Real Truth Behind Pay To Play
By Chris Standring
Few things get my goat. "Pay To Play"
has always been one of them, as long as I can remember. Until
recently. For those of you who are not familiar with this concept
I will briefly explain.
I should preface this article by saying that there are indeed
many other band-booking scenarios. This article is specific to
one and one only. Also, the concept of pay to play is rife in
big US cities such as Los Angeles and New York. It may not exist
in certain countries. It's not a perfect world, just the one that
we live in. Ok, with that little disclaimer aside, I will continue....
An unknown (and unproven) band will approach a club booker and
try to get their act booked on a certain date. The booker listens
to the band's CD and decides that they are worthy of public attention
and agrees to give the band a date. There are two ways this will
First, about 300 tickets will be printed up and sold to the band
by the club. The band then sell these tickets to their fans and
do their promotional job inticing people to come see their show.
It is in the bands interest to sell all the tickets otherwise
they are out of pocket and end up "paying to play".
The second way is where a contract is issued to the band explaining
that they need to have a certain amount of people in the club
for them to make a profit, lets say 100. If 100 people do not
show up and pay 5 bucks to get in, the remaining amount is due
to the club. So if a band only fill that club with 50 people,
then 50 people (that haven't paid $5) is due to the club. The
band end up paying the club $250.00
Ok so now we have that understood let's try to get a new perspective
on this. Although I have always abhored this behaviour from club
bookers I have a new attitude to it, something that changed once
I started touring as a recording artist, promoting my own records.
What all bands want is a nice guarantee to perform at venues and
start making a profit. However, as a new unproven artist, one
has absolutely no market share. This is essentially "ticket
value". If a promoter wants to book The Eagles to play live
then he knows that this band has an enormous fanbase and can guarantee
an audience. He then does a deal with the bands' agent who later
accepts. The promoter is initially out of pocket but with low
risk as he has done the numbers and knows that he will turn a
profit with this proven act.
The new artist has no market price as this band is unknown. Therefore
a club booker cannot offer a guarantee because he is at risk with
this band. It is therefore the band's responsibility to take the
risk. Usually the band does take a hit because it cannot draw
a crowd and ends up out of pocket. Now the band has an attitude
about giving away free entertainment! But this is business. A
product needs to be proven to work before other business people
decide to get involved and give away money.
Here is something that opened my eyes once I got in the record
game. A manager friend of mine said to me as I signed my first
record deal, "Welcome Chris, now you're off to the races
let's see how much money you lose in the first year!" Now
there's encouragment I thought. Wise words however and I took
As my first radio single took off on the airwaves I started to
get invitations to perform at radio station events and promotional
functions. Most radio stations like to have annual events they
call "listener parties" where they invite thousands
of listeners to an event they put on and invite lets say 3 bands
to perform. The first two artists will be proven stars, the third
(little old me in this example) what they call a "new rising
star". The first two bands may be offered a guarantee to
perform, but quite possibly not. Usually if money is offered for
radio events it will be minimal as they expect record label tour
support. Sponsers sometimes jump on board and offer free hotel
and air so ostensibly the radio station end up coming just a little
out of pocket to promote their event.
So, I am invited to perform at one of these listener parties but
the radio station only want to pay $1500.00 assuming that my label
will kick in the rest. I go back to my label and ask for a further
$2000.00. The event is on the east coast and I have to fly 4 other
guys as their is no air sponsor. Air tickets are costing $595
each as it's peak summertime. That's $2975.00 before I have even
paid my sidemen! My label agree to kick in $1500 and that's it!
So now I have a guaranteed budget of $3000 and my air fares for
the band have tapped that! I absolutely have to pay my
band as they should not have to take a hit, it's my career after
all! I decide to try and do the show without a sax player. That
will save me an air fare and show fee. Now my air fare is down
I'll pay my band $250.00 each to do this show. Now I am up to
I am down $130.00 and I haven't paid myself a penny!!! Do I do
the show? You're damn right I do, this listener party has 7000
people coming in checking me out, possibly buying my CD and becoming
Now 3 years later and another hit record to my name I am being
offered more healthy guarantees from promoters in the USA and
Europe. Why? because I was smart in the beginning and made sure
I got things to work when I needed them to. Now I even have musicians
I call to do shows that live in New York, Los Angeles and London
to make an even healthier profit. This is obviously not such a
good idea if you are a 4 piece band but as a solo artist you can
do this very effectively. By hiring musicians in London for a
UK show I can save myself around $2400.00 That's a big slice if
you do this on a regular basis!
So understand one thing. You have to start small and build your
fan base. Once you have a legitimate fan base, you can do good
deals with promoters. In order to do this you need to localise.
Build in one area and expand. It's a "baby step" program.
Watch for the con artists, they do exist as I'm sure you know.
Be smart. I love contracts, you should grow to love them too.
Prove yourself. Build your market share and understand that "pay
to play" does exist but it's nothing more than smart business.
Once you have market worth, trust me promoters will be calling
you offering healthy guarantees!
| Chris Standring
is the CEO and founder of A&R Online (www.aandronline.com).
He is also a contemporary jazz guitarist presently signed to
Ultimate Vibe Recordings. For more info on Chris' recording
career go to his personal website at www.chrisstandring.com
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