What Does the INDUSTRY Say About Paying To Perform? Is it...

What Does the INDUSTRY Say About Paying To Perform? Is it Normal Or Is It A Scam?

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Recently, the promoters for SXSW issued a statement warning artists about ‘Pay-to-Play’ scams related to the 9 day music festival held in Austin, TX each year. If you haven’t heard, South By Southwest (SXSW) is one of the country’s biggest film, interactive media, and music festivals.  SXSW brings in over 2,000 performers from across the country, the performers have to be invited to perform at official SXSW events.  Performers must provide their own transportation and lodging, but they are given a cash payment for their performance and they are given access to all SXSW music events.

Not only, are they paid but there are over 57,000 fans in attendance; along with high-profile industry players who are asked to participate in forums and panel discussions.  Everyone from President Barack & Michelle Obama all the way to billionaire moguls like Diddy and Mark Cuban, have all been a part of SXSW panels.  The most elite people from record labels, magazines, the film industry, and tech attend this event-and provide artists a chance for once-in-a-lifetime exposure to real decision makers.

Michelle Obama @ SXSW

The question has to be asked.  If an event like SXSW doesn’t charge artists to perform, why would any promoter/event charge an artist to perform?  Also, should artists ‘Pay-to-Play’?

This week, SXSW issued a statement warning artists to watch out for ‘Pay-To’Play scams:

“Every year as the festival draws closer, many artists are invited to perform at what appear to be official SXSW Music Festival Showcases, but are not.

SXSW does not charge our artists to perform at official showcases, and we operate on a strict invitation-only policy. We do not condone these solicitations, and actively do everything we can to protect artists from being victimized by “pay-to-play” scams.”

Again, if major events like SXSW and A3C don’t charge artists to perform, then why are so many promoters asking artists to pay for a chance to grace stages that don’t even come close, in terms of quality of an event.  And, should an artist ever ‘Pay-to-Play’?

Jennifer Houlihan, exec director of Austin Music People spent 2 years researching this ‘Pay-To-Play’ issue in her home town.  She explained 2 scenarios:

  1. “artists are asked to pay a promoter a flat fee for a set time on a bill, frequently appearing as one of many local opening acts for a touring musician who is not paying to play.
  2. artists are required to sell a certain number of tickets, either to secure a place on the bill or to participate in a “battle of the bands” type of event. “

Jennifer, a fighter for the rights of independent music artists in her hometown of Austin describes promoters who do this:  as “bad actors,” and urged the music commission to make a statement condemning the practice.

When addressing what he thought about promoters in Austin that charge artists to ‘pay-to-play’, Rich Garza, founder of the Pachanga Latino Music Festival said, “While we might find the practice unethical, disgusting and ugly, it’s not illegal.”

Here are some interesting takeaways from industry insiders regarding ‘Pay-to-Play’ and Paying to Perform:

    1. When people pay to see a headliner, they may not be as excited to sit through a few hours of looking at another artists they have never heard of before; especially if that artists has PAID to be a part of the show.  People want their “monies worth”; just because an artist pays to be on a show, does not mean they are worth the value.
    2. Just because you fill a show with people who have paid to be a part of it, does not mean you are putting on a good event.  It just means you are using those people as ‘filler’.  It also means you are sacrificing the quality of your event in order to get more money.
    3. Because many fans know promoters will fill the first few hours of a concert with ‘filler’ before the headliners, attendees will show up late on purpose to the venue – this has an adverse affect on bar sales for the venue. For example, “When popular Houston rapper Z-Ro played Infest in July, so many local acts opened that Z-Ro didn’t take the stage until 2:45 a.m., after the house lights in the club went on and the bar shut down.” The bar suffered on this night. This example can be used for the Charleston, SC market as well.  We all know that many times headliners will not hit the stage until after midnight, and if the opening acts are not quality, many patrons will not come to the club until midnight.  A bar will make most of its sales during the last 2 hours of the night.  If an event has dope opening acts however, people have a tendency of arriving earlier.
    4. Jennifer Houlihan believes that hip-hop artists are mostly the ones being affected by bad practices because of the ‘low barrier to entry’.  Meaning, because most artists don’t have to master an instrument, or master their voice – they come into an industry with the least amount of experience; and, they are more prone to being scammed, and are “more vulnerable to predatory practices.”
    5. “Maybe you needed to be taken advantage of one time to realize this is a business and it’s a cutthroat business and you need to be sure you’re dealing with people who have good reputations. (Paying to play) is a shortcut, and you have to deal with the things that happen when you try to take a shortcut.” ~ Greezo Veli – League of Extraordinary GZ
    6. Also, don’t just call out promoters.  Are DJs, Radio Stations asking you to pay to play?  Do you know anyone personally that has benefitted from Paying to Perform or Pay to play?  If you don’t know anyone personally who has been “put-on” with any of these tactics – then why are you doing it?
    7. “Places which will tell you you need to pay to get on stage, most likely don’t have the biggest audience themselves. If they did, they’d be making money from that audience, and wouldn’t require you to give up your money to get some stage time at their gig or event.” – Shaun Letang-Music Marketing Consultant
    8. Why Sometimes You Should Pay To Play: “look at pay-to-play opportunities like anything else: compare the costs and the benefits. Look closely at what you’re getting in return (and don’t forget to think about what else you could do instead, too). Look at the big picture. Then decide if it’s worth it to you. It just might be.” Shaun Letang

So, what does Twitter think about paying to perform:

Sources: SXSW  , Music Thinktank, My Stateman

God’s Kid. Editor-in-Chief of Syllabus Magazine. Concerned Citizen. Gamecock. MBA. Made in Charleston.