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My Response To An LA Pay-To-Play Promoter


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Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.
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Not two hours after I posted my Should You Pay To Play article, I happened to received this email from an LA “promoter.”

Here is how our conversation went…

T’s response:

Ari. This is an EXCELLENT post. There’s definitely a stigma associated with pay to play. But respectfully, I draw the line between pay to play (where the artist pays) and presell. I do NOT want ANY BAND having to buy tickets or pay out of their own pockets- for two reasons 1) its not ethical and 2) it means they have no draw, no fans, and that’s not cool for the venue, fans or other bands. Pay to play is VERY different from presale.

And speaking of preselling tickets (NOT coming out of pocket) what your post fails to mention- that this is business model is used by the most famous and successful bands in the world.

For example, when Justin Bieber plays the Staples Center, he does NOT always get a guarantee. He has to sell X amounts of tickets to break even, and yes those tickets ARE sold on his website. I repeat- if you go on the Rolling Stones website- you can buy tickets to their shows – and they do not break even until they sell X amount. This is absolutely no different than a band putting a PayPal on their website for their show. And if the band has a following, they WILL get paid. This is often why “famous” bands lose money- because they are booked into a venue they are not capable of filling. And yes, famous bands do NOT pay to get on a show. But they DO presell tickets. I know, because my good friend manages several famous acts. The days of the promoter putting up all the money- rain or shine- are OVER. Sponsor? Maybe.

I play drums in a band that draws between 150-200 persons every time we play. We worked our asses off to get FANS, not friends. So using the terms I sent you, my band would make at least $800 before we even left our driveway. And NEVER spend any of our money. Additionally, the younger generation often requests tickets, because being web savvy, they know they can make hundreds of dollars before they even play the show, and they want to be in charge of NOT just their music, but their careers. But I cannot stress this enough- most of our shows are NOT presell, and I do NOT want any band going to the ATM to play a show. That’s fucking crazy.

Last but not least, these terms are just a starting point. If you don’t want to presell tickets, you do NOT have to. Most of our shows are NOT presell – just ask anyone on our calendar. All I ask is that the band level with me about their draw, because I often rent these clubs for thousands of dollars (and we don’t get the bar) and its funny you mention how you don’t mention names because if I named every band who wasn’t forthcoming with me about their draw, we’d both be out of computer memory. And you know it. But I left law school to play drums in a band (much to my PHd mom’s chagrin) so I see both sides. I actually went to University of Minnesota Law School BTW!

i do not “prey” on young stupid bands. Just the opposite- i don’t want to work with ANYONE young and stupid because we all have to work TOGETHER – owner, musicians and promoter- to make a successful show. So please don’t see 1% of what we do and paint with a broad brush.

BTW do you have a draw? If you do, let’s give you a door deal and get you PAID. That’s ultimately what we all want, and I have zero problem paying artists on their terms as long as they are candid and truthful. But Ari, you haven’t lived life unto the fullest until 3 of the 4 bands you booked lied to you about their draw, and the club says “T you owe US $1000”. So as with everything, I think communication is the key.

Call me anytime. I’m happy to put you plus all on our guest list to any of our shows, buy you some rounds,and show you we are not the mercenaries you make us all out to be LOL!!

Stepping off my soapbox now, and again I agree with a lot of your post. Well written sir

Have a great night Ari and keep up the good work


My response to T:

T. So I didn’t want to respond until I gathered up some reputable knowledge and facts. After I passed along your response to my readers, a friend of mine replied and said “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Now my friend, who wants to remain anonymous as revealing the confidential breakdown he sent me could get him fired, works for one of the two largest promoters in the country. Everyone knows this company. He passed along an arena tour breakdown excel document of one of the largest bands in the country. This doc lists everything from capacity of the venue, tour history, ticket prices, expenses (rental, stage hands, catering, advertising, etc) AND, OF COURSE, this bands GUARANTEE. For every show on the tour they got a guarantee of $650,000 or 95% cut of ticket sales (after expenses) – whichever is greater.

My friend said every arena deal is structured this way and you are 100% incorrect that if bands don’t sell any tickets they lose money. If no one buys tickets on this tour, the band still walks with $650,000 PER SHOW.

In addition, you are wrong about Bieber. Justin Bieber is not actually selling tickets on his website. Go check. If you click Events on his website it sends you to his Facebook Page and if you click one of the dates there it sends you to Seat Geek – which is a secondary ticket marketplace. Tickets are for sale on but Bieber has no links to that oddly enough. But after the story broke that Bieber scalps his own tickets, this shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.

But regardless, comparing what the biggest superstars in the world do to young, inexperienced bands with no representation is completely bogus. It’s like comparing organic apples and Monsanto. But since you did, I had to debunk your claims.

My entire post is about how bands with no representation or much experience in the big bad world of show booking/promotion should protect themselves from unfair, unethical deals. You said it yourself, “I do NOT want ANY BAND having to buy tickets or pay out of their own pockets…its not ethical.” But, your initial pitch to me was for me to BUY TICKETS. Sure, ideally I would then sell those tickets and then some to make some money, but this is STILL not ethical.

Local promoters and venue bookers need to do what is fair and honest. If bands aren’t proven, then sure, don’t offer them a guarantee, BUT offer them a fair door cut. Don’t make them sell a minimum amount of tickets up front (like you initially offered me). Do your research on these bands. Listen to their music (novel idea eh?). Find bands that are hard working AND fit together musically. Then work along side these bands to PROMOTE the show. Instead of carpet bombing every band in LA with a form email with a subject line IN ALL CAPS, why not find 4 stellar bands who are all hard working and pitch them a show that you will all work your asses off on. Arrange an entire night of music as a Surge Event Presents evening and inspire and encourage (not threaten) young bands with ways to promote the show on their end. You promote it on your end. And in the end, you could potentially sell out every venue. That’s what I did for every show I played in Minneapolis (when I was local there) and I brought 400+ to nearly every show.
+Shows Sell, Events Sell Out
+How I Got 250 To My Debut CD Release

You will quickly get known around town as a favorable promoter by venues and bands alike.

You can change your business model. If every local promoter around the country who uses the same carpet bomb, unfiltered, un-researched email blast, presell ticket approach looked at the long term (instead of the quick buck), these local promoters would flourish and the industry would be very different.

It CAN start with you.

+Should You Pay To Play

About The Author

Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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