[00:00:00] Welcome to episode 128 of the Bandhive podcast. It is time for the episode of the Bandhive podcast. My name is James Cross and I help independent artists tour smart. Today, I'm . Going to talk about one of the most controversial topics in live music, which is pay to play. If you haven't heard the term pay to play? Well, no worries. That's probably a good thing.
It's a predatory practice where venues or promoters make artists pay to play a show rather than it paying that artist to perform at their venue or event.
there are a few exceptions, but in almost every case pay to play is just not worth it as an artist. But I do see a lot of artists calling things that aren't pay to play, pay, to play and complaining about venues and promoters that aren't actually trying to screw over artists. So I need to make the distinction between what is and what isn't pay to play.
So please follow along with me as we go through this. And then we'll talk about [00:01:00] the rare occasions where pay-to-play might be worth it for an independent artist.
The simplest way to define pay-to-play is when you pay out of your own pocket to play a show. So this could be, if you have to pay for tickets, the venue gives you let's say 40 tickets or whatever amount to sell. And if you don't sell them all, you have to pay for the unsold tickets as well. This way you are losing money because you're buying those tickets.
That is not good. And that's a deal that you should stay away from. On the other hand, it could be a flat fee to get on a show. If you give me $200, you can open for whatever headliner is coming through. There are other methods that promoters and venues will use to get some pay-to-play action going.
But these are by far the two most common ones. You really don't want to pay for unsold tickets and you don't want to pay a flat fee to join a bill. That's just a bad idea. In most cases when you're dealing with the promoter or a talent buyer of a venue,
I do need to [00:02:00] stress though, that selling tickets is not pay to play. If you have to pre-sell tickets and then turn over the money you made from sales, but you're not paying for unsold tickets. That's not pay-to-play. I see a lot of artists call that pay to play, but you're not losing any money. You didn't pay anything out of pocket.
All you did was get a certain amount of tickets and then you sold half of them and you turned over the money that you sold. You didn't pay anything for that. Maybe you made a profit. Maybe you didn't. It depends on the deal, but you did not pay. So that is not pay to play. it's a massive difference.
And I don't know why a lot of artists call that pay to play. What are you actually paying? You're not paying anything. That money gets split between the artists who are playing the show. And that's not your money. That's how that works. Now, ideally, that gets split. Maybe the venue is going to take all the money, but if they break even typically, that's how the deal is structured.
If the show brings in more than a certain amount of money, then the bands split that. Or [00:03:00] maybe even if you have 40 tickets, you sell 30 of them. And after that it's pure profit. So you get to keep, if you sell out all your 40 tickets, a quarter of the profit, it really depends on how it works, but if you're not paying out of pocket, then it's not pay to play.
It's as simple as that.
the other thing I see artists call pay to play is a venue or promoter taking a profit on the show, that's how shows work that is totally standard. And it's the basis for most contracts that big artists play that is if they're not getting just a flat guarantee, they are going to get a split of some sort, whether it's a plus deal or a versus deal, or just adored.
That's how it works. You deduct the expenses and then you split the profits. That is a standard deal. Typically 85, 15 80 5% of the artists, 15% of the venue or promoter after expenses. either way, that's not pay-to-play because again, you're not paying anything out of pocket. That's not pay to [00:04:00] play.
That is the venue of business, running their business, doing work and getting compensated for that work. Not to mention if you're working with a promoter who isn't involved with the venue directly, they're not part of the venue. They have those expenses to pay whether your show makes a profit or not. So if no one shows up, they're taking all the risk, it's only fair for them to be compensated for that.
If the show does.
I really don't understand why artists insist on calling that pay to play. And, you know, I know it's not all artists who say that it's typically the DIY basement punks who say that they're like, oh, that's pay-to-play no, it's not. That's how the industry works. If you want to get paid all the money, that's fine.
They'll play a basement. Like I love basement shows, but would you rather play two 10 people in a basement and get $50 or play to a hundred people to 200 people in a club and get $150 after the split, which one's a better option you tell me [00:05:00] like, yeah, you're not getting the whole amount, but you're getting a lot more in general.
That's still a good deal.
The next thing that is not pay to play is the venue charging you rent. If you choose to self promote the show. Now this is only if you choose to sell throughout the show. If the only deal they have is that you rent the space and put on a show. That's not good, but if they offer, Hey, you can work with this promoter here, or you can rent the room and promote the show yourself and you choose to do that.
