Like any other industry, the music world has to deal with its fair share of scourges. They leave ugly blemishes on what is otherwise an industry built around something everybody loves – music. One of the most sinister is pay-for-play music festivals.
If you’re not familiar with the practice, a pay-for-play music festival is an event that asks the bands performing on the lineup to pay for the privilege, instead of playing in exchange for payment or exposure, the way most festivals work.
While the number of pay-for-play festivals has been declining thanks to the internet’s role in helping bands and punters alike become more informed about such unscrupulous practices, it’s far from died off.
In fact, as Digital Music News reports, some promoters of pay-for-play events have become even bolder. As musician Ari Herstand writes, he was recently hit up by the bookers of two separate pay-for-play music festivals, each touting legitimate headliners.
The first, dubbed the Civil Unrest Tour, features the likes of Il Nino, Straight Line Stitch, and Davey Suicide on the lineup and is presented by Revolver Magazine. Working behind the scenes is Revolutionary Entertainment Group.
According to Herstand, Revolutionary’s “cohorts” have been hitting up naive bands, mostly over Facebook, and convincing them to buy 60 advance tickets for $1,200, which they then have to resell at $20 a piece, leaving the bands with zero profit.
What’s worse, this is only if they sell all 60 tickets, and the more tickets a band sells, the better their slot on the festival lineup will be. Such egregious shakedown tactics are fairly typical of the organisers of a pay-for-play.
After he was hit up by a booker for a different festival, Herstand managed to get ahold of one of their performance contracts. The festival in question was titled Holdin’ It Down For The Underground and features Escape The Fate and Dayshell on the lineup.
Despite the fact that the event is just two weeks away, organisers have still not finalised a lineup, because, like the Civil Unrest Tour, Holdin’ It Down For The Underground’s lineup is based on the number of tickets sold by the undercard bands.
“We went back and forth over text for a solid hour where I got the full rundown. By the end, he offered me a slot at the festival – without ever hearing my music,” writes Herstand, before outlining the deal that the booker offered.
“The deal he offered for a ‘good’ slot ‘near the headliners’ was to buy 40 tickets. I got two options: I could either buy the 40 tickets up front (‘send money via at PayPal or money order’) at $18 a piece ($720) and then sell them for $20.”
“I would also get 40 more tickets to sell on my own (and keep the dough). Or, if I couldn’t shell out $720 up front, I could buy only 10 tickets up front ($180), get 50 total tickets and then turn in the rest of the $720 3 days before the festival (via PayPal or money order).”
“Total potential for option number two if I sold all 50 tickets (mind you two weeks before the show)? $280. That’s 28 percent of what I sold. And that’s only if I sold all 50 tickets. If I sold only 35 tickets, I’d be out $90.”
In his article, Herstand appeals to up-and-coming bands to avoid pay-for-play events and to stick to trustworthy promoters, agents, festivals, and venues. No legitimate booker, he writes, would ask a band to purchase advance tickets to play.
“If anyone asks for a deposit or asks you to purchase tickets up front, it’s time for you to run the other way as fast as you can. It’s the promoter’s job to book a mix of talent that will draw the crowds along with new talent (who they love) to showcase amongst the lineup,” writes Herstand.
“And it’s the promoter’s job to fucking promote! Sure, the bands should do their fair share in helping promote through their social media networks, email list, and possibly some press appearances, but in no case, ever, should the band be on the hook for unsold tickets.”
“Legitimate festivals make their money on sponsorships and ticket sales. Not off the backs of young bands who don’t know any better. Just because the promoters are incapable of securing enough sponsorship money to cover their costs is their fault. Not the artists.”
Herstand signs off by asking the bands involved with the Civil Unrest Tour and Holdin’ It Down For The Underground to “make a public statement” and pull out of their respective slots, as well as chastising their agents for avoiding “their due diligence”.
“If you move forward playing these festivals then you are just as much a part of the problem. Without the talent, these pay-to-play promoters have nothing. Remember that. If every band said no to pay to play it would end. The model would change. Let it start with you.”