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Oct 03, 2017

Pay to Play: 5 Reasons to Say No

The pay-to-play model – in which bands are required to sell tickets, pay for venue space, or otherwise part with cash for opportunities to play or air their music – has becoming increasingly popular. Despite industry backlash from artists against this model, young and emerging artists are continually parting with money to play their music – or even get it heard on radio stations. But the pay-to-play model is not only unsustainable, it assigns all the risk to performing artists – rather than artists and venues or stations sharing the risk. Here are five reasons you should say no to pay-to-play.

Most Can't Afford It

In a great number of pay-to-play models, artists are required not only to sell tickets to their own performances, but may even be required to buy “leftover” tickets if they have not reached the ticket sales requirements by the date of their performance. This can add up to hundreds of dollars that many artists simply don't have. Some radio stations also require money from artists to submit music to be played on their station – and some charge exorbitant fees. While some artists are financially successful enough to be able to afford these fees, they need the promotion far less than the artists who can't afford it.

Advertisement Revenue, Not Artist Revenue

Venues and radio stations often benefit from advertiser revenue, particularly if they work with high-profile brands or companies. For example, a lot of venue owners will allow product demos to take place at their bar or club – product demos that the company running the demo will pay the venue generously for. Radio stations run principally off advertisement revenue as well, airing commercials between song sets. A well-managed club or radio station has no need to take money from artists; instead, they should be looking to generate revenue not only from their patrons, but from advertisers.

It Creates an Unfair Standard

Endless complaints have arisen from artists who went with a pay-to-play model about essentially playing to empty rooms after shelling out hard-earned cash to have the chance to perform – and then making no money back on the enterprise. Pay-to-play creates a standard in which the the artists assume all of the financial risk, while the venue takes on absolutely no risk at all. While some level of risk will always be present when it comes to booking talent – especially emerging talent – for the venue or promoter to require the artist to undertake one hundred percent of the risk with fewer assets on hand is desperately unfair.

It Allows Venues to Not Promote

If artists take on all the work selling and promoting tickets, the venue doesn't have to do anything – they don't have to put up flyers, do digital marketing, or anything else that involves marketing the show the artists are attempting to put on. This puts performing artists at a distinct disadvantage, particularly emerging or lesser-known artists – they don't necessarily have the connections that the venue may, and there is a tremendous number of people they won't be reaching for their performance if the venue does nothing to promote. Once again, it assigns all the risk to the artist – and none to the venue or promoter.

It Deprives Artists – and Venues - of Income

In addition to potentially having to shell out money, pay-to-play often deprives artists of income they might have earned from a show if the venue doesn't promote or help drive sales. An appropriate professional relationship between artists and venues or promoters will help to generate more income for both sides – so rather than simply having their costs covered, a venue will generally make more money if they don't opt for a pay-to-play model, as will the talent they've booked.

No matter what stage of your career you're in, each of these is a good reason to say no to pay-to-play – and to encourage other artists to do the same.

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