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Pay To Play

June 18, 2013

As an artist, chances are you will be offered the opportunity to “pay to play” – paying for your spot on a bill. For some new bands this will seem like a great opportunity to play with a bigger act (and it might be) but ask most tenured bands and they are more likely to say it’s a bad idea. In most cases if you are being asked to “pay to play” it means that the promoter thinks you are not good enough to be worth paying. This might be for various reasons such as not having a big draw or just not being very good (or in rare cases the promoters knows you are good and worth tickets but also knows they can exploit your dream of “making it” for their own profit).

Sometimes the “pay to play” model is not as obvious and outright as in other cases. Sometimes you will be expected to pay cash to have to the chance to play, other times you will be required to sell X number of tickets. These are typically no win situations. In a lot of cases the number of tickets you are expected to sell is well above what your band is capable of selling. This means you not only have to annoy friends and push ticket sales onto them, but often have to pay for any tickets you can’t get rid of. If you are paying cash to play then the amount is almost always going to be far too expensive for amount of exposure you’ll get. If someone asks for a few hundred dollars to be added to the show you are better off using that to do something creative and gain fans that way. (Please note “paying to play” is a lot different than playing for free, a cut of backend profits or even just for your merch sales)

You should also ask why you are expected to pay for chance to play the show as any real promoter will gladly pay for talent. No matter the reason, if a promoter is expecting you to pay them instead of the other way round it means they most likely have zero confidence in you adding anything to the show. This should be a huge red flag that you have little to gain from the show and ultimately more to lose.

There are some situations where the “pay to play” model can be acceptable, such as when the amount the promoter is asking for is fair or reasonable for the exposure your band may receive or if it’s for something with a real potential for publicity like being added to multiple tour dates. If you are uncertain about the “pay to play” deal, it would be advantageous to ask someone with more experience in the industry.

-Hassan

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