End Pay to Play

End Pay to Play

19 have signed. Let’s get to 25!
Petition to
bars and

Why this petition matters

Started by Ernest Barteldes

Imagine you go to school to become a teacher, and once you have earned the necessary credentials in order to enter a classroom, you are told that to get paid to do your job, you need to have a certain number of students willing to come to your class - and if you don’t, you have to pay for the privilege to give your lecture in the first place, regardless of how qualified you might be. Or if you are flying an airplane, and your salary is not based on the hours you put in, but how many passengers you can squeeze into your plane at any given time. That would certainly make living impossible and probably no one would venture into such careers. 
Yet that is exactly what is imposed to hundreds of thousands of independent artists in New York and many other large cities around the country. Unless you are able to have a “draw,” you are unable to get paid to play music in a growing number of nightclubs around town, a nefarious yet perfectly legal system called ‘pay to play,’ in which clubs hire so-called bookers to bring performers into their venues but lay full responsibility on said performers to earn their bread while not lifting a finger to make things happen for the very artists that make their venues exist in the first place.  
Such a practice is not new - “pay to play” has been the way to go for over a decade, and that practice has hampered start-up artists for a long time. You are not only supposed to perform at a given place, but it’s your job to promote the gig and to bring people in, or else you don’t get paid. Imagine this happening in any other profession – say, a doctor only getting paid if enough people make it into the ER at a given night.  
One might argue that this is what happens if you choose the life of an artist – many actors and musicians are expected to ‘pay their dues’ and hold side jobs until they make it, but when you do get a gig, the expectation is to get paid in the first place. Yet this is how especially the music business is run these days – you must have a built-in audience in the first place, otherwise forget about getting on stage.  
I am a member of an independent band in New York City, and I have contacted multiple clubs in recent years, and most of them have referred me to their bookers, who make it very clear that you need a “draw” in order to get paid in the first place: “If the performer draws less than 15 people, the performer will compensate the door for the difference (to add up to $150), we will also require you to pay the $150 upfront in cash before your show begins.  The reason we require this is simply so we can prevent unnecessary stress in regards to the door person, and we also need to make sure that each act is fully confident about drawing at least 15+ fans,” stated one particular e-mail. Now while this might make sense to some established acts, it makes it pretty difficult for any start-up to risk booking a gig in the first place.  
Earlier in 2021, I booked a gig at a local Staten Island bar for my band and made it very clear that since the Pandemic we pretty much had lost any following we had built in previous years since we had not performed anywhere. We gave out fliers, promoted the concert on social media and wherever else we could, but that happened to be a slow night – there weren’t many people out that night and the bar was pretty much empty. Yet their booker blamed us for the night’s failure, mocking our failure to bring in a crowd. Of course, we did not get paid since their arrangement was to collect money into a tip jar - which we didn’t pass around since our “fans” were family and friends in the first place.  
“Pay to play” is unfair and should be illegal, and that is why I am proposing that nightclubs and music venues be required to pay a minimum fee for every performer they book. One cannot expect to build a career on social media and THEN get paid. One needs to be fairly compensated for the job they do, and “pay to play” makes that impossible.  

19 have signed. Let’s get to 25!