Some sort of super massive pink paint bomb ordered to be left under a car

Read this and embrace the idea of how it can and indeed already does work at the grassroots level. We didn’t write this, the article had been flowing around the web over the last few months. Petty much says it all to us though and we have been shouting about this Pay 2 Play crap again recently. We put up a My Space page, seems the Pay to Play scumbags complained and got it all removed, we’re not going to sit by, shut and let this pass though...  


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Don't Pay to Play

Pay to play exploits bands, damages the live music scene in your town or city, makes it harder for bands to get an audience and bails out promoters who should get the hell out of the music business.

And it has its bad points, too.

What it is

There's a lot of confusion over what pay to play actually is, but in simple terms, it's a system where a venue expects you to pay for the privilege of doing a gig.

Here's how it works. A promoter offers you a gig in a city centre venue, and you're given a book of tickets to sell. Either you'll be asked to pay the promoter a fee upfront, or it's explained to you that there's a minimum number of tickets you *must* sell - and give the promoter the proceeds from. You're only allowed to keep any ticket revenue once you've reached that figure; if you don't make enough, you have to pay the shortfall out of your own pocket.

In most cases the P2P figure is between 60 and 90 quid, but one band we know were asked to take part in a Battle Of The Bands (often a front for P2P activity) where each band were expected to flog 40 tickets at £3 each. That's £120 per band.


What it isn't

Pay to play shouldn't be confused with a hall hire, which is when you pay a venue a hire fee (for example, Nice and Sleazy in Glasgow charges £120; the 13th Note Café, also Glasgow, charges around £60). With a hall hire, it's your gig. You choose the bands, promote the gig, control the whole shooting match. You can charge admission or let people in for free - it's entirely up to you. It's your gig.

With pay to play gigs, you don't have that control. The ticket price is decided by the promoter. The running order is decided by the promoter. The other bands are chosen by the promoter. But the promoter isn't taking any of the risks. When you hire a venue to do your own gig, if nobody turns up then you're out of pocket - a pretty good sign that perhaps you're being too ambitious. However, with a pay to play gig, if nobody turns up the promoter isn't out of pocket - so he or she has no incentive to get off their arse and promote the gig.


Why pay to play is evil

Pay to play is evil because the promoter isn't taking any risk - but the bands are. If nobody turns up, the promoter isn't out of pocket; the bands are. And as a result, few pay to play promoters do anything to justify their job title. They won't send out press releases, tell the NME about your gig, contact Radio Clyde, or get the gig listed on the Beatscene, or in The List. You won't see posters all over the city, flyers in bars, or emailed adverts to the venue's mailing list. If you're lucky, the promoter will stick an A4 poster in the lobby on the night of the gig.

Bands rarely sell enough tickets to cover the pay to play fee, and as a result they dip into their own pockets to cover the money due to the venue. Rather than being paid to do the gig (pub gigs used to net you around £100 for playing), you end paying the venue for the privilege of playing to an empty room.

The venue wouldn't dream of charging the bar staff for the privilege of working there. Why should you pay for the privilege of making money for the promoter? Because that's what you're doing.

It's also worth pointing out that some pay to play gigs are run in-house by the venue themselves. They *certainly* shouldn't be taking money from the bands, as they can always rely on the money taken at the bar - most bars run at up to 70% profit. That's why pay to play gigs are rarely on a Friday or Saturday night - instead, they're relying on you to bring punters through the door on a slow night, so they can sell overpriced booze to them. In other words, the venue is making a fortune from you, and should be paying you.


Money, Money, Money

Let's do the sums where three bands sell 30 tickets each (just enough to cover a £90 pay to play fee). We'll assume that each punter buys four drinks, and those drinks cost them £2 each. That works out as:

Money paid upfront by bands: £270.00
Bar sales: £720.00
Total income: £990.00
Total paid to bands: £ 0.00

So the bands have generated just under a thousand quid of income, and been paid nothing for it. And that's assuming the band members themselves don't buy any drink. Of course, both the promoter and the venue have their costs: in particular, those drinks that sell for £2 will have cost the venue around £1.00 (actually it's nearer 50p, and the price to punters is nearer £2.50, but we'll keep it at £1 and £2 to make the sums easier).

