Since opening The Crux I've constantly tried to figure out the best model for venues and bands to both do well. I lived in Hannibal for 3 years before opening The Crux. In that time the only local shows I saw were at Hannibal LaGrange College. Most of those were not shows I enjoyed, with the exception of the Mercury Radio Theater show I put on. I saw several bands who were playing shows in St. Louis yet they weren't getting paid any money. Rather they had to pay gas both ways and sell up to 30 tickets. I wanted to help these bands build a local audience and have a place for fans to see touring artists. So when I started The Crux I quickly had to make decisions on how to get people in the door, make enough money to stay open, and pay the bands enough to make it worth their while. What I decided on was door deal splits. I limited our shows to 3 bands so the bands can make a decent split. The venue keeps half the door and the bands split the other half. Bands can also sell merch to help supplement their pay. This method allows both the bands and the venue to take a chance on each other. Every time I open our doors I'm taking a chance on the bands that play. If they are good musicians and have a good following, we do well. If they're not then we may not make enough to pay the bills. And I'm not talking about making enough to cover my personal expenses, I keep no money from The Crux, I'm talking about paying the power bill so we can stay open. Yet even after offering this opportunity I see bands who are still playing pay-to-play venues. So to you bands who still think Pay-to-Play is doing something for you, heres some advice.
1.You are being exploited! These venues are not putting on these shows because they like your music or want to help you. They put on these shows for an easy way to make money. Many of these shows have 8 bands who sell 30 tickets a piece for $8. So that means the venue brings in close to $2000 without any real work at all.
2.Pay-to-Play is not a way to get your foot in the door. Many bands do these shows because they think its a way to expand their fan base and get their foot in the door with a "legit venue." I can tell you that these venues are anything but legit. These venues will not suddenly offer you an opening spot with a national headliner because you did a pay-to-play show. Instead they will see you as the little guy who can always be exploited. The only future shows you will be offered are more pay-to-play shows. Many bands also think it will look good if they have played at so-and-so venue. Trust me, it means nothing to venues or promoters if you played a pay-to-play venue, no matter how big it is.
3.Don't be flattered because you were asked to play one of these shows. Most likely the promoter has never even listened to your music. I received a myspace message from a pay-to-play promoter that books shows for The Creepy Crawl. The message talked about how much they liked my band and wanted us to get on this show, and the only thing we had to do was sell these 30 tickets. You see the thing is I'm not in a band. The myspace page for The Crux is a music page. So the promoter just assumed it was a band page, and didn't even look at the page at all before sending the message.
4.You will kill your draw. People get tired of the band that is always begging for friends to purchase tickets for these shows. You may be able to make enough ticket sales off these shows at first, but soon your crowd will dwindle, and you will be useless for any venue.
So support the venues that support the bands. You will be better of in the long run. Take the money you would have spent on Pay-to-Play shows and invest it in getting a press kit, studio time and buying merch. This will help you out much more.