November 16, 2013
Musicians, Should You EVER Pay-To-Play? (DRAFT)
SHAUN LETANG | PRINT ARTICLE | POST A COMMENT
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Payola, in one form or another, is as old as the music business:
Labels pay radio stations to broadcast their music, producers pay DJs to spin their records in the club, and promoters ask live bands to pay-to-play at their event.
And it’s always been a hot topic amongst musicians.
So if you’re an artist, should you ever have to pay-to-play?
Here are two ways to look at it:
Why You Shouldn’t Generally Pay-to-play
Written by Shaun Letang
Ok, so should you pay-to-play? As a general rule, no, I feel you shouldn’t. Let me explain:
The majority of 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. They’d be paying for more well known acts who will keep their paying audience happy. This is how the majority of popular events work.
It’s because of this that the amount you pay often won’t give you a good value amount of exposure. For example, if you’re paying say $100 or more to perform a gig, you’d in theory need at least 20 people to go on to sign up to your mailing list from there. You’d then need at least 10 people to buy a one off album from you, or three people to become recurring customers. Chances are though, that that isn’t going to happen from performing one gig where the audience isn’t highly targeted. This is especially true if there isn’t much of an audience, and most likely there won’t be.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong believer that at some stages you have to pay for promotion. That said, the method of promotion you pay for should be able to give you some real results. It’s like paying for a magazine advert; unless you’re combining it with a large scale marketing campaign to get wide-scale exposure, it’s not going to do anything for you. People will see your face, but not hear your music. They’ll then flick the page.
Pay-to-play events are notorious for not giving the musicians good value for money. Unless you’re guaranteed a set amount of highly targeted people turning up to this event and you’re free to promote to them as you need, than stay well clear. A lot of the time, you’ll be wasting your money paying to play. Instead, find open mike nights, show case events, and possibly even put on your own show.
Why Sometimes You Should Pay-to-play
Written by Lukas Camenzind
If you are a musician who feels it’s never OK to pay-to-play, I think you’ve got it all wrong.
Why? Because that’s an entitled and closed-minded attitude.
It’s an entitled attitude because you should consider having an audience and playing music for a living a privilege. Do you know how many people dream of being a rock star? Probably most people at some point in their lives.
It’s closed-minded because it ignores basic economics: If your band does not bring out any people, why are you expecting to get paid? For some reasons many musicians do…
The same musicians think that because Twitter and Facebook are free services, all music marketing should be free, too. Yet they are much more willing to spend money on instruments, recording gear or studio time. I know it’s more fun to buy gear, but the logic doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve seen bands play to an empty room for 3 hours and get paid $200. Is that better than paying $100 to play in front of 200 people?
I don’t know. I’d say it depends. But it’s silly to dismiss one opportunity from the get-go just because it costs money.
Yes, there are shady promoters. And yes, you should try to get the best deal you can. But if you think you’re not getting paid what you deserve, don’t just sit there and complain: Rent a space, sell your own tickets and run your own show. If people are actually coming out to see you, you’ll make the most money that way anyway.
What I suggest is that you 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.
What do you think?
Now it’s your turn. Is it ever ok to pay-to-play?
To share your thoughts, leave a comment. And please share this guide so others can also get involved with their view.
About the Authors
Shaun Letang is the owner of Music Industry How To, where he shares music career advice to musicians, producers, managers and anyone else involved in the music industry. It’s your one-stop shop to learn everything you need to know about the music industry: http://www.musicindustryhowto.com
Lukas Camenzind is the owner of Posteram, a music marketing and artist management company. If you’ve ever wondered why some artists fail – while others have huge success – you can download his free report on what sets successful artists apart here: http://bit.ly/posteram
in Gigs, Pay to Play | tagged Pay to play, getting gigs, ppaying for tour, promoter, promoters
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RiverWalk would like to thank you, family, fans and supports. For making 2012 a exciting year. We can’t wait for 2013. I hope and pray it brings bigger, better and more opportunities for us. Party hard and enjoy. Thanks again for reading my blogs. It’s really appreciated. More to come for the new year. God Bless Be safe! See everyone in the new year.
Nationwide Musicians’ Moment of Silence
As the nation continues to mourn the innocent lives lost in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, musicians around the country are organizing to send a message of sympathy and unity.
Our circle of musicians includes Jimmy Greene, the father of Ana Marquez-Greene, one of the children lost. We ask all our fellow musicians, in all genres of music, and other performing artists in whatever form, to join us in honoring the memory of the victims, and in resolving to do our part to help prevent this kind of senseless violence from happening again.
