anyone. Why would a club owner guarantee anything to an act who hasn’t guaranteed anything to them? Want to get paid more? Deliver more value to the club and deliver more value to the fans. And keep doing it. Want to get paid less? Act like your entitled.

      • steve says:

        There’s lots of bands that have proven there self but they still do the same deal with the club every time they play.

  10. dave in LA-ish says:

    A great read.
    I’m originally from Boston and “pay to play” is unheard of there. Unheard of. Since being in CA I’ve succumb to this method on a couple occasions and agree that’s it’s just not worth it. I have to admit that I was a little naive about the whole thing but this article touches on the venue not being the draw, but the band. We certainly fell into that for 2 different venues and in the end it was for naught. A big room with your normal 30-50 people makes you look so amateur. I agree playing the smaller venue and having a better show because the vibe is more personal and it is at least perceived to be more successful solely based on smaller room, same amount of people.

  11. scott rowe says:

    This is so well put. About all you will accomplish by playing those is clubs is to make the Armenian Mafia rich-as that’s who runs most of the Sunset Strip clubs these days. I would much rather pack a little dive bar someplace, get a few free beers, a little money and an appreciative audience and club owner any day. The only way to put a stop to this is for us as musicians to refuse to buy into the “the industry big wigs will see you there” crap that gets pushed by our so called “music industry”. When I lived and played in Rockford this sort of thing was unheard of. I never worked for less than $112 per night unless it was a benefit. It is really a pity what has happened to the music scene in LA, it certainly was not like this in the 70s when I was growing up.

    • I don’t know about the Armenian Mafia comment but I think you’re right on with appreciating the fundamental value exchange between the club, the artist and the venue. It should be a great night for everyone – otherwise you’re not doing it right. Cheers.

  12. All this means is that the best PROMOTER gets to play. That is why live and recorded music for the most part sucks big time. The music business wants to blame file sharing for all their woes but the truth is that the best promoters can take it to the point that a major label signs them and gets their music played world wide. The public gets to hear said music, finds out that it really is not for them, and does not buy because the musicians and their team were way better at promotion than music. If you think I am wrong why did Susan Boyle sell all those CD’s? Why did Michael Jackson sell so well after his death? Why did Arcade Fire displace M & M from number 1 on the Billboard charts? The answer is that they actually gave people something they really wanted to hear.

  13. Robbie K. says:

    This should be mandatory reading for every young musician or starry eyed dreamer.
    Pay to Play is THE way of doing business in NJ. The Asbury Music Scene, the Live Nation venues like The Stone Pony and The Starland Ballroom are all pay to play venues.
    There is an inherent problem with pay to play. It never credits the artist with past success and in fact if the artist is good at “pay to play” and don’t complain, they will always be such because the ticket money split so favors the promoter that they would be a fool to relinquish it if the artist isn’t bitching despite consistently overselling minimums.
    Artists love to scream “boycott pay to play venues!!!!!” but it will never work. All the promoter has to do is book Magnetic Death Snot one night and tell some young band that if they do the show, they will be “included in all promotion” and the management and support team of Magnetic Death Snot will be in the house that night and will check out their set.
    At that point the young bands self survival kicks in and helllllooooooooooo opening act, problem solved for the promoter.
    Pay to play is a bane in our existence but one we have to deal with. I believe you have the best ideas to make that situation work for each individual band.
    You are correct. We bring the party….the party is where ever we are.

  14. Ross Brennan says:

    Would never “pay to play”. I prefer an arrangement where the venue pays us a certain amount, around $500 and we put a reasonable cover charge on the door, say 5 or 10 bucks. That way we get reasonable money and the venue is not over committed.

  15. J says:

    The Truth about Pay to Pay
    When an artist wants to show his artwork in a gallery, the gallery charges that artist a fee for the use of their room. If the artist can sell enough art, he is then able to recoup that fee. This leaves the artist at the mercy of his work, his ability to promote, and his ability to sell.

