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Published on January 7th, 2015 | by Dylan Lott

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Stopping The Pay To Plague Cycle

Pay to play is a controversial topic of interest throughout the music industry. In the DIY industry, it’s not a happy topic.

The bad apples who use Pay to Play can ruin it for everyone. There are promoters I’ve seen who use it well, and there are promoters who suck at it.

Point being: This is not always an evil practice. It is the other actions of promoters that tend to give birth to what I refer to as the “pay-to-plague.”

What is pay to play, and when it is okay to use it?

Pay to Play is a term meaning a requirement of local bands to sell a certain amount of tickets before they can play.

Speaking on the level of a seasoned promoter, I can tell you this much – pay to play is great and I wish I had been able to use it for even just one show.

The ethics of pay to play is a touchy subject that most people have a strong opinion about. It requires both sides to be careful and proactive.

As a promoter, you can freely use a pay to play business model on every single event. This is a great way to make people generally hate you, and not play any small packages you may be hosting.

Like all things, I find Pay to Play is best in moderation.

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Promoters and Pay To Play

I could get so ridiculously fucking mad talking about my various experiences with pay to play promoters.

Horror stories of not getting to play. Unforgiving requirements. Blatant harassment. These don’t even break the surface.

As a promoter, if you decide to use pay to play, that is fantastic. BandHacks resident author, Timothy Jay, is a shining example of an ethical utilization of a pay to play model.

As a general guideline, you’ll want to look at your expenses and profitability estimations. To preface, that means if you haven’t done any promoting before – don’t use pay to play. You will do it wrong.

Your expenses are one of your most strongly defining variables when looking at pay to play business strategies. The cost of administration for any event can go through the roof quickly and without abandon.

Profitability estimations are just that – base these on the draw of each of your acts.

Whether to be a pay to play event, or a ticketed event without a firm requirement, that’s your call at this point.

Pay to play is generally disliked throughout the US, but if your bands are willing to agree, it is a great business model.

Take into account in your decision making, “how will my locals respond to this?”

Artists and Ethics

Suicide Silence is coming and your band just received the local seat under a pay to play requirement. Everyone in the band is totally stoked, and your dumbass bassist thinks this show will “make you guys famous.”

We just accepted a pay to play event. What do we do?

1. Get all requirements in writing before confirmation.

2. Pay by check – if you don’t get to play the event and have met the in-writing requirements, cancel the check.

Good Guy Greg Tip: Make sure ahead of time a check is okay. The promoter may need to receive the check a day early to process the funds for expenses at the event.

3. Make sure you manage your band.

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If you agree to sell those tickets, you need to fulfill that obligation. Otherwise, it’s not fair to expect the promoter to uphold his obligation to let you play.

4. Do your research and make absolutely fucking certain the bands you are opening for are bands that you can sell tickets for.

It’s not always going to be that everyone will come out for your local band on a Monday night. Sorry kid, life just doesn’t work like that.

5. Do you have a solid history for ticket sales?
Work with promoters that don’t require pre-sales before playing and get in the habit of selling. Selling tickets is a skill that you can improve.

Case and point, it is not hard to become educated on this and protect yourself.

Get everything in writing.

Make sure you’re making a legitimate business agreement with the promoter.

Don’t get mad when he kicks you off a show for not selling all your tickets – especially if you agreed to that in the first place.

tl;dr

There is a large misconception around the word pay to play that’s anti-capitalist and kind of entitled in approach. The stigma comes from bad people, not from an invalid business model.

If both parties agree and protect themselves, pay to play is an excellent resource to get your band on some killer shows.

It’s not like selling tickets is that hard, and doing it is good for your band.

The idea of the Pay To Plague is a good one, but it needs some moderation just like all things.

Take precautions and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

You won’t get fucked off if you take steps to prevent it in the first place.

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