We are asking fellow musicians to observe a moment of silence at every musical performance in the USA on Saturday, December 22nd, 2012 at 10:00 PM in whatever time zone they are performing.
Will you stand with us?
What Record Labels Are Looking For When Scouting Artists
So you have hot beats, your rhymes are on point and you even got major swag. What happens now? Is releasing ‘good’ music enough to get you signed?
Although much of the industry is revolutionizing how it does business, certain aspects of it have remained the same. Every act should be doing shows consistently and selling CD’s along with merchandise. That being said, stay up to date with approaching new ways to sell your music. Artists need to see forward-thinking movement. One example is, state-of-the-art mobile apps that allow you to charge your fans by credit card, on the spot! If they just want mp3’s, you can charge them right away and have a link automatically emailed to them to download your album. Selling units is of the utmost importance. Record companies want to see that you can move units without their help. The bottom line is, if you can’t sell records on your own, labels no longer have the interest nor the resources to sign and develop you.
Are you completely inspired by Drake and want to sound just like him? I didn’t think so. However, does his sound subconsciously influence how you sound? There is an interesting balance that should be considered here. Record label A&R’s love to hear familiarity in acts they are scouting. However, don’t (by any means) be a copycat. Borrowing elements of the hottest pop music of the moment can be used sparingly, but incorporate your own unique approach! Yes you are an artist, so you may feel inclined to write music that defies genres and sounds like it’s from the year 2040. Just keep in mind that a good song is like a good meal. Most people who like pizza, may be apprehensive of trying a duck burger over their favorite pizza. The argument then becomes, who is your target audience? Yes, many people eat duck but statistically pizza is consumed by millions more (also due to availability, supply etc). In this case, we are talking about record label A&R’s. They don’t want to market and sell a duck burger, they’d rather take a pepperoni pizza, add a dash of duck to it and voila! It’s all about a balance of pop appeal, uniqueness and believe it or not, talent. Just remember, you shouldn’t be 10 steps ahead of radio, but make sure you are a good 2-3 steps ahead.
Social media is so unbelievably important to record labels considering signing a new artist. Immerse yourself into this invaluable tool now. There are so many different ways to expose your music on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites (including the 45,000 sites that will launch by the time I finish this sentence). Once you have a product, you must spend a large part of your day submitting your music to blogs. The exposure a positive blog review can get you, can help propel you to another level. One of the most effective online campaigns, comes in the form of viral videos. Shooting clips can be done on quite the budget nowadays, so explore this idea as much as your resources allow.
Always remember that networking is one of the most important aspects of your career in the music business. The corny record producer from your neighborhood that you don’t like? Keep in touch with him. He may launch a label, get a distribution offer from Universal and be looking for music like yours! You never know, one person could change your life. All things considered, you absolutely should never burn bridges in this business.
If you take into account the aforementioned details and combine them with talent, hard work and persistence, there’s no limit to what goals you can reach!
Last week we shared some thoughts on the debate over “Payola” or pay to play on radio. Keeping with our radio theme, Bruce Warren, Program Director for WXPN in Philadelphia (and someone who has personally brought numerous unknowns to the national stage), shares practical advice to increase the amount of airplay for your music. Take a listen and get all the details behind these tips:
- Do your homework – learn all you can about the stations
- Know the rules – look for stations that are playing music similar to yours
- The battle is waged online – you need to have a social following
- Touring – you’ve got to be playing in the area at some point
- Label or no label? – Bruce doesn’t care, but the music quality better be good
- Promoters – sometimes they help, but not always
Tip #5 says you need the highest production value for your music. Check out Mastering from Universal available through TuneCore. You’ll pay for 3 tracks and get the 4th track free.
How To Avoid Serious Mistakes When Choosing An Agent
Role Of An Agent
If you want to succeed as a live act in the music industry, you will likely need an agent. Agents strive to find great gigs for their clients at good venues and earn a nice commission in the process. Although they are also often involved in commercials, television events, tour sponsorship and other areas, music agents don’t generally have quite the same status or influence as those in the film business. This article contains some useful information on selecting the right agent for you.
Agents should not receive income from any aspect of recording or songwriting (with the possible exception of film music) and they should NEVER ask for this.
In the US, music agents are regulated by the union AFM (American Federation of Musicians), which allow them to charge a maximum of 10% (it can be more in some instances, but agents should agree to this 10% limit).
Some agents will take a lower percentage at around 5% for artists who generate substantial revenues at concerts. This rarely happens for film and TV unless you are a big player in these areas. They may also offer a sliding scale where they drop their percentage as you earn more, which can work out really well for both parties.
It is very important you check what is right for your situation.