    If an independent film maker wants to show his or her film in a real movie theater, he or she must rent the theater and then hope to sell enough tickets to break even or make a profit. Pay to play is more common than most people realize. It’s found in all areas of life and business. Even race car drivers have to pay fees to participate in the races you see on TV—drivers pay fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    So if pay to play is common in so many other areas of life, why do some musicians get offended, even angry, when they are asked to pay in order to play? I believe that bands are angry and confused because people keep telling them that it’s the clubs responsibility to promote them.

    In reality, concert clubs don’t promote bands. They only promote the fact that a band is going to be appearing at their venue. They don’t pay to advertise a band’s music to the public or work to make the public aware of a band. Promoting a band’s music and promoting a band’s appearance at a venue are two completely different things.

    Most local bands don’t have name recognition in the marketplace, and for that reason, the only effective way to grow a local band is through networking. Successful local bands are successful because they are as good at networking as they are at making music and performing.

    Pre-Sale Tickets
    Using pre-sale tickets is the best way to network and to ensure a good crowd for your shows. But some people are trying to give pre-sale tickets a bad name, claiming all pre-sale ticket shows are pay to play. This is not a fair assessment.

    Pre-sale tickets do not define whether a show is pay to play or not. Yes, if you are required to sell a certain number of tickets to an event and you fall short, having to pull money out of your pocket, then it’s a pay to play event. However, it’s not the act of selling tickets itself that makes an event pay to play—it’s the act of requiring a band to sell a certain number of tickets that make an event pay to play.

    Every other industry is making people pay if they want to hang their art, show their films, bowl professionally, or do just about anything else. Do you think that pay to play promoters would stop charging bands if pre-sale tickets were done away with? No, they would just charge bands flat fees, thereby removing the opportunity to recoup or profit by selling tickets.

    There are sound systems, soundmen, security, electricity, staffing, and dozens of other expenses. SOMEONE IS PAYING TO MAKE THAT SHOW HAPPEN. IT’S NOT FREE.

    Do Pre-Sale Tickets Hurt Local Bands?
    Some people claim that pre-sale tickets hurt inexperienced bands and the local music community. It’s simply not true; heck, it’s not even logical. To have a thriving music scene, all you need is to have a bunch of bands that are drawing good crowds. That’s exactly what these shows and bands that work hard to network do—they bring bigger crowds.

    Selling pre-sale tickets helps bands to build bigger networks while packing their shows at the same time. Packing your shows helps you to create more demand for your band and your music. How is creating more demand for your band going to hurt you?

    Do You Want A Bigger Fan Base For Your Band?
    Start using networking and using word-of-mouth to build a fan base and you’ll start seeing better results immediately. It’s simple, the more you network the bigger your fan base will grow.

    • Mikey Jayy says:

      J mentioned some of the major key points about “pay-to-play”. Bands in the LA scene have this misconception about the entertainment industry as a whole. I know, because I own a radio station and I’m out there listening to them all complain about it. When I used to manage bands, I would complain and bitch too, but then my eyes started to open and realized that it’s our responsibility to build a fanbase and promote ourselves to get fans out there to see you perform. The venue relies on you to bring in a crowd, otherwise, if they book just any act, then they put themselves at risk of closing down.

      Another misconception are major artists don’t have to pre-sell tickets. You are mistaken. They ALL do. EVERY ONE OF THEM. They all sign contracts guaranteeing a specific sales number and it is typically 80 to 150 in tickets sales for places like The Viper Room and The Roxy. And, if you want to play at a bigger venue like Hard Rock Cafe, House of Blues, El Ray, Paladium, etc, you better get ready to fork over $10,000 up to $30,000 if you want to headline your own show. It only gets more expensive from there, especially when union organizations like Livenation is going around all the major cities and are buying out all the big clubs. Soon, no one will be able to play anywhere in Los Angeles unless you’re with a major label. It will become too expensive to play anywhere that has a capacity over 500 people. This is no coincidence that this is happening. This is how the major artists make their money. No one is making money by selling CDs anymore. Performing live is where the real money is made.