That's fine. That's not pay to play because you chose to do that. You could have worked with a promoter, but instead you decided to rent the venue. So yeah, you're paying for the venue technically, but it's not pay to play because you put yourself into that situation.
And I'm not saying that's a bad situation to be in. If you can successfully promote the show, then that's great because you'll probably earn more money when you get a hundred percent of the profits after expenses. You know, being your rent, maybe you're paying for production, that kind of stuff, but you get a hundred percent rather [00:06:00] than just 85% or 80% after expenses.
So that's a good deal. If you know that you can make that show sell out or get close to.
Now, like I said earlier, in most cases pay to play is a bad idea, but some notable exceptions include strategic opportunities for growth. for example, if you are growing your audience and you want to reach more people After you've already shown that your music has appeal a buy-on for a tour might be of interest now with a buy on you're not paying the venue or promoter.
this is a key distinction here. Instead, it's a payment to the headlining artist of the tour, and you're not just doing one show. You're going to do multiple shows, maybe even the whole tour. As part of that, maybe transportation is included. Maybe sounded lights is included. Maybe it's not, it all depends on the deal you are signing.
So be sure to find out those details and find out if there are any hidden costs before you do a buy on for a tour that said for most artists of buy-on is not a good [00:07:00] idea. So be very careful and make sure that it's actually a good opportunity. With a potential for return on your investment, whether that's immediate and you're going to be making profit on merch sales, or whether that's down the road, because you grow your fan base, you need to crunch those numbers and make sure it's going to be worth it for your band to go out on this tour.
Because if it's not worth it, you probably shouldn't do it. Even if it's a really cool opportunity. If it's not going to be a good long-term investment, you don't want to do it.
Another exception to pay to play would be if the deal is structured in a unique way where you don't lose money. For example, if you have to, pre-buy a certain number of tickets, but then you get refunded for tickets that don't get sold. This is basically the venue's insurance policy to make sure that they get paid for tickets. Because a lot of times when artists presale tickets, they keep the money and don't hand it over to the venue which they're supposed to, but they make excuses like, oh, I left it in the car, blah, blah, blah.
This is the venue saying, okay. As long as you bring the tickets back, don't worry. You can get a refund [00:08:00] for anything you didn't sell. So you are technically paying out of pocket upfront. Okay. but any unsold tickets that you bring back to the box office or to whoever you're working with, you get that refund.
So at the time of the show, you don't have any out of pocket costs for tickets. So it's not pay to play, even though you are paying out of pocket upfront
to some things. Pay-to-play is almost always bad, but don't call things, pay to play if they're not paid to play, because one that gives a venue or promoter, a bad name And two, it's not really paid to play a lot of the time because you're not paying out of pocket. So keep this definition of pay-to-play in mind. And then when you are working on booking shows, if you think something is paid to play. Just think through it and see if you aren't going to be paying anything out of pocket to play a show. If not, then it's not pay to play. It might not be a great deal, but at least, you know, you're not going to be paying anything out of pocket.
on the other hand, if it is pay to play, then you know, [00:09:00] it probably is a bad deal and you need to evaluate more if it's a worthwhile opportunity for you.
That does it for this episode of the Bandhive podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in and listening. I really appreciate it. And I hope that you will take this information about pay-to-play and Lily consider it when you book shows or before you start spreading rumors about venues on.
now pay to play is something to avoid when you're booking a shows. But in general, you do have to negotiate every single show you book to get the best deal that the venue can offer you, especially because it's tough to know if a promoter is honest and reliable, unless you've worked with them before.
So being able to protect yourself and anticipate what promoters might do is really, really important. And even better. If you have a solid agreement in place that is always. this is all covered in my course called Road Ready, which teaches you how to plan book and run a tour as an independent artist.
If you'd like to learn more about this, go to bandhive.rocks/roadready, and you can [00:10:00] learn how to go on tour reliably and profitably. Again, the link for that is bandhive.rocks/roadready. I hope to see you there soon. And of course, we'll be back next Tuesday at 6:00 AM Eastern with another brand new episode of the Bandhive podcast, until then I hope you have a great week stay safe. And of course, as always keep rocking.