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Mr. Hardgroove

It’s Fine To Work For No Money, But Never Work For Free.

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I’m sure many of you (myself included) have signed on to projects that were not spelled out sufficiently with regard to details of compensation. That usually happens when we think we see an upside to the “exposure”. This is certainly true in some situations, but more often than not, your being taken advantage of.

 

Quality organizations will always seek to pay quality rates to qualified talent. Keep that in mind the next time someone approaches you with an opportunity to “build your brand”. There’s no guarantee that the results of your labor will be something you’d want to be associated with until after it’s done. However, it’s very likely that your employer will get what he wants/needs.

 

The better route is to seek out people and projects that are at least loosely associated with the types of things you’d like to achieve. This way if you choose to work for no money, the chances of interacting with those who can assist you in your career are better. In this case there is a justifiable exchange of value, so you did not work for free.

 

It’s not bulletproof, but it is better.

 

 

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So what's happening with "pay to play""? Is that still a reality or has it fallen by the wayside?

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Hi Craig.

 

 

I've never liked or agreed with "pay to play'. It has gripped the live scenes of many cities to basically negative effect.

The answer to your question is yes, its still a reality. It’s also why many scenes are not as vibrant as they once were or wished to be. I live in Santa Fe, NM where pay to play isn't a real issue, but by the time I left NYC back in 2006, pay to play was a plague and a downward indicator for the scene and venues.

 

It’s simply the fault of the venue owners. If a venue is open for business 7 days a week and expect patrons to come in and spend money on drinks and maybe food, then the venue itself must become a destination place.

 

Example: Tramps in NYC was booked by a dear friend of mine named Steve Weitzman from September 1989 through September 1999. There was always a line to get in

And many people went to Tramps because they knew they were in for good entertainment on any given night. The effect for unknown artists performing there was two-fold. 1) Having Tramps on your resume gave you a seal of approval that carried weight with venues and promoters anywhere in the region because they knew you had to be good to play there. 2) The act is performing in front of an objective audience that will spread a valuable word of mouth as opposed to a biased audience that will be hard-pressed to expand.

 

 

 

Pay to play venues are simply lazy and cheap.

Too lazy to put in the work to vet real talent for entertainment value, and too cheap to hire someone to do it for them.

 

Then there are the venues that are already ‘destination places’ that enjoy great tourist and local return business for most of the year and still use the pay to play scheme. Those places are just enemies of all of us.

Edited by Mr. Hardgroove
Anyone have "pay to play" experiences they'd like to share?
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What should you do if you're in this situation? Try to negotiate? Walk away? I'm just starting a career and I feel like I need to take any gig I can get. How can I keep my standards high if I don't have much of a reputation or resume?

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Hello Timothy.

Not knowing your town, skill/talent level, it would be irresponsible of me to make a suggestion as to what I think you should do.

The purpose of my post is to help you understand the circumstance and negative impact of 'pay to play'. How to deal with it is

something only you can responsibly decide.

 

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The easy answer is walk away, but for an all originals band, getting started is difficult, and in major markets [i'm in LA] unknown bands are a penny a gross, and so in order to get any stage time, they revert [unfortunately] to p2p in an effort to build a following, get stage experience, etc. Unfortunately, p2p is self-defeating, because, in order to fill the room, you have to sell enough tickets to buy your stage time, and to whom can an unknown band sell tickets? Family and friends, so there is little chance of building a real sustainable and expanding following, and the typical p2p venue empties out after each band plays. This also allows bands that have absolutely no business performing publicly to inflict themselves on said family & friends.

So who wins? Ultimately no one, as the club gets money initially, but rapid turnover patronage doesn't build for them any more than for the bands.

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The O'Connor story seems to be riddled with misinformation whether intentional or accidental.

However, it in no way supports the pay to play model that I've criticized in my post.

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Timothy, I would say don't rule out alternative venues. It's easier to make more money at house shows or listening rooms and if it's a BYOB kind of place the people that are coming see you will come out ahead as well. They'll pay more money to get in but don't have to spend $6 a beer. Everybody wins except for club owners, who as a whole, have not been trying to get over on people for years and years.

 

I've met club owners/bookers that have been great to me over the years. Finding those types of people to work with can be difficult, but if you build a legitimate following either in alternative venues or online or whatever... they'll start to find you.

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Timothy. Your alternate venue approach is representative of the kind of creative thinking that will

brighten the future of music makers. When we look at the many streams of revenue that are created by music makers,

percentage-wise we (musicians, writer, singers, arrangers, producers) receive very little. To be fair, music in general has been turned into

a huge money maker, not by musicians but by the industries that either market, promote, and or sell it. With that said, we should understand

that they deserve to be compensated, and believe me when I say that this is exactly the conversations they have when dividing up the pie among themselves. Unfortunately, too many of us go along with their "standard" because we are either afraid, uninformed or desperate (in many cases all three). Information is king and may go a long way to help cure fear, ignorance and desperation.

 

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Timothy, I would say don't rule out alternative venues. It's easier to make more money at house shows or listening rooms and if it's a BYOB kind of place the people that are coming see you will come out ahead as well. They'll pay more money to get in but don't have to spend $6 a beer. Everybody wins except for club owners, who as a whole, have not been trying to get over on people for years and years.

 

I've met club owners/bookers that have been great to me over the years. Finding those types of people to work with can be difficult, but if you build a legitimate following either in alternative venues or online or whatever... they'll start to find you.

 

Thanks for the advice! I've been thinking about this for a new project I started and we were worried about looking unprofessional by only doing these types of shows. However after reading this and thinking more it seems like the perfect way to get a following started. At that point if we want to play in a nicer venue if they pull the p2p card we have some leverage in that situation.

