Is Pay to Play OK?

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For artists nowadays the music industry is a double entendre. Meaning it looks easier to break out and be a star, because the internet and the independent music market have made it look easier. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The landscape of the music industry has changed drastically and so have the opportunities. Nowadays it is not uncommon for struggling artists to have to pay to get onto performances, or even open mics. Or paying to open for a big-name industry artist.

On top of all the things that the independent artist has to pay for, such as Beat production, studio recording time, mixing and mastering, graphic design, photography, music videos, packaging, merchandise, marketing and promotions, distribution and publicity, add opportunities to perform.

Let me clear up something though. I’m all for artists taking hold of great opportunities, but there are some things not worth doing. If you are setting up your very own first city to city, or cross country tour, then you’re going to want to have a budget for that. Including things like food, lodging, marketing, transportation expenses. But I’m not really a fan of outright paying to just be on a show. Now this statement is a double-edged sword as I’ve been on both sides of the coin. Being an artist and being the promoter. As an artist, sometimes you may have to put a deposit towards getting tickets that you can sell, which then at least guarantees the promoter that you are going to put in some type of effort to sell tickets to ensure you have an audience at the show. While other promoters don’t take a deposit, you are literally just paying for the opportunity to be performing on the show/showcase. Every now and then a promoter will be bringing a big-name artist into your city to perform for a concert and they will often use artists that they know and trust, or they will use artists that they know are willing to buy in, which will help alleviate some of the promoter’s expenses. This scenario can be good, by creating an opportunity to build your resume. But being honest it is usually not the best scenario for fan base building as it is most likely that you would be performing way before the artist is even in the building. Which then takes away the opportunity for said artist to hear and see you perform. This also means you are usually performing to an almost empty room of people that came early to secure a good spot to see their favourite artist.

If you are looking to build your resume and can afford to pay to open up for some big names, go for it. If not, then it might be a better use for you to save and build a budget to do one of three things. 1. Get a feature from a well-known artist. 2. Bring a well-known artist to perform at a show that you organize, or 3. Build a budget and set up your own tour, which will help establish a fan base in each city and make you look more profitable to investors and big name artists. The experience of being on the road is the tried and true test for every artist. It lets you know if you can cut it in the industry or not.
To sum it all up is pay to play ok? Really it depends who you ask. But for me I don’t always see the benefits outweighing the cost. There are many factors to look at. I don’t have a problem investing in my craft and you as an artist shouldn’t either. But you also must look at what you are getting for the investment and will it help to build your buzz. Your choice!


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