Then there's the cost of making that one poster that's hanging in the lobby of the venue. So the costs are something like this:

Bar sales: £720.00
Money paid upfront by bands: £270.00
Cost of drinks to venue: £360.00
Cost of poster: £ 0.10
Total profit: £629.90

The final profit on the night, then, is £629.90, and the bands don't get a single penny of that money. Yes, there are other costs involved in running a venue, but every venue has similar costs. Yet they don't all operate pay to play.


What's the alternative?

Let's compare that to DF Concerts (who put on most of the gigs in King Tut's), who operate a straight 50/50 split of ticket sales. Same three bands, same 30 tickets each.

Sell thirty tickets there and you'll walk away with half the ticket money - it's only going to be £45, but that's £45 more than you'd get at the pay to play venue. More to the point, Tut's is only making £45 from each band, and doesn't have the bar sales to fall back on.

Here's how it works:

Ticket sales: £270.00
Bands' profits: £135.00
Promoter's profit: £135.00

Despite the smaller profit - and the better deal for bands - DF still manages to spend a fortune on flyers, poster campaigns and other forms of publicity.

While we're at it, let's look at the same figures - but this time, the bands have hired Nice 'N' Sleazy and run their own gig.

Ticket sales: £270.00
Cost of hire: £120.00
Bands' profits: £150.00

If you'd put on your own gig, you'd have got £50 per band. Compare that to our pay to play venue and promoter, which net themselves nearly a grand for doing nothing. And they don't have to: why bother promoting a gig when you're guaranteed a grand in income? Why go to the extra effort and expense of telling the world when you can get the same results by sitting in your office and pretending you're a proper promoter?

Pay to play promoters will argue that you can make a great deal of money from their gigs, and there's some truth in that. If it's your first gig in town, you'll bring all your mates, your girlfriend, maybe even your mum and dad. Even after the pay to play fee, you'll walk away with £150. Not bad, eh?

The problem with that is you won't make as much money next time, and you'll make less the time after that. People come to see you because they're your pals, and they'll eventually lose interest. Your first gig will be the biggest audience you'll ever get at that venue, and the numbers get smaller with each gig.

No-one is innocent

The fact of the matter is that pay to play gigs aren't any good. Bands are often playing their very first gig, and they haven't learned stagecraft or any of the other things that make them worth seeing live. The general public, as a rule, don't go to pay to play gigs: why pay £3, £4 to see three crap bands you've never heard of? So you never get in front of a new audience, you never get any better at what you do, your friends drift away and your band splits up.

Pay to play is killing the live music scene, and bands need to accept some responsibility for that. You aren't ready to play a 300 capacity venue on your first gig, no matter how much the idea appeals to your ego. You need to play small venues and learn how to be a band, become musically tight and visually appealing, before there's any point in doing ticket gigs. That means slogging round the uni circuit, the pub circuit and so on. It's hard work, but it makes you a better band in the long run. And it makes you a more popular band in the long run.

By all means do the pay to play gigs if you think you can fill the venue. But don't complain about the state of the live music scene in your local city if you do. If you support pay to play venues, you're part of the problem.

Postscript: Frequently Asked Questions

Playing to a lot of people and getting exposure - isn't that what playing live is about? Getting noticed and getting appreciated?

The big lie about P2P gigs is that they'll help you build a following. They won't. P2P venues are notable because nobody goes to them - the crowds are only there to support their mates' band, and you'll find that average punters simply don't go to the gigs. And that's common sense: nobody will pay money to see three bands they've never heard of, not least because P2P gigs have a reputation for being crap.

People who go to see their friends' band often don't like the other bands on principle, so the other bands' punters turn up late, leave early, or just ignore you. So, you don't win over any new punters. Not only that, it can put people off before they've even seen you - people take one look at the gigs page on a band's website, see the places you play, and think 'pay to play band. Next!'

