Pay To Play

Last Friday was a wake up call.

I had been invited to a gig at the Alley Cat in Denmark street, a traditional rock venue set amongst the famous guitar & music shops in a part of London that had played home to legendary musicians over the years such as Hendrix, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The gig was a final goodbye show put on by  friends of ours called From The Ashes and it turned out to be a raucous, yet emotional  thunder clap of a show. Fitting for a band that put so much work into what they loved doing.

However, as I supped my overpriced Mexican beer and listened to the band, I couldn’t help but feel a slight mixture of anger and frustration. What was going on with live music right now?

There are good bands out there in London. There are a host of talented guys who want nothing more than to strap a guitar to themselves and go crazy at a packed-to-capacity venue. The main problem is that they don’t have the cash to do it and their friends/fans don’t have the cash to come and see them.

It goes like this:

“Guys! I got us a gig in Camden!”

“Great! What have we got to do?”

“Well, we have to set up a Facebook event and put up posters ourselves to promote the gig. Then we have to get 20 people to come who have to pay £7 to see us play at 10pm. There are cheap tickets online but they’re £6 (with a £1 booking fee). Beers are £5 and we don’t get any free. Also we have to get off work early to be there at 4pm for soundcheck and hire a van to get all our stuff there. And we’re not getting paid.”

Even a normal gig on a wet Wednesday night can cost a band £100+ and you’ll only bring 15 people who are your close friends, so don’t imagine you’ll make any new fans.

Pay-to-play gigs are even worse. Some promoters will book you in to play and then tell you that you have to buy 50 tickets at £10 each off them. It’s ok though, because you can sell them for whatever value you like and keep the profits. Who is going to pay over £10 to come and see an unknown, unsigned band? You might get 10 of your friends to actually buy a ticket if you’re lucky, but you would still be £400 down before even playing a note.

The problem is, the vast majority of promoters don’t actually promote anything. There are some that do love what they do and will work day and night to make a gig a success, but the majority that we have worked with just think that booking the bands and putting up a link on Facebook is enough. This isn’t right. And now it has spiralled into a black hole of a small number of live music venues just worried about turning a small profit. Relying on the bands to bring people instead of actually creating regular, reasonably priced live evenings.

There is still an audience out there, there are still the bands out there, but sadly neither have anywhere to go.

This is our idea: a regular monthly slot at a small live music venue in London. Under £3 to get in. Cheap drinks. Good bands that can regularly play and build up a fan base. Good crowds that don’t have to take out a mortgage to listen to new bands and go crazy.

Who wouldn’t want that?

C x

p.s. Just to remind you, go check out my sister’s blog. She’s a sci-fi author.




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