This topic has been covered in many user groups, but let me be very clear about how I feel about this: bullshit! And here’s why…
Business, any business, follows a model of risk and reward. Generally, the higher risk you take, the higher the potential for reward, and vice versa. Venues that assume a pay-to-play model basically want to take no risks, and have all or some portion of the reward. I believe it is utterly unreasonable for a venue, other than one strictly operated for the purpose of live performance (such as a proper concert hall), to expect to cover all or any significant portion of its operational costs from the revenue generated from live performance. If a venue is a bar with a stage, its purpose is to sell booze, if it’s a restaurant with a stage, its purpose is to sell food and booze. Under both models, live music is an enhancer to attract patrons to come in and consume their booze and/or food. Having said that, I do concede that unless they are working through a promoter, a venue has costs associated with the logistics of live performance, such as advertising, sound equipment, and sound engineer, to name a few. But that’s where risk sharing comes in.There are some artists that refuse to engage in marketing or promoting a show, mainly on the basis that they are entertainers, not marketers or promoters. I am not one of those artists; I do believe artists have a stake in the success of the show, and not just as the lowest levels. Look at movie stars doing the talk-show tour to promote their movies. Big name bands also have to do their share of promoting products and tours. So why shouldn’t I? A concert event is a partnership between the venue, the acts(s), and the promoter if there is one, where each should participate in the risk and the rewards, and each should have a stake in ensuring the event’s success.
I believe a well-balanced approach is one in which the venue accepts its responsibility for creating a “scene” or environment to attract patrons that hopefully become “regulars,” while the talent assumes the responsibility of promoting their events and creating a following, and promoters assume not only the logistics responsibility but also formulating events that make sense with regards to how the talent is combined and sequenced. If all three carry their end and do their part in promoting the event, then all three should equitably share in the returns. So I believe that the reasonable way to split the responsibility and the gains is for the artist (and promoters when involved) to get the door (in the case of a bar or restaurant), or a portion of the door in the case of a concert venue. There is of course the possibility of a set fee paid by established venues, but these are fewer every day.
I live and work in a small market where no musician is really able to make a living just from performing. Every professional musician I know in my town compliments their performance revenue with giving instrument classes or some other form of “day job.” It is important that, given this reality, artists don’t stoop to playing for free, and much less paying to play, just because they can afford to. I’m not talking about open mic’s, that’s a whole other topic I will not get into here. And I am not saying that you should not consider an opportunity here and there in which the rewards may not be monetary but may very well be worth it, such as a good marketing or exposure opportunity. All I am saying is that if you are a professional musician or aim to be one, and especially if you take the time and make the effort to promote your shows, you should respect and honor the value of your service and craft, just as a painter or sculpture places a value on theirs; you don’t see painters or plastic artists giving away their creations. Why should musicians? And of course, there we come to the topic of to charge or not to charge for your music releases. But I will leave this Pandora’s Box for another post. Cheers to all!