PAY TO PLAY - The Good The Bad, & The Ugly


PAY TO PLAY – Where venue owners charge an up-front fee to performing artists for the use of their facilities. The practice began in Los Angeles sometime in the 1980s. It has become common in many U.S. cities at low-turnout all-ages shows where performers are required to guarantee a minimum attendance through pre-show ticket sales. Why do club owners do this. Are they trying to Rip Fledgling artists, or is it simply good business. 

THE GOOD - Many club owners I know feel that if their venue is high quality, located in a high profile locale, & the band lacks serious draw potential – then pay to play is perfectly legitimized. Why? Because as a business owner it doesn't make sense to give your weekend slot  to a no name band that doesn't have any real draw vice giving it to a band that does. If you were a club owner - would you give your weakend slot to some no name band that would not bring in any money, or would you give it to an established band that would? Truth is those weekend slots are valuable, & money talks in the Music Business. If PAY TO PLAY is so wrong then why does it exist in Broadcasting, Visual Arts, Online Gaming, Corporate Finance, & Insurance? In fact the small club circuit is merely a microcosm of the larger more lucrative Arena Circuit. Go up to the Booking Agent in charge of say The Madison Square Garden and say- “Hey we’re a small punk band from Long Island – can we borrow Madison Square Garden say this Saturday night – our draw should be around 200.”  PAY TO PLAY also exists in MUSIC SUPERVISION - where professionals place music in many kinds of film, television, commercial, web-based and other live and recorded media cues. While some music supervisors are paid only by their employer or per-project, some companies use a "pay to play" model wherein artists "pay" to "submit" tracks for consideration to a variety of media concerns, only to have to pay the Music Supervision intermediary again at a cost of 1/2 of its earning for the track placement should it win a placement. Some question its legitimacy and say self-interest may cloud the artistic judgment of the supervisor in simply selecting the right track for the right job. Most Music Supervisors I know pick the right song for the right synch - plain and simple. If they don't - then they're not going be a Music Supervisor for very long.

THE BAD - I know one Progressive club owner who was a staunch critic of PAY TO PLAY practice. So after 6 months of letting a lot of no name bands play at his venue – guess what the club went belly up because he wasn't making enough money to pay the rest.. It’s now a Christian Science Reading Room The bottom line is – No Draw - meant No Money, No Money - meant No Business, & no Business - meant more Christian Science Reading Rooms. Any way you look it – giving your services away for free sets a bad president, & can eventually be a condescending business practice. 

THE UGLY - So in close if your pissed off because your no name band has to pay to play at a high quality due to your inexperience & lack of draw potential don't blame the club owner for it!. Perhaps you just no at that level yet. The venue or locale may be out of your league. May I soggiest you start at the smaller club level first & work your way up until you draw gets to a number where it's comparable to other professional bands. Having serious draw potential can be a very valuable bargaining chip for you someday to get a prime time slot - but you have to start somewhere. If you've been playing the small club circuit for several years & you still don't have a draw well  that's a whole different discussion. From a business perspective your band may be in need of improvement, development, overhaul, or just plain liquidation. I understand it's probably easier to just blame a greedy club owner than to admit yourself your music sucks or your just inexperienced. Either way there's always an Open Mic Night slot for you.