Pay to play is the practice of charging musicians and bands for the privilege of playing at a venue. It is common practice for some promoters and prestigious venues to charge the support act for the opportunity of playing at a well known venue where there is a chance of being seen by industry people or getting a slot on a bill where the band may be seen by a large crowd. Live Music Management believe that it is an unfair practice and would suggest to any up and coming acts thinking of handing over money for the chance of playing a gig ,”Don’t do it!”
However the definition of what and what isn’t pay to play is not always clear.
Signed bands have paid “buy ons” to established act’s tours for many years and this is one of the key ways that up and coming acts get to be known for a larger audience.
Also pay to play shouldn’t be confused with the practice that some promoters have of ensuring a band properly promotes their show by charging them for a fair portion of tickets. It shouldn’t be an issue for a band to sell a small number of tickets for a show in order to ensure that a promoter or venue doesn’t lose money. Likewise venues sometimes charge room hire or PA and sound engineer hire if the show is a self promoted event. Again Live Music Management can understand that. It makes bands think twice about booking events which will be under attended and helps in a small way to cover the costs of running a venue.
These costs can seem dangerously close to “pay to play” and it really is up to a band to decide whether the practice above works for them. For instance if you are the headline act in a ticketed venue (ie one which doesn’t have a walk in audience who will come to the night regardless of what is on) then there is little sense in the venue allowing you a slot unless you are going to draw a crowd. The only way for the venue to ensure that is by charging venue/PA hire or making sure you sell a certain number of tickets. I guess this is a case of ” putting your money where your mouth is” for a band who are promoting the gig themselves. There are many acts who will claim to have the ability to draw a hundred fans when, in reality , only half a dozen will turn out to see them.
For support acts there should be an opportunity to play free of charge on the bill with a band who can draw a crowd. This is the way that bands will draw their own audience.
There are also venues which have regulars (ie on a regular indie disco night or local band night) and these nights should always be FOC for the band. If people are not buying tickets for a closed event then the band should always be given a slot to play without paying.
It is assumed, of course, that the audience for this blog is originals bands and not cover bands (a totally different set of rules apply for the covers band.) Original bands, assuming that they have ambitions to make a living from music, are aiming for the rarified world of recorded music , live ticket sales, publishing and merchandise sales which in this new landscape count as a living for the pro-musician in an original band. It’s a sad fact that achieving any kind of following in the live arena does require some investment.