Pay To Play Or Small Career Investments?


The proliferation of indie artist band promotion sites offering opportunities for ‘gigs’ where you pay a submission fee has increased incredibly in the last few years. The fees generally range from  $2-$35 dependent on the event (e.g., showcase, concert, music festival).  I remember seeing SonicBids doing it a while ago and honestly felt some kind of way about a number of their offerings. One in particular was a fee to be chosen to open for Talib Kweli. (I’m thinking about these fees like bank fees and how if thousands of people submit to’em, well you do the math. Even if the fee is small added up they equate to big $’s.) For me being an artist that has never done contest’s or had to pay for possible opportunities to perform, well that idea has never sit well.

For over ten years I’ve arranged all types of events in the city of New York. Putting together, parties, open mics, slams and concerts, never during the time subscribing to the ‘pay to play’ movement that so many promoters and event producers make a living by. If anything my goal has been to get artists paid or at least push forward the thinking of artists I’ve collaborated with regarding how to get paid and working harder to get ‘fans’ into shows, not relying on other artists in their respective circles to be the audience.

I’m writing this because I’d like to know how you feel about it. When you look at opportunities how do you decide what is more or less an ‘investment’ toward your career and what really is not? When you do shows or travel to perform what are you looking to get out of the experience?

Granted there are countless opportunities many of us are incapable of navigating towards simply because we do not know they exist. But there has to be something in the back of your mind that says, no wait a minute that’s just not right. Why in the world would I be paying for this? Ultimately, ‘what will be the overall return in my investment?’

In my opinion what it all boils down to is asking yourself honestly the following questions. What are my true goals? What do I need to do to get where I want to be? If you’re sure about these things many of those ‘opportunities’ will look less viable while the most sensible and beneficial ones will rise to the top of the pile.  If you’re frustrated,  and feel you’ve been doing the same thing for years while the world is steadily changing around you, perhaps consider trying a new approach.

Please leave a comment and let us know how you feel. Our goal is to communicate with you as much as we possibly can, not just disseminate what we feel is ‘Good Information’, a lot of our greatest info comes from what you share.

*BYCM – Before You Correct Me – I’m well aware of the dynamics of submission fees and how they in many cases serve to make things possible. It costs money to arrange events and contests especially when you’re not fully sponsored. My comments are really in reference to the ‘lottery’ style of you may get a chance and not fully being sure if that is always legitimate, like ‘presidential’ elections. As well as any fees that pay for “hot mess showcases” and the like.


  1. I hear ya, but sonicbids does give artist a building tool, instead of just taking their money like hot mess showcases. It has the EPK building function, this gives artist an idea on how to present them selves. And what is needed in marketing ones self. We gotta pay sometime. Choose wisely

  2. Here’s what I’ve found.  Most artists just wanna be artists.  Irregardless of whatever stage of success they are at, signed or unsigned, most artists wanna show up, perform, get money get drunk, high, chase women, men or whatever..  I cannot blame them for any of this.  They are after all artists.HOWEVER, being an artist does not absolve you of your responsibility to understand the economics of the “business” that you are in.  When artists dont understand the worth of their art it opens the doors for “showcase hustlers” and other opportunists of the sort like those “Underground Music Award” dudes.  (Not gonna go there but they are a perfect example of what I’m talking about)   It’s like the dudes who run up on me in the street to sell me their CDs. I tell em to send me a radio edit and i’ll get them some airplay and in all the years I’ve done that I have YET to have an artist follow up.  Some people dont want to know about “This Business Of Music” they want “Decoded”  More power to themIt speaks to a different issue which is one of self reliance vs depending on someone else do the work for you.  Rather than book your own shows or supporting the people and promoters who do shows with nominal performance fees (That most times are included in the cost of admission) they’d pay these ridiculous fees to other people for the opportunity to sell tickets for them or to pay a fee for something that with due dilligence, the artist 9 times out of ten times can do for themselves.  Why would I possibly want to pay someone for that? Also you have to understand that its all about people putting money in each others pockets.  Example, we were going to submit to do the A3C this year.  The organizers who put it together wanted everyone to submit through SonicBids or ReverbNation just to be considered.  Like Ciph said, some artists need to have E.P.K.s up there so they do provide a viable service but what if you are an artist who doesn’t need a E.P.K from them as was the case with us?
    We didnt put our epk up on sonic bids because our epk is for booking agents and press purposes only.  We dont even use or maintain our reverbnation page, (I think it was fan built and i dont know if we are even on Sonicbids but whatever.)  Anyway, You’re an artist who doesnt want his epk made public but you still wanna submit to be booked for this date without going thru all that right?Then guess what, you can’t submit. Why?  Because the organizers are making money from Reverbnation and SonicBids from the submissions of all the artists who now need EPKs just to submit for A3C.  They aren’t gonna let anyone usurp that process because its making them money.  That’s the hustle.  Needless to say, we wont be doing A3C this year and after my next trip to Atlanta, probably ever… but I digressArtists should educate themselves about all the aspects of the business.  You cant get in the NBA if all you know how to do is dunk, what makes artists think all they have to do is show up, perform and not understand the business?  At least get someone who knows about the business and ask them questions if you dont understand something.  Yes it costs money to do things but think outside the box, find other ways to incorporate funding and other avenues to brand yourself if needed. I also think artists should perform LESS shows and avoid oversaturing their markets but that is another story…


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