Music Festival & Conference Opportunities vs Pay to Play Artist Showcases
Any NEW indie is going to learn, through experimenting or the just the hard way, that you should NEVER pay to perform at ANY concert. Although this sounds like a no brainer, we must keep in mind that clever sales tactics and marketing are being used to convince an artist that the "investment" is worth it - Who hasn't heard that before?
Earlier in October of this year SXSW staff & writer Hayden Bagot released a statement warning indie artists to avoid paying companies for a performance slot at SXSW. I encourage anyone to read the full warning but here are a few words from the warning: "SXSW does not charge our artists to perform at official showcases... We do not condone these solicitations, and actively do everything we can to protect artists from being victimized by “pay-to-play” scams...."
If you've never heard of SXSW, it's only one of thee largest conferences of creatives. It takes place annually around mid-March in Austin, Texas. It's a pretty big deal so the SXSW "Opportunities" that pop-up right before the Conference & Festivals where you can pay for a performance slot (or to audition for one) are numerous. None of the pay-to-play SXSW opportunities are affiliated with SXSW according to the warning on their site.
Should artists just avoid anything that says “showcase” altogether? According to Heather McDonald of The Balance, there's only a few an artist will benefit from:
Label Showcase: First is if the artist's label is putting on a show to introduce them to press, agents and other influencers, in which case the artist may not have a choice on whether or not they'd be performing.
Conference: Second is if the artist has been directly selected (after applying) to play a showcase at a music tradeshow or convention (SXSW, Sweetwater 420, NXNE, A3C, Midem, Rolling Loud Fest, NAMM Show, Network Music Conference, Camp Flog Gnaw, The Roots Picnic, The Governor's Ball, Bonaroo, C/O Pop, Winter Music Conferences, Made In America, Revolt, Launch, Day N Night, etc)
Culture: Finally, if a music related business has selected you to play a showcase they are putting together (i.e XXL Freshmen Cypher, Hot 97's Who Next? Concert Series, ASCAP Expo, ComplexCon, etc). The Balance states what all three have in common is that they are events arranged by industry execs whose industry connections are usually attending the event, and the artists performing were specifically selected - they didn't and couldn't purchase the opportunity to perform.
Pay-to-play opportunities don't just come in the form of showcase slots, they are sometimes presented as venue gigs at clubs. Pay-to-play club gigs differ from paid-by-crowd gigs (I.e Sonicbids) where an artist's ability to draw a crowd is the only thing determining the payout. The artist is paid more if a large amount of people come to hear them play. Whether the artist makes a little or a lot, the artist doesn't pay.
Indie artists already pay for: studio time, mixing and mastering, professional development, promo, branding & marketing - in order for their projects to successful - and that's all before applying to perform at something as epic as SXSW, which doesn't cost artists a thing.