Ok, that’s quite an unfair question, and to boot quite an abstract one. Perhaps the real question should be “Are promoters’ financial goals ruining their musical ones?” or maybe “Is short sightedness ruining the prospects of ambitious and deserving acts?” Whatever, how about we look at what’s going on around the country at the moment.
The supposed dynamic of a pay to play show, is that band x will bring a certain quota of people to a show, after the quota is reached the band will take a certain percentage of the door money. All this is under the premise that the band will ultimately benefit by playing to a decent crowd, and have some money to take home, or squander on fizzy hops drinks etc. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but is the goal of all ambitious bands not to widen their audience and showcase the fruits of their labours to new faces, hoping to build their fan-base. Not that playing to regular audiences is in any way bad, but simply bringing people you already know to a show will not achieve this goal.
Fair enough, the promoter may well have to rent the premises, pay for certain overheads blah blah blah, but then again, is the main point of the promoters’ job not in the name? Of course if bands refuse to pay to play, this whole problem can be absolved, but do we really see this happening? In an ideal world the promoter will arrange a decent night, booking bands that will work well together as a lineup, and then, here’s the important part, promote their night well and with conviction. In reality, what so often happens is an advert will go out, “Hey, we have slots for this super-amazing venue that definitely isn’t some dive bar in a dodgy London street with a sticky floor and a cheap drum kit, do you want to play? If you can confirm that you will bring 50 people on a Tuesday night get in touch”. I smell a scam here. Could it be laziness? Surely a committed promoter could regularly get a good crowd at a venue by putting on a decent night without relying on the bands to put on the show and bring everyone.
Now I’m definitely not having a swipe at promoters here, the majority are in it for their love of music, and this is easily seen, but it is plain wrong trying to purely make money from acts, particularly young and eager bands wanting to play to new people. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a completely unheard of band to play at a big prestigious venue on a Friday or Saturday, but that’s not what this is about.
How are bands going to take the step up to gigging in cities with more opportunities, such as London, without a following that will come along to their shows and support them, and besides, where would your new fans come from anyway? Does all this not seem rather disheartening to bands, that they will not necessarily make this step on musical merit, perhaps save some money from the day job and then deservedly play? The trouble here is that the business is one of supply and demand, regardless of the quality. The band should apparently be happy to get to play at these prestigious places; it doesn’t matter if you are being exploited, it’s for the good of your music.
A successful event can surely be achieved through the continuous supply of well thought out and well plugged nights. If punters know that they can have a good night at a pub/venue, and as a bonus there will be live music, which through past experience or from word of mouth they know is, on the whole of good quality, they will be happy to go to said venue. Happy to go and see a band they may not have necessarily heard of, on the premise that they are out to have a good night. This is not a hypothetical question, but a reasoning from personal experience.
Until bands can get together and boycott such events, they will continue to happen, and bands will continue to get exploited, but hey, no-one gets hurt right?
There are of course great promoters out there too, and it’s all to easy to find something to rant about, but that’s just one side of the story. BarBands for example, is a promotion which was formed to “to challenge and better the way in which ‘grass roots’ live music is supplied in London.” Check out the following link to find out what they’re up to, and how their ethos works for the good of music acts and fans.