Ah! What a beautiful morning! The sun is shining, birds are singing and your neighbor’s kid has managed to flood the tub and now it’s leaking into your living room. Time to call a roofer. So you call them up, hire them for their service, set up the date and time they’ll fix your stuff and then you charge them up front to have the privilege of working on your busted roof. Oh, wait…that’s not how that works. Let me try again. So your kid is turning four and for some godforsaken reason he really wants a clown at his birthday. You go online, find a clown that you like (or is just less creepy than the other ones), and you charge him per kid attending the birthday bash? Still doesn’t sound right? Then why does it seem logical to ask bands to do the same?
Pay to play is a very real problem in the music industry but it’s so commonplace now that it’s almost an expected practice. Let me explain. Pay to play is a crutch for promoters and venues who are not great at their job. They’ll scope out a local band with either, a) a decent following or b)an evident cashflow, and approach them with the opportunity of a lifetime! Your crappy little band who can’t get a crowd anywhere suddenly gets to play with some epic band. All you have to do is sell a bunch of tickets and the spot in the lineup is yours. But if the venue is so well known and the headliner is so big, why are we relying on the local headliners to pull in a crowd? And if the headliner is pulling in the crowd, what is the promoter doing?! It just doesn’t seem to add up.
All too often the victim is a band of high school kids who are super stoked to play any show at all and wind up having to sell these tickets to the rest of their chess club. What happens when the junior varsity soccer teams turns their noses up at the tickets? The band has to pay for them. It’s not unusual to see kids emptying out their paltry bank accounts to come up with ticket money for a show they won’t even get paid to play. Or even more common, someone in the band gets their mom to write a check. Awesome, right?
There are so many excuses for why this goes on. Ultimately, venues and promoters fall back on this sleazy technique to ensure money for nothing. They count on these bands NOT to sell their tickets. In fact, if the bands could hand over the money and then go home that would be the perfect world as far as a promoter is concerned. Presale tickets, or pay to play sales equal dollars that line a venue’s bank account before the tour bus even pulls up. This is just a sad and pathetic way to use a band’s dream of making it big and playing with their idols to earn a promoter a quick buck.
How do we stop it? Simple, DIY. Value yourself, your time, and your talent. Don’t let anyone use it against you. Grab your friends, borrow the PA system from your school’s theater department and have a show at the local VFW. Get a gig as an in house band at your favorite bar. Play in local galleries, hair salons, and music in the park events. Good venues and promoters with a soul do exist. Do some research and make an effort to play shows at those places. You have to be the change you want to see and there’s absolutely no way to do that besides supporting the people who are doing it right. Lend your talents to making their shows great. Find the good guys. Like The Bouncing Souls say, “find what’s good and make it last”.
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