      Before you decide you’re ready to perform at the well known venue in the major markets like LA or New York, you better be ready to fork over serious cash to play there. There are always exceptions, but you must first earn the right to play for free or get paid for your performance.

      I love J’s examples of paying to display your art and renting the space to show a director’s new movie. People in these industries have to do the same thing the music artists do by sharing the financial responsibility of pre-selling tickets using their own resources. The rest of the sales are at the counter. Nothing is done for free. If it was, then the venue is setting themselves up for failure and won’t be able to pay their $30,000 monthly rent and won’t be able to pay $150,000 in payroll to their staff. If there is no financial incentive to own a club, guess what? It goes away. This is the hard reality check and bands got to get their heads out of the clouds. It’s not about how great your music is. It’s about your draw. We are playing in the food and beverage business. If the club is not selling drinks and baskets of burgers and fries while you’re playing, then you are never coming back.

      Yes, there are some great bars and smaller venues that do not charge, but a brand new band out of Hoboken, New jersey is going to have a hard time booking a gig anywhere in LA. You are a risk to the venue to book and that’s why there is a pre-sale.

      Here’s another way to look at it. Los Angeles is vast and clubs are abound. Anyone can go anywhere they want and see some popular artist at any given time. Why would they go see someone from another state they’ve never heard of and why would a venue book a nobody? These are some of the questions bands members and managers have to ask themselves. Most artists live in a fantasy world and cannot grasp why someone won’t book them. There are always exceptions, but it’s not the norm.

      If you want to play the LA/NY game, it’s best to bit the bullet, pay the bill at the venue and sell or giveaway the tickets for free, but don’t do this a week before the show. Plan it months ahead, schedule radio interviews to do ticket giveaway contests, and promote like crazy. Find fanatic fans in the area that are willing to create a small street team to pass out flyers and post flyers on college bulletin boards, etc.

      You cannot not book a popular venue and expect it to be packed and hope they all love you. The reality is they are not there to see you. They are there to see another band and once their band plays, that crowd leaves when the band does. You really need to bring your own crowd, otherwise you are playing at your own risk and it’s going to cost you.

  16. Some very good points. Thanks J!

  17. I just negotiated for our band to open up for a major label touring act in the midwest and east coast in 2013, as long as we provide the “backline”. Might it cost us money? Yes. Might we have to kind of “Pay to play” in this scenario? Yes. What is it worth for us to get in front of that band’s audience – thousands of people across 15-20 dates in the summer and the fall? Priceless.

  18. Jesi francisco says:

    No need for a middle man, if the bands have to promote and sell all of the tickets there isnt a reason to have these production companies involved. All they do is make a flyer.i can do that in 10 sec.your little essay would be very convincing if i was 15.

    • What production companies are you referring to? I think you’re confused. Are you referring to promoters? If that’s the case then go ahead and call the Whisky or the Key Club and tell them you want to pay them a substantial sub of money up front to rent the club for the night. Guess what. If they go for it, which is unlikely since I doubt you’d have any credibility to them, then you’re still selling tickets or going in the hole. What was your point again? Maybe I’m misunderstanding? Please explain.

  19. liat says:

    hi, what venues in LA let u play for free or even pay you?

    • The Hollywood Bowl will pay you quite well – if you earn it. Same deal with any other venue. It all depends on what you have to offer them. If you play the places who value what you have to offer then you can get paid. If you’re just another struggling band who’s more concerned with what they can get from the venue than the other way around then you won’t make much money. Why should they pay you?

  20. David says:

    As a musician turned club owner, I have to say I agree 1000% with this article, and I think it paints a really good, fair assessment of life on BOTH sides of the fence.

