Whether artists should “pay to play” or not isn’t a new conversation. I’ve been a part of discussions about it online and off, and have read many articles covering many different opinions on the topic.
I’ve seen the model take various forms. I’ve heard of artists getting completely ripped off and being asked to pay an absurd amount of money and sell tickets on top of that just to get onto a show while receiving no compensation. More commonly artists are being asked to buy their tickets up front and are given the opportunity to recoup their money if they sell the amount of tickets expected.
If you were able to also earn a small split from your ticket sales on top of recouping your money, this might not actually be a bad deal for new artists without a proven history of drawing a crowd. As long as the details are fair and the show offers the right level of value.
But I’d avoid any situation that requires a ton of effort and work on your part just to take money out of your pocket and put it in someone else’s. There is almost always a more strategic way you can invest your money rather than “buying” your way into an individual show.
How To Do More Gigs Without Paying To Play
So if you’re not going to pay to play, how are you going to get gigs to perform?
Well to be honest, when it comes to gigging, you won’t start playing big sell out shows right away. There is usually a order most musicians go through:
- You start playing small, local gigs.
- You develop a local following.
- You start opening shows for national acts in your local scene.
- You grow your local following and reputation even more.
- You start headlining local shows.
- You start touring, either a do-it-yourself route or you open tours for more established artists; maybe a mix of both.
- You start headlining your own tours.
Not every artist follows the path in that order, it’s not a strict guide map or anything. But in my observation that’s usually how it works.
Understand the hierarchy (and that you don’t necessarily have to follow it) and figure out where you fit right now. Do this alongside little known tips for getting paid gigs, and you’ll give yourself a much better chance.
Important: Give Promoters A Reason To Give You Gigs
If you haven’t developed a fan following yet by releasing music, marketing yourself and playing local shows ,then it’ll be a lot harder to get a promoter to put you on a show supporting a national touring artist (without paying to play). Some promoters may care about your music and your live show, but at the end of a day it’s a business and it’s about money.
The #1 reason promoters put local artists on shows with national artists is to increase ticket sales and fill the venue’s capacity. That’s what’s most important.
But if you’re not 100% there yet with drawing crowds in, what can you do to start playing bigger shows? Here are three big things:
1. Network With The Right Promoters And Artists
There is a lot of politics and “who you know” that goes on in the music industry. For most, this is common knowledge and no secret.
If you’re in a band and your best friend happens to be one of the best concert promoters in town, you might just luck into some opportunities that other people have to work really hard for. If you’re not that lucky, you can still be intentional and authentic about building relationships with the people who can add a lot of value to your music career.
Figure out who the artists and promoters are whom you should be friends with, then figure out a way to naturally make that connection happen.
You can send them e-mails or a friend request on Facebook if you want. But nothing beats getting face to face with them and having a real, genuine conversation. That’s how you get the doors open initially.
Go to the local shows that they are a part of and support what they’re doing. Get in front of them, make a connection and get yourself remembered.
2. Become A Concert Promoter Yourself
Tired of working relentlessly to get on the radar of local concert promoters only to be ignored? Become a concert promoter yourself.
Spend some time on Google and figure out how the business works. The business model to throw a concert really isn’t difficult. The hard part? Making the right connections, and knowing how to plan for / negotiate the right conditions.
But getting out there and getting real life experience is how you get good at it.
Start small. Throw a couple of local showcases to get your feet wet. These type of shows often work off a “split” deal and don’t require any up front money out of your pocket. Furthermore it’s a good way to start building connections with local artists and venues.
If it goes well, you can eventually start paying guaranteed money up front for more established artists. Sure you’ll be taking on a lot more risk paying upfront for artists and venues, but you’re also throwing larger shows, building clout, and your potential to make decent money is also higher.
The formula to throw a show like this really isn’t complicated. You figure out how much your headlining artists cost, how much your venue costs, and how much your other expenses are (like posters etc).
3. Build A Strong Following In A Specific Market
The top artists on the scene are a minority. These are the artists that local taste makers predict have the best shot of making it outside of the local scene.
If you’re one of the top artists in your local scene, usually the people who should know about you already do. The best venues, promoters, artists, and press people in your scene know who the top local artists are – it’s their job.
The artists that get regarded in this “top” category often get more favorable opportunities than the rest of the artists in the scene. They get better spots in the line up, they get promoted more, they get higher splits on ticket sales. Furthermore, often they aren’t even expected to sell tickets because the promoter knows having them on the line up will equate to ticket sales.
Paying to play isn’t ideal, and there are often other better ways to get gigs. The three above things are all ones that work, but will take work for you to get to the stage where you’ve got regular live shows.
But it’s worth putting the work in.
So, have you ever paid to play? Do you think musicians should? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!