October 8, 2019

Musicians Pay-to-play shows

Musicians Pay-to-play shows

Should Musicians Avoid Pay-To-Play Shows?

Is it a good idea… or should musicians totally avoid Pay-to-Play shows?
A touring band is coming through and a promoter wants to guarantee their expenses are covered. Makes sense, but what about the opening bands?
I wanted to share my .02 cents on the subject, to anyone facing this issue.
Let me first say 99% of the time I don’t believe Pay-to-Play Shows are worth it, but there are always exceptions.
A little research is needed before a yes can be confirmed. So the first question you need to ask yourself is:

Worst case scenario, how many people can I bring?

This number isn’t about what sounds the best, or what will impress the promoter, or your ego. It’s a practical number you thoughtfully decided.
You do this because you want to know exactly how much you’re paying to play.
For this example, you need 30 tickets to play and lets say your band draws 10 people in a worst case scenario.
Take the minimum number of people you can bring (10) and subtract it from the number of tickets you’re required to sell (30).
30 – 10 = 20 tickets
Now use the 20 tickets remaining and multiply it by the ticket price.
Since I dropped out of college to tour, we will use $10 tickets to keep it simple.
20 tickets X $10 = $200, OR the cost of playing the show. 
But, the cost of playing is only half the equation. We’re trying to gauge if the exposure is worth the cost.
So how do you predict a show’s turnout?
You don’t. You research to make an educated decision.
Specifically, this:
Research every social media page the touring artist is on. Aim to dig through the last 9-12 months of content.
Here’s what you should look for…

  1. People commenting and asking the band to play in your city.
  2. Has the artist played in your city before? And was it recent enough to affect their draw?
  3. Find the Facebook event page from their last show in town, how many people went?
  4. Do they have an album that recently became hot?
  5. Has the band done at least 1 support tour with a ‘big name’ artist in the last 9 months?
  6. How many of your Facebook friends, “like” the headlining band on Facebook?

Ok, so you did your research.

When You Should Consider Taking A “Pay-to-Play” Show:

You found the headlining band to fit into one or more of these categories:

  1. Multiple fans are commenting for the artist to play in your city.
  2. They have played your city in the last 3-9 months, and, after looking at older Facebook event pages, you feel comfortable with the number of people who went to their past shows.
  3. They supported 1 big name artist with a date in your city.
  4. They have a new album that everyone you know seems to be talking about.
  5. Over 50 of your Facebook friends “like” the headlining bands page on Facebook.

If this sounds complicated, it’s not.
Remember you have only one goal:
“Does this artist bring the awareness needed to justify the cost of playing?”
End of story. If the answer is YES, then it’s worth it! And you should take the show!

When Musicians Should NOT Take A “Pay-to-Play” Show:

After doing research you didn’t find much to help gauge your answer. The show’s turnout is a total mystery. Cross your fingers, close your eyes, and hold your breathe!
I personally don’t like doing that. You could end up paying $200 for…

  1. Your bands name on the local tour flyer.
  2. Playing to the same audience you normally would play to.
  3. A time slot before the majority of the headliners fans have arrived.
  4. Yourself and the other locals were the only people to draw.

Sadly this situation gets thrown onto independent artists all the time. The next time you’re asked to perform a “pay-to-play” show, make sure you do your research to ensure you make the best decision.
How do you feel about musicians and pay-to-play shows? Leave it in the comments!
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