Reject pay to play with this handy how-to
By Matthew Zeltzer 01/03/2013
Go to Los Angeles, walk into any club on the Sunset Strip and tell me what you see. Hair bands. Grown men in tights. This isn’t the set of Robin Hood; this is L.A.’s understanding of what it takes to make it in the music business. Or maybe these are the only bands who still think playing the Strip is worth a damn. Thanks to rampant “pay to play” policies, they are wrong. For those who are not familiar with the term, pay to play refers to a specific contract in which a band must sell tickets in order to break even at a show. (Unsold tickets must be bought by the band.)
The fact is, pay to play is drifting north toward our fair county, bringing with it the stench of “exposure.” Venues are occasionally using pay-to-play promoters to help fill off nights, and why shouldn’t they? Promoters pay the venue to use their stage, and are left to deal with the bands. And why not be guaranteed that Thursday night will pay the bills? Any bar or venue owner will tell you that some bands promote like hell, and others simply show up to play and ask for a check.
The only way for us to avoid this looming catastrophe, which will suck the life out of our working-class music scene, is to focus the conversation. The biggest problem I see is the false paradigm pitting bands against venues. Simply said, if the bar does well, so does the band. We must realize that we are in it together before we get swallowed up by these gyrating poseurs from the City of Angels.
So let me make a proposal: Let’s all stop whining and start working together.
There, I said it. Paint a target on my back (or just e-mail me, I’d love to continue the conversation). I believe our goals should be to make Ventura a better place to live, as well as a sought-after destination for people who enjoy real, live music. If we consistently touch on these goals, both venues and bands will make this a reality.
To that end, I have made a short and incomplete list of responsibilities for bands and venues.
Venues The responsibility of a venue is to cultivate an environment that encourages good music and to become known for that. Do this by:
1) Having an appropriate space for music (stage, sound system, lights).
2) Creating clear contracts with bands regarding payment, show time, promotional needs, conduct, etc.
3) Promoting. Make (or demand) a poster. Post on Facebook and Twitter and send show lists to the VCReporter. Advertise in local and non-local newspapers.
4) Building an online presence. This is the digital age. People go on Yelp, Facebook and Twitter to research venues before they show up. Everyone in town might know The Sewer is the best place to end the night, but people coming into town from L.A. and Santa Barbara have no clue. Just throw them a damn bone. It takes less than five minutes a day and it will pay off in dividends.
Bands Become a viable creative and business entity by:
1) Being creative. This means consistently writing new material and learning new covers. No one wants to hear the same set for a year.
2) Not accepting every show you are offered. How can you convince fans to pay $10 to see you if they can see you for free the next night?
3) Promoting your shows (do everything I listed in items No. 2 and No. 3 for venues)
4) Being professional. Show up on time, prepared and with a good attitude. Actively dialogue with the venue’s staff before and after the show. Let them know how the show worked for you and what you think could change, but phrase it in a way that is helpful, not demeaning.
While these guidelines do not pose a literal solution to all of our problems, I hope that they will create positive dialogue, making Ventura a better place to play music and a better place to experience music.
Matthew Zeltzer is a wandering musician based out of Ventura. His band Zeltzer and the Tortoise can be found at www.tortoisemusic.com and Facebook.com/tortoisemusic.