    In my city, we have huge clubs that everyone wants to play in, and smaller clubs that get shunned. Huge clubs have huge overheads, meaning there has to be some type of financial insurance that a band can pull people there. Smaller clubs can typically take more risks. The idea that a band is there to ‘entertain’ an existing crowd outside of a restaurant context is ludacris… There is a huge difference in being a cover band where you drag your own PA out to a gig which is at a local deli, and playing at a venue that provides house lighting, sound, sound techs, green rooms, etc, and comparing the 2 is like comparing a proctologist to a pediatrician..

    I wouldnt use the Whiskey’s model myself, but they have their pick of how to handle shows, and I’d be willing to bet if you play a show there and pack it out, they’re going to be more likely to sweeten the deals the next time you go there. Thats how the game works. If you cant draw the fans, dont try to play big capacity rooms. Walk before you try to run.

    This sense of entitlement that some musicians feel towards venues has got to go. We invest huge sums of time and money to provide a place for bands to perform, we don’t owe every band that decides to write a half assed song anything, and our resources to take risks on your bands is very limited.

  21. lady la says:

    l have paid to play last night, it’s hurtful, but that’s how the game work, l wasn’t disappointed so much about the venue operating in that way, but more about the fact, that the erst of the band didn’t put any effort to it , out of 40 tickets , l sold 16, the drummer sold 3, the guitarist had one door sale, but out of the 10 tickets he was given, he didn’t sell one! and the bassist was covering for my original bassist, who had a commitment on that day. l woke up this morning, very tearful about the whole thing, for many reasons, the band not trying hard enough, also, if the people who told me they were coming all showed up, l would have been exceeding the 50 tickets sale, but again, this happened all the time. It was my first time doing a pay to play, so l learned, but this discussion board, gave me a bit of a boost, as l felt really down, but l am glad to have read all opinions here, the band’s and the promoters’. Very useful posts and comments, left by everyone. Thank you Scott for the article.

  22. Tyler says:

    I live in Denver and have been in the scene for about 10 years. I have noticed that pay to play is SOP here for local bands. As a result the scene has been flooded with poorly put together shows that have hurt local bands badly. I am in a band and have been told many times that if I can’t bring 100+ to a show that it is my problem. The only thing the promoter does is book the show with 5 other bands, does no promotion other than create a facebook event and demands the bands bring people. This is not ok and bands need to not allow this to happen. I understand that we are all starving to play in front of a live crowd but think about what you are doing. You’re creating the music, your lugging the gear around, your building the fan base, your pushing the event, and your performing.

    The last thing you should have to do is pay someone who doesn’t care about you or what you do. You would do better setting up a house party and buying a keg. It would be cheaper and would be more beneficial for you. If you really want to spend money to play, buy a van and travel to other towns. That will be great for you, you see new places, you play in front of new faces, and you build a great following.

    Thanks Scott.

  23. Seaside Jimmy says:

    Why Music Venues Are Totally Lost: An Open Letter from a Professional Musician
    By Chris Robley
    February 13, 2012

    Jazz musician Dave Goldberg wrote a pointed and darkly humorous open letter to LA club owners that I thought was worth sharing. In it, he argues that it’s actually a counterproductive practice for venues to book bands who are willing to work for free. And when I say “counterproductive,” I mean it’s bad for the venue’s business.

    Below are a few of the highlights:

    Just the other day I was told by someone who owned a wine bar that they really liked our music and would love for us to play at their place. She then told me the gig paid $75 for a trio. Now $75 used to be bad money per person, let alone $75 for the whole band. It had to be a joke, right? No, she was serious.But it didn’t end there. She then informed us we had to bring 25 people minimum. Didn’t even offer us extra money if we brought 25 people. I would have laughed other than it’s not the first time I’ve gotten this proposal from club owners. But are there musicians really doing this? Yes. They are so desperate to play, they will do anything.

