Pay to Play ­ 3 Concepts
to Change Your Outlook

By: Stephanie of S2M

April 21st 2015

The “Pay to Play” debate has been ongoing for decades, but the concepts introduced here may give you a fresh outlook.  Typically you are for or against paying for exposure, which can be a very tricky situation depending on how it’s handled.  As a musician you will face the same challenges regardless of music preference or genre.  Is there some merit to “play to pay” or should you immediately reject the very mention of it?  I asked around and got several opinions from both the positive and negative prospective.


For Pay to Play

You’ve probably heard this term on countless occasions, “It takes money to make money”.  This is a very valid and irrefutable point.  Promoters pay large sums of money for a great venue, insurance, famous acts, and many other technical necessities.  From their point of view, there would be no show without their financial contribution, so there isn’t much incentive for the promoter to add you to the bill for free.  Most will ask you to pay to open up for a larger act.  This could equate to great exposure for the indie musician who normally wouldn’t reach a massive audience.  Every step of the way you will need money for exposure regardless of what business you are in.  This can range from flyers and commercials, to the music you had pressed up.


Against Pay to Play

A deeper issue surfaces when anyone can pay to play.  The ability to pay for what you want isn’t always a bonus.  Musicians are often exploited by promoters who make large sums of money and don’t include them in on the proceeds.  Some musicians are very passionate about the music they produce but maybe haven’t tested it for crowd response, or put in the time needed to develop their set.  This can make their performance utterly unenjoyable and ruin the quality of the live show.   If this is the experience the audience members receive, this may also be the lasting impression of what indie music is representing.


How to Make Pay to Play Work For You

1. Understand Your Business

You may have already taken your stand and voted against pay to play, but there are often benefits to be heaped if you can play your cards strategically and make the play pay for you.  Pay to play is really just business and in every business you will find unethical behavior.  The first mistake musicians often make is not putting in the initiative to understand their business.  This understanding is the true separation between hobbyist and professionals.  Professionals know their worth because these are musicians who want to make money from the work they are putting in.  You will need to accept the fact that investing in any business is a gamble.  Just as you have an opportunity to profit, there is also opportunity for loss.  Start by creating boundaries between your art and your business.  An artist says I want to perform on the same stage as their famous music heroes and will do almost anything for the opportunity.  A good business person knows when to make an investment based on their potential to return a profit.


2. Create A Business Plan

As the artist, you are your own brand and the best thing you can do for your business is to create a business plan, which is a detailed plan of how you will be conducting business and why. Detail your goals and make reasonable plans to meet those goals.  If you know where you’re going, it will be much harder for shiny prospects to deter you from your plan.  It doesn’t really pay to be an opportunist yet many musicians will move quickly to jump on every opportunity before really evaluating if it is indeed an opportunity.  Nobody does anything for anyone just because they are talented.  Everyone has a motive and many are like you, just trying to make a profit.  It will be up to you to weigh out opportunities to see if you are equally benefiting from the help that people want to provide you.  If you search for business plan on the internet, you’re likely to get some complicated templates which will confuse and discourage you.  Instead you can start off with a few folders on your computer where you can gradually collect your information. What you want to include is your purpose and how it will make you money, who it is that will buy your music and why, who your competitors are and what they bring to the table vs you, how you will reach your audience, how you will convince your audience to buy your music, how much money you will need to accomplish this goal, how much money you will earn after deducting the amount of money you have to spend, and how you will get the money you need.  The key to this is to eliminate guessing as much as possible. (S2M can draft & design professional business plans when you are ready.)


3. Base Your Decisions On Profitability

You will need money to accomplish your goals.  Create a budget based on your potential to profit. Never spend money without great potential to make money.

Here’s an example for you.  Joe Bob the promoter will allow you to perform on his show, where he is expecting 1,000 people to attend. Joe Bob wants you to pay $200 to perform. He will not be paying you any money from ticket sales.

1st Question – Where is the potential to make a profit? Will I be able to sell over $200 in merchandise?

2nd Question - Does Joe Bob have the same kind of audience members as I do?

3rd Question – Who else is on the bill? Is it a competitor?

4th Question – How much money will I need to invest to get there and perform?

5th Question – Do I have materials or ideas in place to assure this audience will continue to follow me after this performance?

Your own creativity and ingenuity will be needed as well.  I’m not at all stating that spending money to perform is an ethical business venture.  Just remember, everyone is out to make money and only you will have your best interest in mind.  With these 3 concepts you now know how to hustle the hustler.

LIVEVOLUTION.COM does not charge artists to perform.  It is a free space for the exceptionally talented.  If you are interested in performing on LIVEVOLUTION or submitting music, email your video and music links to for consideration.