Pay-to-Play? A Local Promoter Responds

Jan 23, 2009 at 10:00 am

I'm still receiving comments and emails about my article outlining new year's resolutions for the music community -- in fact, local show promoter John Mancuso wrote me a lengthy response earlier this week. He gave me permission to post the email, which is below. The show he's referencing is the one talked about in this article (which has drawn, er, shall we say some vitriol in the comments). So read on, and I want to hear from other promoters, venue owners and bands about what he's saying. Keep it civil and constructive, please. And also keep in mind that my story didn't mention any clubs or promoters by name when talking about "pay-to-play" -- mainly because it's not an isolated thing.

John Mancuso says:

I thought I would make a few comments about your Pay-to-Play article. First of all that term came from venues like the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood, CA. I've worked with that venue when I lived in Cali. They give you 50 tickets and you pay them $350 and you do whatever you want with those tickets from there. That is paying to play.

This is not what happens in STL. Here is how my system works.

New bands play a "New Band Showcase" show to establish a relationship with me. These shows are usually week night shows at Pop's and I ask bands to shoot for 35 pre-sale tickets. I do not require a deposit or make them pay for tickets that they don't sell. If there is ever a loss I'm the one who eats it. The band makes profit from every ticket they sell. They are in the clear from the first ticket they sell. Once expenses are covered their compensation also goes up.

After I have worked with a band on one of these showcase shows I am then in a better position to know where to put them in the future. This helps me build solid weekend shows and gives me an idea of who I can put on opening slots for national shows to minimize my loss. Being a promoter IS a numbers game. The promoter takes a big gamble on every show they book.

I want to give you an example of why this can be a positive thing. This past Saturday night I did a show at Pop's for Stlpunk. I brought in a Blink 182 tribute band to add a little hype to the show. I also hired two local celebs to host the show. I had over $1,200 worth of expenses on the show. It had ads on the Point, I bought 11 pizzas to feed the bands and some of the guests, and we gave away a ton of prizes. These little things make a difference in the show and also add up quickly.

When it was all said and done the bands played a great show in front of 250 people, they made profit, the kids left with all kinds of free stuff, they sang along word for word with every Blink 182 song, and had the time of their lives. They will talk about this show for a long time.

At the end of the night I was still about $150 short of covering what I put into the show. Had I not sent the bands out selling tickets we probably would have had 125 people paid and I would have lost so much money that doing a show like this could not be justified.

Instead it was a huge success and the money I lost was fine since I was able to get a lot of promo for Stlpunk and put on a positive show that I feel was a building block to turning the scene around for the better.

I would like you to read this forum on Stlpunk. This is from kids who were at the show as well as the bands who played, worked hard and sold tickets.

I am not opposed to doing shows where bands do not sell tickets. .

The bottom line is that venues have a lot going and cannot always book their own shows. They have to do inventory and marketing of the venue and they depend on promoters to fill their rooms. They come to people who have an extensive knowledge of the scene and ask them to take this responsibility. Every year bars and clubs that feature live music come and go. If they are not doing the business they can not stay in business. If you are booking shows and nobody is coming through the door you are not doing the business you need to do.

I am by no means getting rich off of local bands I do this because I love to do it and I have fun with it.

Anyway, it seems like people hear things from the bands standpoint all the time, but not the promoter. So I just wanted to throw some of this out there. I don't expect to change your views I'm just trying to give you a view from the other side.

I do expect bands to work hard, but I work just as hard for them and fight for them every chance I get.