Fishlock Fridays #5: Pay to Play Must Die

This week I’m going to have a big rant again, because that’s normally what I do best. It’s quite a common opinion among our punk scenes that doesn’t really exist in a DIY basis, but certainly in the local live scene in general there is something killing live music (to an extent), and it’s something we all hate; pay to play gigs.

If you aren’t really aware of the concept too much, it’s fairly obvious, it’s paying to play a gig. Which is ridiculous on many levels, you shouldn’t have to pay for the opportunity to play live, if anything you should be paid for it; even if you’re not in it for the money you should still never be paying for the privilege. The most basic form of this would be a straight payment, but a common version of it is to sell tickets for the promoter, much often the agreement is that you can play on the condition that you sell x amount of tickets for the promoter, and maybe if you’re lucky they may give you a quid a ticket.

It mostly happens outside the punk scene, but promoters and venues that don’t share our DIY values (or occasionally ones that may pretend to) aren’t above still doing it with punk rock music. I guess it’s mostly aimed at younger bands, people who are in their first band and don’t know any better yet; in the indie scene it’s almost the only way to get gigs, which I find fundamentally wrong, we should be treating these bands better by giving them the encouragement they need. There is a special spark for young bands, they have the enthusiasm and the time to really work at things, they haven’t had the time to become quite as jaded as some of us who have been involved with music for years, and this is definitely taken advantage of.

All pay to play really is, is lazy promoters trying to get bands to do their jobs for them. It is the promoter’s job to promote, not the bands; obviously you should always help out and try to get your friends down, but you shouldn’t feel obliged to ensure x amount of friends turn up or pay for tickets or else you won’t be allowed to play. Pay to play gigs are also really rubbish for punters. Many bands play for free to get “exposure”, but this isn’t what these gigs get you, they lack in atmosphere and have no real spirit, they contain nothing that is special about gigs. Picture it, the promoter has got four fairly new local bands, which for a start probably makes a fairly bland line up: no one who isn’t friends with the bands are going to go, because why would they if it’s four bands they haven’t heard of? That’s why the promoter puts the work in the bands’ hands rather than their own.

As much as I like to think people want to discover new music at gigs (I know I do), the vast majority at a local show are only going to care about watching their friends band, and spend the rest of the time in the smoking area or moving on somewhere else for their night, which is why these shows have a lack of exposure for bands. You are basically paying to play a show for your friends who have all paid to see you but where you probably lose money to play the promoter gets a profit. If you’re in a band, and this is your only option, my advice would be to just set up your own show; set something up in your living room or garage, anywhere you can find, be inventive, and not only will that make something special for you and your friends, it will be more fun and no one has to do the work for some arsehole promoter.

It is hard to get gigs as a new band, as much as I hate to say it, it is who you know and not how good you are. Without a great support network such as the many great DIY scenes out there, if you’re a band that doesn’t play a style that fits into this, then it can be a pretty hard time, but playing pay to play gigs is not the answer. Boycott them, tell the promoter why you won’t play the, and let other bands know this is how the promoter acts. This sort of complete bollocks will always continue until people just say no to the gigs and hopefully one day they will be finally killed off.

Let’s leave this on a positive note though, there are a lot more forward thinking promoters out there, groups such as TNS Records put in a tremendous amount of effort to look after bands and spread their principles, along with Norwich’s great venue The Owl Sanctuary who actively make sure local bands get the chance to perform and get paid at their venue – even for their shows with big names. People in music with this sort of attitude need and deserve to be commended for it. If more people involved in the music scene (and industry) followed by these examples we would have a much more healthy state of music.

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Chris Fishlock

Chris Fishlock

Punk rock enabler at Fishlock Promotions & Seeing Your Scene sub-editor.

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