Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pay For Play

I received the following comment on a previous post and thought I would answer this the best I can for everyone.

Matt said...

"Hey Jeff,
I've got some friends in a band in LA (Prohibition Rose) that has really taken off of late. They had a long rough start, but they're gaining traction and a good local following. My question is - what's your opinion of the "Pay to Play" format. They told me when they first got there that most of the clubs where people went to see bands were doing this, and I don't mean the club gets a cut of the door, I mean the band litterally pays to play there. Is this the norm in cities like LA, and if not - in your opinin - should bands persue these opportunities or go the longer, more tried and true route of getting in on word of mouth alone ?"
Pay for play is prevalent in many places, not just LA. There are various forms of pay for play. The type I have encountered the most is a situation in which the band must purchase a specified number of tickets at a "discounted" price from the club or the person "promoting" that night in the club and then sell them directly to fans, friends and family, hopefully to make a profit. 
Another I have encountered is where the band pays a flat fee for the room (that includes house sound, house lighting, security etc.) and then essentially plays for the door. 
If I am understanding Matt correctly, he is describing a situation in which the band pays a fee directly just to play in the club with no back end recoup opportunity. If this situation is actually the case, I doesn't make much sense to me even if the room is the hot place to play. Why you ask? The purpose of "play to pay" is for the club owner to create a co-promote situation with the bands that play there. To actually make the band promote and work hard to get people in the room for their show.  What incentive does a band have to really work and get people in the room if there is is no reward for their hard work? Or might there be a hidden upside? If this club is THE place to play and you have the opportunity to play there then I say, play the room. If the band has the opportunity to gain fans that are into live music and they hang out there, you want those people to see you. You want those people to follow your band. Word of mouth is where it's at but you also need to play the right rooms to build your tribe. If this club can help you build, and you don't have to sell your car to play there, then once again I say do it. Especially if you can keep all of your merch and CD sales from the gig.
Believe me when I tell you that even at the national level, tour buy-ons happen all the time. When KISS had their first reunion tour in 1996, I had heard that many of the bands that opened on that tour bought on. Gravity Kills actually got paid when we did The Sex Pistols reunion tour the same year (I can actually say that I have seen The Sex Pistols over 20 time and I fucking hate KISS (imagine me saying KISS like Gene Simmons does in the Dr. Pepper commercials. KIIIIIIIS)

Bands signed to majors go out all the time running a huge deficit against their recoup accounts and many bands that you hear on the radio are barely breaking even if not losing money on the road. In essence, even national acts are paying to play. 

We are really only scratching the surface on this topic. Do you want to continue?


  1. That's a great point regarding the National acts. I've always realized that the business side of music can be a death trap, but I'd never looked at it like that - "pay to play" for a Major Label band. I may be the only one, but I'd definately like to hear more on this topic all the way around.

  2. Don't look at it like a Death Trap. We are discussing these topics to figure it all out together. You are going to look at something from a different angle that I am and we all can learn from each other. Gravity Kills once lost (on recoup) about $150,000.00 touring Europe. If that is not pay for play then I don't know what is.

  3. When I was a teenager the band I was in played a couple pay to play gigs, never made our money back on ticket sales, but always had a blast, and usually made some new fans too! Would love to hear more on your view point on this Jeff.

    I get the idea behind why clubs do this, but I think it's kind of sad for the bands that are really good but can't see spending some of the crazy amounts they ask. I've heard pay to play in LA can be over 1500 dollars. Way to much in my opinion...

  4. Yeah, I think the term "death trap" may have been a bit harsh. I'm referring to things I've heard about newly signed bands who get these huge signing bonuses and money to record, and then can't or DON'T pay it back because of the "lifestyle" mixed with their own irresponsibility or even a blatantly unbalanced contract - thus they wash out after one or two albums. Wether this is fact or fiction, I don't know, but it seems pretty plausible.
    On the subject of Pay to Play - specifically $150,000 GK lost in Europe - I guess that depends on your viewpoint of the situation, and what the money's being used for. I've been looking at it negatively, as the two founding members of Prohibition Rose did when they first got to LA (from what they told me) - but now they're soaring, and some of the ideas I've picked up on this blog are helping to shift my paradigm as well. I suppose you can look at it as a loss, or money well spent, and I guess that's the case with any Pay to Play situation. I mean, if I had a chance at the Viper Room in LA and I had to come up with 1500, I'd sure as hell bust my balls to do it, just because of the exposure and the networking potential. If, however, I was just "playing house" with my music - then it certainly wouldn't be worth it, and perhaps that's part of the reason those arrangements are becoming popular.