Negotiating A Contract
The agency will probably ask for 3 or more years, but you should only grant them one year. This way, you can ditch them if things don’t work out, or try to negotiate bringing their commission down if you start to really progress as an artist.
If you do decide to go for more than a year, make sure you have a clause in the contract so you can exit each year if they or you don’t meet certain targets.
Choosing An Agent
If you have a manager, you’ll only deal with your agent occasionally, meeting them at your gigs or to discuss setting up a tour. Most of the time, they will talk to your manager. You should feel confident in allowing your manager to find an agent for you, although you should make the final decision.
If you don’t have a manager, you should be very particular about choosing an agent as they will report directly to you. When you pick an agent, ask yourself, how hard will they work on finding great shows and concerts for you?
Are they powerful and well connected, with one or more major clients and happen to be extremely enthusiastic about you and your music?
If you’re a megastar, this should not be a problem, but if not, then it is very unlikely they will have a keen interest in working hard to find those lucrative gigs for you or your band.
Remember it takes more work to establish a new artist compared to one already at or near the top and which one do you think pays more?
Although you can find a reputable agent like this, it is rare and you may find it better to find a young and enthusiastic agent who will work day and night on getting shows and concerts for you. Check their credentials and find out if they come recommended from a trusted source.
Over the last several months, I’ve been helping Ariel to prepare for the launch of her crowd funding campaign (which went live on Monday!). While we were doing our research, we came across article after article saying the same few things about crowd funding preparation that we already knew about:
- You need to have an existing fan base – crowd funding is NOT a discovery tool.
- You need to understand your target audience and create not only compelling rewards, but also a compelling story/ journey to bring them on.
But what we finding to be most unexplained was even a step further back from this. The crowd funding PRE-preparation… There are so many things that we needed to decide on that we have never even considered, and we want to share some of these things with you for your own crowd funding campaigns:
1. Choosing the right platform
There are several platforms available for crowd funding. While many of them seem to offer a similar experience to those funding the campaign (fund a campaign and in return become apart of an experience – oh yeah, and receive some pretty great prizes), choosing the right one for the campaign creator (us!) wasn’t easy. For us, it came down to understanding the focus of the platform itself, so that their support would be as effective as possible in planning, creating, launching and beyond.
We ended up choosing Rockethub because of their focus on educational products. We knew that Brian Meece and co. would be able to support our campaign and help us create an optimized experience surrounding education. And even though we love Rockethub, they have a limit on the character number for each reward descprition.
We were fortunate enough to pack each prize to the rim, but the character limit made it so we had to create a new page just to properly list out each reward.
2. Deciding the timing of your campaign
It is a natural thought to start out of the gate with all of the cards on the table, but we learned that it is actually far more effective to continuously update the campaign with more and more as time goes on to keep interest high and persuade those still on the fence about which package to go with (or for those on the fence
As with any launch, there is a long tail effect where the launch starts with a bang but then trails off, slowly fizzling out as time goes on. It is important to plan out the campaign so as to counteract this effect, keeping interest high throughout.
3. Partnering with others for a mutual benefit
Crowd funding campaigns can very quickly become about me, me, me. This is especially true when creating the rewards. And rightfully so in many cases… after all, this whole experience is about taking your fans, followers and customers on YOUR journey.
But why not get others involved in this journey?
This was the question we presented ourselves, and decided there was absolutely no reason not to! So we reached out to several other friends and allies in the music industry and social media space to take part as well by offering up products and services for the reward packages. We help them to connect with their target audience, and in return they help to continue to drive attention to the campaign. Win-Win.
4. Creating ALL of the content needed for the campaign
There are two obvious pieces of content that you need for a crowd funding campaign:
- Campaign Video
- 8 to 9 Levels of Rewards
But something that we completely overlooked was the truly overwhelming amount of OTHER content that we also needed in order to launch the campaign, including:
- Reward Graphics
- Blog Posts
- Expanded Campaign Videos
- Video Testimonials
- Ad Banners
- Skins (Backgrounds) for Social Media Accounts
5. Overcoming the Fear…
One of the biggest complaints about crowd funding is the fear of failing, but something that we personally came across was a different kind of fear. The fear we found felt resistance from sharing Ariel’s dream. This isn’t just ‘help me build a new product’… this is ‘I’ve got a dream and it’s in your hands to help me achieve it’. We found it incredibly difficult to find the RIGHT way of saying just how important this is to Ariel personally, not just to us as a company, without it coming off as cheesy or cliche.
