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So you want to be in a rock band?: Scammed by the pay-to-play

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | January 7th, 2008

It's hard to tell when you are being enticed by a scam.

Most of us would fail to realize that we are being swindled if the company that approaches us has a professional looking website, corporate office address, and/or snazzy logo, but with advances in technology, came easier and more widespread access to services and/or products that can make these scams seem legit. We no longer can rely on our simple skills of deduction assuming that an email or letter is ONLY a scam if it is full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and/or is strangely composed entirely of capital letters much like those of the 419 Nigerian scam series that request the urgent cooperation of an anonymous individual in transferring millions of inheritance dollars through his/her secure bank account.

The ever-popular “pay to play” showcase

Along similar lines to the CD comp scam is the “pay to play” showcase hoax, where a concert promoter offers your band a performance slot at his/her upcoming event held at a large performance hall (commonly places like The Opera House in Toronto), in which industry professionals are guaranteed to be present scouting new talent. The real effectiveness of these “pay to play” scams is derived from their distorted mimicry of authentic major music industry showcase events.

This scam works because of its tempting double-pronged approach. First off, bands are under the misconception that acts commonly get signed off of a single performance, and that since they are being given the opportunity to play to label scouts, they must be ready to take their career to that next level. Secondly, this con is appealing because bands routinely jump at the opportunity to play at reputable venues that they normally wouldn't be able to book on their own because it gives them bragging rights. Just as the CD comp invitations are sent out randomly to acts that seem dupable, so too, are these showcase notices — don't be fooled!

In order to demonstrate their commitment and so-called mass appeal, bands are required, on behalf of the “pay-to-play” promoters, to sell highly overpriced tickets to these events with the rationale being that if a band does not have an established fanbase, they will not be appealing to labels (not entirely true). Each band is given a set number of tickets that they are required to sell in order to reserve their showcase slot, and upon arrival to the venue, the bands are given instructions to provide the promoter with the money from the ticket sales along with any remaining tickets.

If a given band does not obtain the set ticket sale rate, their performance privileges are revoked. If promoters need to rely on the booked acts to sell tickets to their events, are they really skilled promoters? The obvious answer being no, but these promoters especially seem to have a way with words in which they can manipulate acts into believing that it is impossible for them to get signed, unless they bring a bus full of their fans to support them.

I have yet to meet a single act that has been granted any kind of deal out of one of these events, and I happen to know, without a doubt, that these promoters are only interested in one kind of business: that being, taking advantage of bands.

It is true that prestigious industry festivals and conferences often do not provide accommodations or performance payment to their selected artists because the opportunity to perform is seen as having potential long-term benefits that outweigh these costs. However an artist will NEVER be expected to pay to play at a real event, nor will they be expected to supply the crowd, especially since the performance application process is open to artists internationally. No music conference in Toronto, for example, could expect a Finnish band to realistically bring all of their hometown fans to their performance.

If you have been invited to perform at what seems like a major music festival and/or showcase, prior to accepting the invitation, I encourage you to see if the festival has any promotional materials and/or a website that you can review. It is important to consider how many years the festival has been running, the average attendance rate, previous performers, scheduled label attendees, and festival sponsors when deciding whether or not it will be worth your time.

More info on band scams next week...
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