Door deal and Pay2Play: how much is live music worth?

And how can fees be fair for both musicians and promoters?

At the moment, every event is vital for concert promoters due to a rising mortality rate among clubs. The common argument of promoters against a fixed musician's fee in the underground is: promoters never know how many paying guests are coming. The promoter might pay three different bands EUR 200 each for the evening. If we initially exclude the proceeds from the bar and take a ticket price of EUR 7 each, the promoter has to bring 86 paying guests to the club just to cover the musicians' fees. Miscellaneous costs for staff etc. have not been taken into account yet. On the other hand, musicians also want to earn at least part of their living with music. They need a fair and adequate fee. What could be the basis for musicians to earn a good fee? Which fee model is fair? We went on a search for clues with artists from the IMG STAGELINE family.

Door deal: is this classic fee a fair one?

The door deal sounds fair: the band gets all or part of the income 'from the door', i.e. from the entrance fee. The fee thus depends on how many guests are coming. The usual ratio is 70/30: 70% of the entrance fees for the band, 30% for the promoter or club. The club itself is financed by the bar.

The problem: with the door deal, part of the responsibility for promotion is transferred to the musicians.

Even if bands think that it would be okay to be the promoter for the clubs at the same time: an underground band travelling from Stuttgart has no influence on the number of guests at the Lila Eule in Bremen. The worst case scenario with a door deal would be that the band would not even be able to afford the petrol to get there and back. On the other hand, there are also bands who deliberately pay on top for concerts because they become better known that way.

Pay2Play: an outrage in the scene

Musicians and promoters have passionately been discussing Pay2Play for years. Either bands pay a fixed amount for a concert or an entire tour, or they buy a certain amount of tickets from the promoter ('minimum ticket purchase') and have to make sure to sell those by themselves. We  have asked Sebastian Dracu for his opinion.

There are several forms of Pay2Play which all have one thing in common: bands pay to be allowed to perform.

"Before you get involved in Pay2Play, ask yourselves: is this in our best interest?", Sebastian Dracu

"I personally despise Pay2Play. If a band thinks that they want to use it as a strategy to become better known: be my guest. They will pay EUR 10,000 to open a tour for a bigger band. However, musicians should ask themselves the following questions first: who am I, what do I do, what do I want? The answer: I do creative work, I spend a lifetime doing it and I want to fulfil my dreams. This also includes that the whole thing should be long-lasting. Can I achieve this if I pay to perform? If you do not want to get paid for your work, 99% of the time you will not get paid for your work. Of course, you will have to 'put money in before money comes out'. However, the dimensions of Pay2Play are ridiculous. Even the small clubs now demand EUR 300 from a band for a show at the weekend. If you want to survive economically as a promoter, you will have to adapt. And if it does not work and the promoter can thus not pay the band, there is always the option of looking for another job."

What is live music worth?

Both perspectives are important

There is this famous listing on social media which shows the expenses of a band before a concert: tens of thousands of Euros for instruments, PA system, rent for rehearsal rooms, rehearsal time, transport costs to the rehearsal room, transport costs to the gig, lessons, etc. And it is true: a band is rarely economical. The question is, however, if (live) music is a product like any other which has to be cost-effective? Musicians might ask themselves on this basis:

How ambitious are we with our music and how great is the interest in us? Does it match our fee? Do I have a good feeling about it? If the answers are yes, then all is well.

"Fixed fee has become our favourite", Tammo from LENNA:

Flexible fixed fees work perfectly for us. The promoter then knows exactly what he is getting from us: which songs, how many songs and our technical input for the gig. A few aspects are considered in our fixed fee which are comprehensible by the promoter:

  • Are we the main act or the support band?
  • How far do we travel to reach the venue and what costs do occur?
  • How much of our time does the gig take up: is it a whole weekend including an overnight stay or are we back in the rehearsal room again at night?
  • How long is the setlist? Is the rehearsal effort above average?
  • Is there a technician on-site or do we bring our own, who we have to pay in return?
  • Are we playing for a good cause or is it a regular concert for which an entrance fee must be paid?
  • Will the gig bring us more publicity?

Alternative to door deals and fixed fees: guaranteed cost recovery for the arriving band + percentage of the entrance fees

One attitude could be:

No band should pay extra for a gig.

However, there is no musician who would benefit if clubs could no longer pay bands. A rather unfamiliar but interesting fee model is a guaranteed cost recovery for the band plus a percentage of the entrance fees. This way the band does not pay on top. Bands mainly pay for travel costs and accommodation. With guaranteed cost recovery, the promoter can decide the furthest distance a band should travel and whether the overnight accommodation will be paid for, too.

The additional door deal is negotiable. This is preferably based on the band's time and material costs.
For this to work, two conditions must be met:

  1. Both sides are honest. The band must be transparent regarding its costs. The promoter must show in a comprehensible way how many paying guests were there.
  2. It must be clear from the beginning which services the band receives from the promoter or has to pay for itself: catering, drinks, equipment, sound support.

Conclusion: in the underground, promoters and musicians are two sides of the same coin and should be friends

Musicians and promoters basically want the same thing: as many guests as possible in front of the stage and a rewarding evening. If this awareness is there, both sides can work together in a more transparent manner. As long as bands participate in Pay2Play models, Pay2Play will continue to exist. Perhaps, one solution for organising concerts would be to meet as equals. This is how musicians and promoters would overcome the gap between them which is sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller.

Photos by ©The Hirsch Effekt, Christoph Eisenmenger