Share Your PRE-Preparation Experience
Ariel’s first campaign just launched on Monday, so this list certainly shares some insight into our PRE-prep journey, but it may not be comprehensive. For those of you who have also launched a crowd funding campaign, what else did YOU do to PRE-prepare for your campaign? To check out Ariel’s fan funding campaign and all that we’re doing, go to:http://bit.ly/ArielRockethub
On my 20-year journey in the music business, I have learned a lot of interesting things. One huge realization I had about the current music industry came to me as I was building this website (and continued as I started to get contacted by musicians that were visiting it). I couldn’t figure out why many people were glossing over all of the foundational work that is usually required to find great help. Why would people be so divorced from all the work that they have to do on their own, all the time they needed to devote to developing their sound and playing shows? Why would they not accept the real character-building shows, the “don’t forget to tip your bartenders and wai…oh you are the bartenders and waitresses” shows? And why would musicians think that an executive was likely to jump in and partner with them when what they had, at least on paper, was a hobby and not a real business?
For some, a light bulb turns on when they come to a realization. I experienced something a bit more substantial.
I was watching something on the Science channel about the planets, and an astronomer was talking about an asteroid hitting the earth. He said, “There has been more money spent on movies about asteroids hitting the earth than money spent on preventing asteroids from hitting the earth.”
Since then I have never looked at media – the field I’ve been in my whole life – in the same way.
Some of the effects the media has on us are well documented, but studies usually focus on questions like “Does violence in media have an impact on violent behavior in real life?” or “Does the media portrayal of rail-thin models and celebrities impact our feelings about our own body image and confidence?” The latter in particular is interesting and more applicable, because almost all studies on the subject point to the reality that people feel bad about themselves when comparing themselves to media ideals and have unrealistic expectations about what a “normal” person should look like. Essentially, people believe that they are supposed to resemble what they see in mass media.
When I thought about this concept, I wondered, could there also be a message in mass media about musicians and their success and does that affect us? It kept occurring to me that the media was minimizing the work that goes in to most musicians’ stories. I decided it was time to do some research myself.
To me, the definitive chronicle of a musician’s story is VH1’s Behind the Music. I decided since that was such a well known representation of how musicians became successful that it was a good idea to look at what kind of info was being presented there.
I purchased several stop-watches and began to time out the percentages of the show that were devoted to different parts of an artist’s story (removing the commercials, etc). I watched a dozen episodes. It wasn’t hard to get the timing down because Behind the Music falls into a very familiar pattern:
1) Family background. The format is always, “Mom says her musician/superstar was different from other kids or recounts how hard it was growing up in the ‘hood, or how someone in the family was abused, and how these circumstances influenced their drive to be an artist, etc.”
2) Professional Struggle. This segment of the show highlights artists’ first taste of the business, the “struggle,” how they lived on $50 / week, how their choice to do something so unreasonable for a living upset family and friends alike. This phase covers making demos and meeting other musicians and executives. I even counted getting signed as getting part of the struggle, even though the momentum of the show clearly indicates that the record deal is a clear sign that success is around the corner.
3) Success. There is always a moment in Behind the Music where the album comes out, and the artist becomes a huge celebrity by creating a genre changing piece of work or a huge commercial success. And the documentary never looks back after that point. The term “big break” is also used a great deal. Sure, there are some issues, like drug habits, divorces, stress and inner turmoil, but the coverage from this point on is always the artist as a total success, even if there were hills and valleys in their popularity.
Would hearing partial truths affect our expectations and perception of what is fact? Simply put: Yes. Markus Appel and Tobias Richter’s study “Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives increase over time” even demonstrated that people believe many of the ancillary details presented in pure fiction, totally devoid of any fact.
For example, when you are watching the show Friends, you don’t believe that Rachel is a real person. You are aware that it’s Jennifer Aniston playing a role on TV, and that her character is named Rachel. But you might come to believe that peripheral information is true. For example, you might believe a waitress in Manhattan can afford a two-bedroom apartment near Central Park. Knowing that, if you are constantly reminded of the overnight success of musicians and never told about the work involved in their process, isn’t there a message here as well?
So, what does reality look like? My favorite example of someone who built their own business in music is the story of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the band’s label Daptone Records and the founder of the band and the label, a guy named Gabe Roth.
Until her 40s, Sharon Jones was a guard at a correctional facility. And I played with Gabe in a band for a few years at NYU. Many years later, he agreed to be interviewed on this site. The words, “So, how does it feel to be this overnight success” started to come out of my mouth, but I caught myself midway through, and we laughed about it. Gabe hadn’t done anything different for 15 years; he just got better at what he did and surrounded himself with better people. And it was a breakthrough moment for me when I realized just how long he had been at it. He had worked at the same thing with a narrow focus for 15 years non-stop and was finally at a point where he was making a good living doing what he loved. Persistence and consistency had won out.
