Pay or decay. Why most of the bands will have to pay to get fans.
Paid compilations, ads, pay-to-play gigs are becoming increasingly commonplace affair in independent scene. Have you paid already? Do not worry, I also have. Nothing to be ashamed of, sooner or later most of independent musicians will have to do it anyway.
Most but not all. The current market is a real catch 22. It favors already known acts at the expense of the newcomers. Who are the lucky ones? Mostly bands that managed to jump on the wagon before the digital revolution and during the dusk of the early 2000’s business model. The guys who were taken on by the 4-5 last “respectable” labels of our scene. And – it has to be said – those who were exceptionally good.
Lily of the Valley - Among the Shadows
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If you look at the lineups of the biggest festivals, you’ll see the same names most of the time. These are the lucky guys who draw people to the concerts. You are – most likely – the unlucky one who will have to pay to play in their company.
The big guys get real help from the labels, as the labels know that those artists need a really good reason to be with them and share their income. They would be more than ok on their own, and thus they get value.
If you need a high profile example, read about Ed Sheeran’s relationship with labels. You can scale it down to independent scene, the smaller the money the nastier it gets.
While those lucky keep earning fans and getting free advertising, paid gigs and label help, the underclass struggles to join them. The divide grows bigger.
The underclass bangs at the gates, beg and desperately try to get taken on without understanding, that labels have no interest in unknown bands anymore.
Nowadays everybody has a band, is a photographer, model, artist etc. We just have a lot of time to spare. Everybody is screaming for attention. The temptation to pay up to get above the noise is high. Guys like Facebook know it well, and let you pay to promote your posts.
So paid compilations are a fact of the independent scene. The scheme works as follows: the organisers take onboard a couple of better known bands. I do not know how this works, I can only guess that the “upperclass” guys get paid or just get a free slot.
Then an email is sent to some prospecting little known bands with an offer to pay and participate in compilation with some better known bands. Some of those guys pay in and this is how it works. The last time I was invited it was 100 US dollars.
If you use free version of Spotify you probably hear those ads of up and coming bands begging you to listen to their stuff and please, please click on this banner.
You see bands’ ads on Facebook, you see bands using Adwords. If you see some bands on magazine’s cover Cds – more than likely they paid to be there. The pricelists are not a secret, you can look them up.
Those who paid are the guys who actually are ahead of the game. Unless you come up with some amazing PR stunt, I can see no other quick way to get heard of than to pay your way through. Do I like this idea? Not at all. But facts are the most stubborn thing in the world, so you can either put up with them or keep dreaming.
Why are you in the band for? Of course you make music, but apart from this? Is it not acceptation, appreciation of your work and high status in the scene you want? If you say no you are a liar. Attention of others is a powerful drug and you are alread hooked up on it.
The reality of paying for getting heard is self-fulfilling. If you do not pay, you start lagging behind not only the “big guys” of your scene, but also behind those who swallowed their pride and paid.
On top of that comes the “Too Few Indians and Too Many Chiefs” situation. Fewer and fewer people are satisfed by being just fans. Again paying up is the only quick way out of this and to get ahead of the pack. The circle turns and the self-fulfilling pay or decay reality gains more momentum.
Yes, your music can be so good that it will get noticed no matter why. You know examples of this kind of revelations in any scene. But the “just good” guys have to either work hard to buil their fan base organically, or pay up.
At Halotan Records we exercise a hybrid solution. We do pay for stuff that we measured is worth paying for. Apart from this we try to earn as much free publicity, as possible. And, just as a disclaimer, we do not charge for taking part in our compilations.
Here you can read more about them if you are interested.
I do not believe that successful promotion of music is possible without spending some money. Especially at the beginning a couple of quid can get the things rolling much faster that organically.
But do not just throw your money at it. Make cool and data driven decissions, see what works and what does not. In these strange times of ours the best marketer-musician will win.
Becoming a good marketer will give you an edge over “competition”. This coupled with even small but wisely spent budget can go a long way in the upcoming “pay or decay” music reality.