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Four things killed the Sunset Strip / Hollywood scene in the early 1990's .

1. they pass ordinances that you couldn't pass out or post up you flyers advertising you shows, because in the 1980's, the streets would be literally waste deep in flyers and the city fined many band members.

2. They passed anti cruising laws. You could get hit with a $500.00 fine.

3. Nepotism reared it's ugly head, So no new blood was coursing through the veins in that scene.

4, Pay Per Play ( 90% of the cause of death of the music scene on the Strip). It got so bad, that it spread like a cancer in Southern California. I joined a band that opened for Junk Yard in 1991, we had to sell our own tickets at the Waters Club in San Pedro and even as far inland as San Bernardino, Riverside and as far south as San Diego.

 

Seems like club owners didn't value good live music anymore and they still don't. They act like they are doing us musicians a favor for playing in their establishments.

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for the advice! I've been thinking about this for a new project I started and we were worried about looking unprofessional by only doing these types of shows. However after reading this and thinking more it seems like the perfect way to get a following started. At that point if we want to play in a nicer venue if they pull the p2p card we have some leverage in that situation.

 

Yup. It only comes across as unprofessional if it's treated as such. Obviously sound is important. Two other things to think about that can make a big difference are lighting and seating. For lighting, if you have some cool led cans or something of the like, that can work, but the aesthetics of the hardware can be off putting. You don't want it to look like you should've have been in a club and instead wound up in somebodies living room. Funky lamps from thrift stores are perfect for this sort of thing. Drape some scarves over them and you'll have some nice vibey lighting. Candles can also be great although maybe a little cliche. It really depends on the music. I tend to stay away from scented stuff.

 

For seating, you need to know your audience. Is it a young crowd comfortable throwing back cheap beer and standing or sitting on the floor? If so get rid of the chairs and as much of the furniture as you can. Fill the place and let them have a good time. Is it an older crowd more likely to sip wine and eat snacks? Knees get old. Some people can't stand for 2 hours. In this case you need to arrange for as much seating as you can and sell tickets ahead of time. Only sell as many as you have seats. You can play it up as an exclusive event and maybe charge a little more.

Edited by rhino55

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Thanks Mr Groove.

 

I've been hearing people bitch about the bar scene for as long as I've been a part of it. As a songwriter myself, I feel fairly confident in saying songwriters are the worst. What a lot of folks don't think about is "who" they'll be playing for at any given spot. That's why alternative venues are great for songwriters. There are folks who don't want a loud smoky bar. They want to listen. There might not be as many people out there who will frequent this sort of thing as there are people who will patron traditional venues, but you don't need as many.

 

This might seem like I'm being hard on the bar scene. I don't mean to be. I enjoy playing in bars, but I think to really have a good time, again you need to remember "who" you're playing for that night and be able to adapt the crowd that's there. If you've got a nice attentive audience you and you can do all the slow heart felt songs you want, great. But, you can't expect people who are going to whatever random bar for whatever randomness that happens on that night to be a polite respectful audience. Quit bitching, give them something they can dance to, and take their money. If you can't do it with the songs you've written, write some that will, or learn some other material. I've got a group of songwriters I play with from time to time and we do a bunch of blues and country songs for these types of gigs. We even get asked to do weddings and corporate parties from time to time.

 

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Pay to Play is simply the unfortunate result of the laws of supply and demand getting way out of whack. There are far more bands in these cities then there are gigs. Eventually, they are willing to pay for free just for the gig/exposure in hopes of someday getting paid, and then when competition gets too stiff for even the free gigs, they'll pay for the spot on the roster.

 

The only way to get around Pay To Play is to either be better than all the rest of the bands or move to a market that isn't so over-saturated with bands.

 

 

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I started playing in bands at the age of 12 back in the 70's. As I got older in high school I had a couple of bands. We'd get gigs at School Dances, Concerts etc, but we were all under aged and couldn't play clubs yet.

 

18 was the legal limit, and even though we'd play some paid gigs in clubs under aged, we couldn't get steady work till we were old enough. We did play thousands of parties up till that point, often times for free. We'd play just about any opportunity we could and pretty much owned the Jersey shore for outdoor parties for a number of years. It wasn't uncommon for us to have up to a thousand people show up for a show as well as the local police force who got to know us quite well.

 

Once we turned 18 we moved to playing clubs legally we toured the tri state area for a good 10 years. We had a decent following built already. In fact allot of the small clubs couldn't handle the numbers of people trying to get in to hear us play. I remember one gig in Seaside Heights where the people had to lift us over their heads just to get us out the front door.

 

I never got rich playing out but it did pay my way through college. I think we peaked at earning about 2K a gig before a bunch of really bad luck came our way. I bailed out for a career in electronics and only the Bass player from that original band is still alive.

 

I've had a number of working bands since then. Out of the last two, one had steady work for low pay, and the other had sporadic high paying jobs. Its tough finding bands that can bring in both steady and high paying work. I don't put a huge effort into finding those kinds of bands any more. I like playing out but I don't have the time or energy to build another band up from scratch.

 

A band takes allot of dedicated commitment to being successful and its not fair to the other others if you aren't 100% committed to going all the way. Of course that does open the possibility of failing too. Allot of people have a hard time getting over failing and picking themselves up and doing it again. I'd probably do it again with the right people but, they'd have the same experience level and similar goals. Building another band from scratch and dealing with all the things rookie players bring to a band, Dreams, Egos, Personal issues, aren't things I want to shoulder or mentor any more. My last band had equally experienced players and we did more creative work writing and recording then I had done in the previous 40 years combined.

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