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Pay to Play is it good or bad for musicians?

What is pay-to-play?

Pay To Play is the act of turning in money in order to play a show. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from (out of pocket, through ticket sales, etc) it's the act of turning money in before a musician performs. This is what qualifies it as pay to play.


There is a lot of miss conception about Pay to Play.

Here are a couple:

1. I will be hurting the venues if I don't do pay to play.

If a venue is charging bands to play there they should not be in business, as your not going to bring in new business buy doing these pay to play shows. I'm not saying don't support venues but it's a 2 way street. They should have the clients and you are their to entertain the venue clients by putting on a good show and sticking around to talk to the venues clients and yes have some drinks and eat their too.

2. But I'm opening for a bigger band and this might be our big brake or we will make lots of new fans.

Buy you selling tickets or paying to play you are just paying for the venue or promoter to get this band to play there and most of the people you are selling tickets to are already your fans and most of the people that bought tickets in advance from the promoter or venue are coming to see the headliner. They won't even be there to see you perform. This even happens at larger concerts. I have been a bigger shows and they have two opening bands and the place doesn't seem to fill up til the second opener or co-headliner takes the stage.

We can dive into this more if your interested, as Musicians there is things you can do and pay to play is not one of them.



Here is stuff I have heard bands.

The venues or promoter offer them a great opportunity to expose themselves to new fans. This of course never happens. All the band ends up doing, is paying a few hundred bucks to play for their close friends.

Seen this too many times. Bands get really upset about it but then they do it again and expect a different outcome but it was the same as before.


Here is another miss conception about paying to play at a bigger venue.

This one I read online and I have to agree with this one 100% as playing at a bigger venue is not going to get your band discovered if you are that good music people will find you. Promoters will use this one to play on your dreams to make it big.

Are Promoters lazy and this is why they have adopted the Pay to Play?


Let’s be honest off the bat here, promoters that adopt the pay to play policy are scam artists. It used to be that promoters got their name because their job was to promote the gig in order to get bodies through the door. They would receive a percentage of door take for their hard work, and the band would get the rest. The venue itself would make a killing on the bar and everyone was happy.

Sure promoters like to spin their particular pay to play policy to make it more appealing. For instance you have to guarantee to sell 50 tickets and all the money goes to direct to them, and then you get 50 tickets for yourself to sell to your friends. Or they give you tickets for you to sell and they take a vast percentage of the profit while the band does all the work selling them. However it is phrased, the outcome is always the same - promoters stop doing their job, because they have made their money for the evening, long before anyone even comes through the door. The promotion is left down to the band themselves who simply bug their friends to buy the tickets they have to sell. Ultimately they have to give most of them away and pay the promoter the money out of their own pocket.

The downward spiral that this has on a music scene is huge; it kills the infrastructure that keeps the different levels of the scene from growing.

This is from

Why is pay to play hurting musicians and the music scene?

Stop Pay To Play

The pay-to-play structure of promoting puts money first and talent second. Bands are left to promote themselves AND the show, with little more than a flyer from the promoter. Come show night, they hardly make money off merch (if at all since their fans just had to pay $ to get into the venue) as the majority of pay-to-play deals leave the venue/promoter keeping all funds from the door. There are many promoters sending contracts to bands to send all the ticket monies prior to the show, to guarantee their time slot ($$$’s or more), sometimes taking a percent of their merch sales as well. With money being of the highest priority, it puts young, inexperienced musicians on stages they aren’t ready for because they have financial backing (often from their parents). It has made the promoters lazy since there are always new, fresh faces gracing the scene (at least here in California). It’s very obvious to any band that’s been around more than a year that these promoters send mass messages to new bands with minimal social networking presence or bands that have already expressed disinterest; throwing a wide net trying to catch any band they can. This makes show lineups poorly thought out, with bands of various genres and ages being on the same stage in the same night. It has fans come in for just the one band they bought a ticket directly from and they leave right after. Music fans have no idea where to go to find new music and they believe all new music is of the same lack of caliber


You you can read the whole Article here

Ending Pay to Play. Is it hurting musicians and the local music scene?

What can you do as a band to help the struggling scene?

Don't do Pay to play.

There are other options. If your band is new and your not sure if your ready for a paying show. Do a jam night at a local bar/venue they are all over the place and they are free. Play a free event like a charity event. Find other bands that play your genre of music and take a split at the door.

You and your band can check out other local bands and support the scene and network with each other. It's not a competition.

As a 35+ year professional musician with literally thousands of gigs under my belt and numerous tours of numerous countries, I'll tell ya this: None of this is really new. Venues have tried for years to find ways around paying for entertainment. So how/why does it still happen? Simple. MUSICIANS are the cause. Club owners are in business to make money. Musicians/entertainers-in-general need to view their "art" as a business as well. The first time you do a free show, you have just tipped the scales against yourself. If you don't place a value on your music, no one else will either. Sure, your friends/family think you're swell! But that ain't gonna pay the bills. You need to get complete strangers to love your music and want to come see you. Quite tricky in this day and age. The economy sucks and most folks won't even pay for a CD or download...and we want them to pay to see us? Ask yourself, what are you bringing to the table? Why should 100 strangers pay their hard-earned money to see you? It used to be that most bars/clubs that had live entertainment would, begrudgingly, pay. Some would try to stiff you. Word would get out and that place wouldn't get an act through their doors. Not today. The venues have become as nasty as promoters (and yes, there ARE good ones out there...but they ARE a minority). Do NOT do a show without a written contract. Have everything spelled out in black and white. If a venue refuses to sign a contract, then why the hell would you want to work with them? All of this CAN be fixed, but it won't happen until musicians all band together and say ENOUGH and start taking their music career seriously. There will always be hobby musicians out have to be better and able to prove it. Good luck y'all! After 35+ years, I'm winding down my career. I wish each and every one of you the fun, joy, and success that I've had and more! As my auntie used to say before a show, "

Check out Memphis Mike on

Where is the guarantee from the Venue or promoter that they will have people there to see your band play other then the people you sold tickets too.

They expect you you to sell tickets and if you don't you don't play.