The life of an up-and-comer is often hard. You ain’t got no opportunities cause you ain’t got no experience and you ain’t got no experience cause you ain’t got no opportunities. It’s a big catch 22 and sometimes it feels like you’re facing off against a system that doesn’t want you to win; just like Bernie Sanders. The struggle leads to desperation and you’ll be looking at a flyer from an artist who’s currently booking artists for his show, so you email it and what do you know… a few seconds later you get an email claiming that if you send $100 to the artist, you get a fabulous experience consisting of 10 minutes on the person’s Instagram live account where you get to perform 3-5 songs depending on how long they are and people who are only there for the artist will show you love and support, claiming to be your fans forever but bail when it hits the fan.
That is the perception of the music industry, you gotta spend money to make money and if you ain’t got no money, you ain’t got no career. It’s more simply referred to as pay-to-play, meaning you pay money to play a concert/venue/get considered/have your music played to A&Rs from Def Jam/meet and greet with a favorite artist. You’re probably aware of pay to win, where you basically pay your favorite game studio like say… Electronic Arts and you get extras like money, weapons and cosmetic skins that’d probably take you 10 years to earn it all. That’s called pay to win and it basically promotes the same ideals, you gotta pay if you want to be a superstar.
It’s a dishonest tactic, promoting fame as something that can’t be earned and instead can be achieved through paying large sums of money. Who wants to grind hard to achieve status? Nobody likes to grind hard in order to achieve status; if it were easy, everybody would do it and that’s the type of thing that I see gets promoted a lot. If you put in your dues, if you perform enough concerts, get a lot of experience, get a classic album than you will truly be a musical legend and a success in life. From what I’ve experienced however, that is almost never the case.
Take for example the audience expectations… The picture on the left is what you’d imagine to be a concert that was live and packed and what you’d get for your money, the picture on the right is what you’d actually get for your money.
There have been so many shows that I’ve been to that promise a good time and awesome headliners and while those shows may have been a good time for me, the reality was different. To the artists who performed on the stage, they either thought it was bar night so they brought their friends to see him or her or they thought it was a legitimate shot at success; in both instances, they either had an audience that left when the performance ended or they had no audience whatsoever and both instances did not help the theoretical event’s situation.
Speaking of events, they often promote an experience that’s better than your wildest dreams, that’ll achieve everything you ever wanted to do with your career and more. While they do hire DJs that have experience in the circuit and while they make the events feel professional, they often only serve to fatten up the pockets of the event promoter who probably doesn’t care for you if you don’t have any money. Sure, he’s gotta pay for the really good headliner who at least had a hip-hop career and the venue but he’s still heading off with your hard earned money to fulfill his extravagant lifestyle.
Then there’s events that promise you success and fame but are rigged against you. Take rap contests for example, you pay money to get your spot against a bunch of emcees who are as talented as you; there are A&R reps and judges with some experience but the whole thing is rigged against you because he wants to give the money to his guy so that he can keep it and that guy often ends up 2nd or 1st depending on how rigged the whole thing is.
It doesn’t matter how good you performance is or if the promoter is a nice guy or not. If you are in a situation where you get a response back sooner than later and it asks you to pay for money, that is technically a pay to play situation. While you don’t know how much money he is pocketing or how much of the money is being used to recoup the costs for the concert, it still gives you the feeling like a part of your soul died.
The worst part of pay to play if you rely mainly on pay to play than you get classified as a pay to play artist. Your audiences are the audiences that are their for their artists and the cheers and praise they give you aren’t even real, what’s worse is that you get typecasted as the kind of artist who knows he or she doesn’t have any talent yet wants to play anyway so he or she pays money to scrupulous people who often promise them the world but fail to deliver.
I talked to several people and I see that not many people are going to these hip-hop shows like they used to. It’s a catch 22, without demand there’s no shows but the void is filled with shows that are pay to play thus leaving no shows that are free to play. If I were a promoter, I would pick my talent based on how talented they are and how good their presentation is and that’s how I think every promoter should be.
There used to be a code of ethics that promoters used to follow. It used to be an ethos of love and support and compassion, it used to be you could make it off of free to play shows but now even artists that I personally know and that I’m personally friends with are paying to play simply because they have no choice in the matter. If there were more demand than there’d be more supply but supply is often controlled by higher-ups who would rather find the next one-hit wonder rather than find talent.
This cycle will never cease. We will continue to promote these shows, promote false ethos and promote people who make hits rather than songs and I don’t know when it happened but I do know that more people should follow those ethos rather than do it for themselves. Selfishness is killing the music scene; think about it, would you rather do it for the music, or because there’s a 5 million dollar check in it for you? I know every artist is different but music shouldn’t revolve around a billboard chart, neither should it resolve around pay to play. Fame is not determined by how much money you spend, but by the hard work you put in and I fear that hard work and sacrifice will never be cool, not even to the people reading this article.