    But lets think about this for a second and turn this around a little bit.What if I told the wine bar owner that I have a great band and we are going to play at my house. I need someone to provide and pour wine while we play. I can’t pay much, just $75 and you must bring at least 25 people who are willing to pay a $10 cover charge at the door. Now wouldn’t they look at you like you are crazy?

    “Why would I do that,” they would ask? Well, because it’s great exposure for you and your wine bar. The people there would see how well you pour wine and see how good your wine is. Then they would come out to your wine bar sometime. ”But I brought all the people myself, I already know them,” they would say. Well maybe you could make up some professional looking flyers, pass them out, and get people you don’t know to come on out. ”But you are only paying me $75, How can I afford to make up flyers?”

    You see how absurd this sounds, but musicians do this all the time. If they didn’t, then the club owners wouldn’t even think of asking us to do it. So this sounds like a great deal for the club owners, doesn’t it? They get a band and customers for that night, and have to pay very little if anything. But what they don’t realize is that this is NOT in their best interest. Running a restaurant, a club, a bar, is really hard. There is a lot at stake for the owner. You are trying to get loyal customers that will return because you are offering them something special. If you want great food, you hire a great chef. If you want great décor,you hire a great interior decorator. You expect these professionals to do their best at what you are hiring them to do. It needs to be the same with the band.You hire a great band and should expect great music.That should be the end of your expectations for the musicians. The music is another product for the venue to offer, no different from food or beverages.

    When a venue opens it’s doors, it has to market itself. The club owner can’t expect people to just walk in the door. This has to be handled in a professional way. Do you really want to leave something so important up to a musician?

    This is where the club owner needs to take over. It is their success or their failure on the line, not the musician.The musician can just move on to another venue. I’ve played places where for whatever reason only a few people have walked in the door on a Saturday night. The club owner got mad at me, asking where are the people? I turned it around on him asking the same thing? Where are all the people? It’s Saturday night and your venue is empty. Doesn’t that concern you? What are you going to do about it? Usually their answer is to find another band with a larger following. This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favor of whoever can bring in the most people.

    He then makes the point that professional bands will have a somewhat harder time playing the “friend and family” card because, well… they’re pros! They play every night.

    But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again. And the people that were starting to follow your venue are now turned off because you just made them listen to a bad band. The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night. Instead, you’ve soiled your reputation for a quick fix.

    If you asked a club owner, ”who is your target demographic?” I doubt they would answer ”the band’s friends and family.” But yet clubs operate like it is.

    … would you expect the chef’s friends and family to eat at your restaurant every night? How about the dishwasher, the waitresses, the hostess? Or how about the club owner’s friends and family? You see,when you start turning this argument around, it becomes silly.

    So what does Dave suggest? Start fighting back, with calm, reasoned arguments. He explains:

    I’ve started arguing with club owners about this. It happened after I played a great night of music in LA. We were playing for a % of the bar. There were about 50 people there in this small venue, so it was a good turnout. At the end of the night, I go to get paid, and hope to book another gig. The club owner was angry.

    “Where are your people?” he asked. ”All these people, I brought in. We had a speed dating event and they are all left over from that.”

    I pointed out they all stayed and listened to the music for 2 hours after their event ended. That was 2 more hours of bar sales, because without us, you have an empty room with nothing going on. He just couldn’t get over the fact that we didn’t walk in with our own entourage of fans. Wasn’t happy that we kept a full room spending money. Right when we were talking, a group of people interrupted us and said ”you guys sound great, when is the next time you’re playing here again?” The club owner, said ”they aren’t, they didn’t bring anyone.”

    I went home that night bummed out and sent him an email. Telling him most of what you are reading here and how his business model and thinking is flawed. After a lot of swearing back and forth, because I’m guessing that musicians never talk to him as a business equal, he eventually admitted that what I was saying made sense. BUT, that’s not how LA clubs and restaurants work. And he has bands answering his craigslist ads willing to do whatever it takes to get the gig. It’s been a couple of years now since that conversation. I called his bar, and the number is disconnected.