When our band, “Control the Chaos” decided to hit the highway in June 2010, it was with the intention to spread our branded style of “Vegas Molten Metal” to the masses. After all, what better way to do that than literally go from city to city on tour? Besides, we’d been pretty aggressive in Vegas so we figured it was time to give the venues and our fans some needed time to miss us. We mapped the routes, did our own booking, loaded up our equipment, said our prayers and decided to go for it.
A couple observations: Each city definitely had its own unique vibe and style – no surprise there, but we also started to see a strong pattern of pay-to-play requirements especially as we got into the larger shows and bigger venues. We also found that more places up North were willing to negotiate a guarantee based on success of the show, where many Southwest venues wanted more assurance ($$). Mind you, nobody called it “pay to play”. Rather it was wrapped around the pre-sale ticket requirement policy that many clubs and venues have adopted.
Now, some of this is understandable. Times are still tough so venues and promoters want to make sure they cover expenses before taking a risk on a traveling band. CTC didn’t mind it too much as we were used to hustling our asses off to promote our own shows , encourage ticket sales and drive fans to attendance. Because of this, it became increasingly easier for us to fulfill 20, 30 and even 50 ticket minimum requirements as our fan-base grew. Even in other cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, with some hard work and great support we secured some really nice draws. When possible, we partnered with local acts in order to draw the regional crowds but often had the most attendance even as the visiting team.
On tour, if we played on non-weekends or smaller cities, it got a bit tougher. In Seattle we had a Tuesday after Labor Day weekend that was a bit light and a Thursday in the boonies where 3 of the local support bands bailed at the last second. We even had one venue cancel on us due to slow business overall. But even when it looked like the crowds might be thinner, we still worked hard to promote the event and always gave ‘em a show. This combination produced happy, drinking folks (and more importantly happy cash registers). Thank God we never had a total bust during first tour– there was always some audience.
But back to the point: Does it make sense to “pay to play” in order to gain exposure by leveraging a large name, be it act or venue?
Here’s our thought on this sensitive topic: In one way or another, you’re always paying to play. If you’re promoting with your own resources and efforts then there’s time and money spent there. If you’re traveling in any capacity, then you’re paying. If you took time to record a decent demo, that’s another expense and we could go on and on regarding all of the investment it takes to try and launch and maintain a band. It goes with the saying “It takes money to make money.”
We’ve never been fans of making cash for someone else, while we go struggling. We’ve experienced this and it sucks. We also don’t like getting ripped off – another reality that goes along with the territory. Luckily, we’ve become all the wiser and careful in our business dealings now that we’ve got a few stripes earned. The “trick” is to do just that: Become very smart in your business dealings including well planned out strategies for merch, marketing, promo, partnering, etc. And by all means, build a GOOD reputation for yourselves!
Remember, investment doesn’t mean buying your own tickets. Without an audience, the whole effort is pointless. So even if you have the cash, remember the draw is always more important. And never cancel. You might want to, maybe even need to, but remember “The Show Must Go On!”
In some promotional circles, the only way you’ll ever get to play is if you ante up. Ethics aside, it’s the way it works. But no indie group should try and absorb this right out of the gate. Listen up homies: WALK before you try to RUN!!
If the business of your band is strong, then getting on a premier stage is an investment that can be planned for positive results. When done correctly, it can further expand your brand which will result in greater exposure and ultimately, revenue for the band.