American commentator and musician RICK ALTIZER looks at the catch 22 demands of a scene that requires bands pay to play.
When I lived in Los Angeles, CA, there was a club in town that everyone wanted to play. It was called The Roxy. Maybe you've heard of it? Well, here was the deal with The Roxy. If you wanted to play that club you had to buy 100 tickets at $7.00 a piece. You had to "pay to play". After you bought the tickets and assured the club they wouldn't lose money on you, you could then sell them to all your friends for $10.00 a piece and make some profit For reasons of principle, I never played The Roxy. There was no way I was going to come up with $700.00 to play a club. NO WAY!
Well guess what we've got here in the American Christian music circuit? It's the same thing. If you want to be an opening act on a tour of your favourite Christian touring band you have to "pay to play". That's right. Let's say you want to open up for a really popular Christian band named Buckets Of Mud. Well, for you to do FOUR (that's right, only four) songs as an opening act, it's going to cost you ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS A NIGHT! I'm not making this up, not kidding. $1,000 to Buckets Of Mud for every night you play to do four songs. That does not include any transportation, lodging or food. All of that you have to pay for yourself. This happens with just about EVERY major Christian act. They call it tour support and the record companies are paying it through the nose.
Let's add that up. If Buckets Of Mud do 50 dates over a three month period that would be $50,000. Now a van needs to be rented, you need a place to sleep and even musicians need to eat so this three month, four song opening slot will probably cost you $75,000. But that's okay because you'll get to sell all kinds of product at the concerts, right? WRONG! You will get to sell TWO items at your table. One CD and one shirt Let's hope you don't have two CDs out or you're in trouble. Do we sell the CDs or just one? Oh, it gets treacherous navigating this four song, $75,000 ocean of money-sucking mud. In that three month period your band will probably make about $25,000 in product sales. That's your band's income for the three month period and you're still out $50,000.
Who can afford this? Big record labels, that's who. The record labels will pay all the money then make it recoupable from the bands' CD sales (it's like a loan the band has to pay back from future earnings). That way the band can NEVER make any income because they have to sell 75,000 records to break even with the record company. Oh, it's a vicious cycle.
Tours are expensive and this is a way for the headlining acts to pay for better sound, lights and crew. That $1,000 per night does help with the tour expenses. But I think the headliners could be a littlie more generous with the product allotment they will allow for the opening acts. These opening acts are living in poverty while the headliners are living in style. The income generated from the product tables goes straight to the band members' mostly empty pockets.
Next time you go to see your favourite Christian band make sure you
get there the opening act. Then, if you feel so inclined, go visit the
act's table and buy one of their CDs. I'm sure they'll thank you for