Why are you always banging on about DIY gigs?

If you put on your own gig and choose your own line-up, you can put on bands who you have something in common with, either musically or ideologically. You can promise people a whole gig worth of good music, rather than just your own set. And one of the advantages of hiring a venue like Sleazy's or The Note is that you can get a walk in crowd - people who just happen to be in the place, and go downstairs to see whatever bands are on.

Isn't there a downside to hiring a venue and doing it yourself?

There's some risk involved. It's possible that no one could turn up, and you'd be out of pocket. But you're automatically out of pocket at a pay to play anyway, and would lose even more money if no one showed.

You have to bring backline/drums. Although any band that's prepared to be shafted to the tune of £90 because they can't be bothered to lug an amp up some stairs probably deserves to be ripped off.

You have to promote the gig yourself. But Pay to Play promoters don't do any advertising beyond getting the gigs listed in the Live Scene - which costs nothing and any good venue will automatically do anyway. They certainly don't print up posters (maybe one A4 sheet in the foyer of the venue - but that's hardly going to pull in the man in the street).

If pulling 30 people is no problem, why not get them to go to a proper venue instead? That way, you get the profits. Paying a promoter because you're too lazy to do it yourself is one thing, but paying a promoter who doesn't even promote is just stupidity.

But why bother?

When you do gigs yourself (or join gigs organised by your peers) the line-up's usually much more likely to appeal to all the bands' fans, and there's a collaborative vibe that you just don't get from P2P. With P2P gigs, the bands are treated like cattle; when you're doing hall hires, the bands are all in it together. It might not sound like a big deal, but it makes a *massive* difference.

Isn't this just sour grapes from bands who can't sell enough tickets?

When you look at the names of the bands playing P2P gigs, the vast majority of them are new bands: the people who've been around for a bit longer, the ones you read about in the papers or hear on the radio, know how much of a con these gigs are, and simply don't do them. These gigs do offer a chance to make money for a very short period of time, but in the long term they damage your band and they damage the music scene.

You say P2P promoters don't promote. But the gigs get listed in the Live Scene!

Getting "Unsigned Showcase, bands tbc" listed in Live Scene and, very occasionally the Metro, costs the promoters nothing and won't pull in punters. People might go to gigs if they've read a preview somewhere and like the sound of it. The most you'll see written about a pay to play gig - unless you do the publicity yourself - is "local band night". And if you're doing the publicity yourself, what's the promoter doing for their money?

I don't see the problem. The promoter's giving the bands a gig, and they've got to cover their costs.

Bands have costs too. Rehearsals, van hire, petrol, gear, time off work to do gigs, all the stuff that you need to do when you're gigging. Yet there's this idea that the promoter should get paid, but the bands should be so grateful for the gig that they should not only pay their own expenses, but they should pay the promoter's expenses too.

You wouldn't dream of paying McDonalds to let you flip burgers, so why should you pay venues for the privilege of working there? At P2P venues, the bouncers get paid; the bar staff get paid; the cleaners get paid. Yet the bands - the people who are actually bringing the customers - are expected to pay the promoter if enough people don't turn up. In other words, you're expected to pay the promoter if he doesn't do his job properly. That's insane.

I'm a promoter and I think all this "don't do Pay to Play" stuff is unfair. I can't take the risk of losing money if bands don't bring enough people.

Then your venue is too big, or your knowledge of the local music scene isn't good enough. Quite frankly, if you need bands to pay a deposit to play a gig then as a promoter, you're completely out of your depth. A promoter's job is to put the right band in the right venue, make the world aware of it, and go home with a tidy profit. If you can't be sure of covering your costs without P2P, if you're not sure that the bands will bring enough people to make a profit for you, then you've got the wrong bands, or the wrong venue, or both.

But, by making bands put down a deposit, it means I'm covered if they don't show up.

If you can't be sure a band will show up, you shouldn't be booking that band in the first place. The main reason bands don't turn up at P2P gigs is because they haven't sold enough tickets to cover your fee.


GENE SERENE - "the next queen of perverted electronic pop" (
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