The Dangers of “Pay-to-Play”: My experience with one of these companies


Last year, I broke ties with a certain pay-to-play company, whose name I won’t mention here. These companies ask you to sell a certain number of tickets, and they will book you a half-hour spot at their showcase at a well-known New York performance space. Sounds awesome, right?

Wrong. Depending on the number of tickets you sell you will receive a cut of the ticket sales, and they keep the rest. This often means that if you sell $10 tickets, you’ll only get back a dollar for each ticket. If you sell under a specific number of tickets, say 15 tickets, they will keep everything. In addition, they usually take the money of your family and friends, who were supportive enough to come see you play. You’ll get frustrated trying to sell to your friends all the time, and they won’t come. And the company will bully you through emails, asking why you didn’t get the appropriate number of tickets, and that it’s unfair to THEM. Because why not purchase advanced tickets from a random promotion company’s website to see a performance in 4 weeks at a bar and then buy drinks too? [Unless you’re seeing Jason Mraz, obviously.] Companies like these find musicians with big dreams on social media, draw them in with a great facade, and then walk away with the ticket sales.

The last time I interacted with this company, which we will call “DUCK” here, I was booked at a great venue in Manhattan. I was overjoyed to be playing this location. They are a great venue with an awesome vibe and great music. I went in to find the DUCK representative. I had to arrive a couple hours before the show started. Which means that I wouldn’t get my showtime until then: if I arrived at 6:30 to get my showtime, I could end up playing at 10, requiring me to message my entire fanbase and let them know only an hour before the gig. The DUCK manager wasn’t there, so I bided my time and put off getting dinner; and you should always eat before a gig. The DUCK manager didn’t arrive until 20 minutes after when the show was supposed to start. Luckily for me, I performed first, did my gig, had someone film the show, and met a couple of pretty nice performers as well.

That’s where it got interesting.

After the show, I received an email from DUCK. They said that I DIDN’T EVEN SHOW UP TO PLAY THE SHOW. The email had a nasty and rude tone. I informed them that, uh, yes, I did show up and played the show. I politely said that I was not happy with them, and told them that I was done booking shows with DUCK.

The best lesson I can give to anyone considering using a pay-to-play company is watch out! Or, if you want to play a couple shows at some awesome venues just to get your name out there, play some shows with them, get a videographer to record the performance for your YouTube/Vimeo, and then dump the DUCK.