Why aren’t we exposed to stories like this? Simply put, because they aren’t popular news stories. “Man Works for 15 Years and Gets Great Business” is not as compelling as “Justin Bieber puts Video on Internet, Becomes Multi-Millionaire.”
A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania named Angela Duckworth determined that “stick-to-it-ness” is called “grit,” which she defines as “the perseverance and passion for a long-term goal.” And she discovered that this grit is more important than intelligence or talent as a predictor of outstanding achievement. Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods of time, despite experiences with failure and adversity.
In his interview with me, “The Self Made Musician,” Gabe (a person I believe has real grit) said something that really stuck with me: “Instead of looking inward and local and trying to create something small that they can build from and concentrating on their craft, [musicians] are shooting for stars. It’s like playing the lottery. It’s fun, and if you win it’s amazing, but it’s not a business plan. You don’t say, ‘Okay, we want to start a business and want $500,000. The first thing we’re going to do is buy $4,000 worth of scratcher tickets.’”
A good music business plan is, first and foremost, specific. People always talk about the “next level,” and it drives me absolutely insane. I don’t begrudge people for wanting to advance their careers, but my frustration is when I hear the term “next level,” I know that 95% of the time the person saying it hasn’t clearly defined what they need let alone what they want. It sounds like they’re looking for a Nintendo cheat code.
Vague goals tend not to manifest. If you want to achieve your goals as a musician, you need to get really specific and write out a business plan. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to write a business plan or if you believe that it’s only for raising money or that it requires fancy number-crunching graphs. Truthfully, a business plan can start off as simply just visualizing where you want your music to take you in the next six months. Most people never do it. And 90% of the people reading this will probably not do it.
Do you really know what you want and what you need? Try this: Write down a six-month or one-year goal and then work backwards to the present moment. Be mindful that you will need longer-term goals as well, but they need not be as detailed.
Don’t do this because I say so. Do this because several studies, including a study conducted by Palo Alto Software in 2010 that was verified by the University of Oregon Department of Economics states that you are twice as likely to succeed if you finish a business plan.
I can’t write down a plan that will work for every artist, but I can offer a few guidelines if you are devoted to music for life (and not just looking at it as a fun hobby):
- Build a solid business foundation. Figure out how money is made in this industry and how publishing works. Register with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC and SoundExchange. Make sure you have a business entity established and trademark your name.
- Get your marketing materials in order. You’re going to need at least a 4-song recording (and one that requires no apologies), a well-written bio, a logo, a professional photo and a video of you performing live (for an actual crowd). You’ll also need vanity URLs on social networks, a website and to make sure all your digital real estate is interconnected.
- Set yourself up for the long haul. You need to engage in long-term planning if you want to work as a musician. Most “normal” businesses are not in the black for three, to five years, so why should a music business be any different? If you are truly in this for life, you should be investing in your business in a way that ensures you are set up to play and record music and get it to people at a moment’s notice over an extended period of time. This could mean building a home studio and getting a P.A. and a van. The point is, you’re going to have to plan multiple releases over a number of years and be prepared to play countless gigs. And you’re going to need to know how to accomplish this as cheaply and easily as possible. Don’t blow all your money on your first release, expecting it will propel you instantly to financial stability. Plan on truly playing and recording music on an on-going basis.
- Build a community and diversify. The music, the money and “the hang” (who you seek out as collaborators and the other musicians with whom you surround yourself on a regular basis) determines which gigs you should take, even if they divert you from your original work – sideman work, apprenticeships, etc. Remember, even Hendrix was a sideman.
- Think about B2C and B2B. It is also important to consider that everyone is talking about direct-to-fan in the digital age – an obvious, unfiltered Business to Consumer strategy (B2C). As they are building their communities, I’m of the opinion that many fledgling artists should also pursue Business to Business (B2B) relationships with like-minded artists. If you convince one band with a 50-person mailing list in another town that you are worth a damn, you can get your music in front of those people and start to break a new market if you’re willing to do the same promotion for them on a gig trade.
In summary, the confusion and frustration you may be feeling about your music career is just part of the process. It just so happens it’s not part of the process that people really talk about. The media is feeding you a steady stream of crap about who, what and where you should be in your career. Try to tune that out along with the hundreds of burnt-out naysayers you will meet along your journey who tried, failed and now want to talk you out of trying, too. Amputate the people in your life with this cancerous attitude, consume less celebrity media, or at least remember to take it with a grain of salt.
And remember grit and what I hear more than anything else about marketing strategies: “I tried that, and it didn’t work.” No musician succeeds without trying and failing. Try again.