YOUR Stories About Getting Screwed By Promoters

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Faithful readers may have noticed we’ve gone pretty hard on bad promoters and pay-to-play nonsense recently. There’s a good reason why: both are terrible and deserved to be called out. We’re not exactly beating a dead horse here, because it continues to happen just about anywhere there is live music. It’s easy to blow-off such stories with excuses like, “Well, I’ve never heard about that happening in my scene,” or “This is how things are done,” or my favorite “Bands just need to work harder.” All of those are a steaming pile, but sometimes people need to hear it from another source (or sources).

So we reached out to you, the Toilet faithful, to provide us with your tales of shifty promoters, getting roped into pay-to-play schemes, and all sorts of chicanery. You did not disappoint. Below are some choice responses that will hopefully serve as a warning for all the young bands out there.


Slaves BC:

So this one time, when Slaves BC was young and dumb and full of fun, we got offered to play a show with a Deathwish band. The offer came from one of the biggest booking companies in the city.

Anyways, the guy that ran it asked us to play and was excited to have us play and all that, but then he passed the correspondence over to this new guy. The new guy, we’ll call him “Chad”, immediately started talking to us about how we had to sell a certain number of tickets. He would text me, email and call me asking for updates. Meanwhile, the he was not posting about it. The booking company was not talking about the show anywhere. They had booked another larger metal show the same night a mile from where we were playing. They had radio adds and advertisement in the local papers.

Anyway, I tried. I tried to sell the tickets. I made facebook posts, I created a facebook event page, I drew a new flyer, I hung flyers, I talked to people at shows, I messaged people personally and we ended up selling like 11 tickets. The day of the show, Chad calls me and asks how many tickets we sold. I said 11.

He said “Really? 11? That’s it? Are you kidding me? How did that happen?” I was surprised and I didn’t really know how to respond. So Chad says “I’ll just talk to you when I get to the show”.

We got to the venue, and there was another guy from the booking company working the door. I tried to give him the tickets, but he said that I’d have to wait to talk to Chad. He told us to set up because we sold so little tickets, we had to play first (which is fine, we didn’t care back then and we don’t have any ego about playing first or last or anything now).

So we set up all of our gear and sound checked. We talked to the touring band and apologized for how many tickets we sold and they were just like “hey, its a weird day and we heard there another huge show happening so we aren’t surprised”. I talked to the other opening bands (suburban high school bands I had never heard of or since), one had sold 3 no tickets and the other had sold 17.

Chad gets to the venue and I tried to shake his hand and introduce myself. He said “Where is the money and the leftover tickets?” So I gave him the money and the tickets, and I started to apologize that we didn’t sell as many as he wanted us to. Chad stood in the middle of the venue and said “I don’t understand how this happened. You obviously didn’t even try. 11 tickets is a complete embarrassment. You have let us down, the venue down, the touring band down, and you have let the whole Pittsburgh scene down. Bands like you don’t take any of this seriously and that is why no one goes to shows anymore. Bands like you are why no touring bands want to come to Pittsburgh anymore.”

At this point, Chad started to raise his voice. The sound guy, bartender, door guy, touring and opening bands formed a circle around us. Chad started swearing at me and was right in my face. I apologize, I don’t remember most of what he said at this point because my blood pressure was going up and I was thinking about throwing this guy down the stairs. My guitar player (he’s my best friend) walked over and tried to talk to Chad. Chad said “I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to him.”

My friend tried to tell him that maybe he should stop and talk to him instead of yelling at me. Chad was like “Am I being unfair? Am I being mean? I’m not being mean. I’m just trying to understand how someone can fail this badly at something that should be so easy? There were more words exchanged, my friends that I sold tickets to started to come into the venue to see what was going on. Chad was like “Well, since you brought some people with you, I guess I have to let you play on that stage. But you will never play another one of our shows ever again. You will not play any shows in Pittsburgh again. Everyone will know about this.” Then he told me to just get on stage and get our set over with.

I remember at this point being so angry and humiliated that I wasn’t sure if I should punch the guy or if I was going to cry. Chad started saying mean things to me that I can’t remember again and he tried to get some of the other people to agree and chime in(no one did).

I walked up on the stage and I started tearing down our equipment. I apologized to the venue, the bartender, and touring band. I bought a record from the touring band. We then went and set up a house show. We ordered pizza and played to all of our friends and some other people that had been planning on attending the show.

I have played close to 1,000 shows in my lifetime with all the various things I have played in. I have never been talked to the way that Chad talked to me that day.

There is no moral to the story. I was just upset. And we’ve never allowed ourselves to be in any situation like that ever again.



 Pete:

Oh man, so I have a good one. I don’t want to call this guy out directly, but well just say he plays in a band called “wrong intervention.” Dude books shows with HUGE bands. Heavy hitters that you dream of playing with when you are coming up. The venue is about 2 hours away from where we live. The guy used to make posts all the time about needing bands to play shows. He would pack the lineup. Usually 2 or 3 big bands, and then 7 other ‘locals’ to fill things out. I say ‘local’ because when you live 2 hours away from the venue, you aren’t really local anymore. How are we supposed to sell tickets for that?

So anyways, we had played a show with him back in the day that someone else booked. I guess he liked us, so he reaches out and says, “Hey, I need bands to fill out this show I’m putting on. So-and-so is playing, and I think your band would fit really well stylistically with them.” Awesome, right? When the guy who runs pay to play ASKS you to play the show, you’d think you aren’t falling into that same old trap. WRONG. I message him back, say we’d love to play, and he hits us with, “Great, I’ll just need you to sell 15 or 20 tickets. That’s less than usual since we are pretty close to the day of the show.” I can’t believe what I’m hearing, but try to reason with him by saying how I don’t think that will be possible given our distance from the venue. He says he understands that and relents. Says, no ticket sales so long as we can play the show. I say I appreciate it, but ask if we could get a little gas money, like 20 or 30 bucks to get us home and back. I guess that was the wrong thing to say because he decided to never talk to us again. Sorry dude, if you can’t afford to pay the bands you are booking, then don’t book those bands. And don’t expect to throw a good show by stacking a line up with a bunch of young teenagers playing breakdowns.

Anecdotally, my friend told me a story about that same promoter when he made a post asking if anyone could help him clean out his garage. Someone responded with, “How many tickets do I need to sell?” Gave me a nice laugh to hear that someone was brave enough to call him out.


Jake from Aether Realm:

When I was much younger my first *real* band (which is to say, the first band that actually regularly played local shows and stuff) was cold contacted by Gorilla Music about a battle of the bands. We had to sell tickets, and the more you sold compared to the other bands, the later you got to play. The show was in Charlotte, NC – about 5 hours from where we lived. We were told that by participating, we would be put on larger *national touring showcases* (which sounded pretty sick at the time, but looking back, it’s just some vague language people use to take advantage of young bands looking to get into “the biz”) and if we won, we’d be given studio time with *big name producers* (I think that’s actually the phrasing they used, lol).

We hounded some friends to buy tickets, and a few did and actually came to the show (I see you Rebecca! Also, sorry!). We handed over the money (and uh, we paid a bit out of our own pocket to get a better spot). Being totally honest, 15 year old me thought the night was pretty fun. We played for a better than average crowd for us at the time. But analyzing what was going on – the “promoter” for Gorilla Music left with over a thousand dollars harvested from young naive bands, their friends, and their parents, and none of the bands (even the winning band, which was – surprise – the band that sold the most tickets) made any money. I didn’t keep up with the band that won, so I don’t know if Gorilla Music followed up with their promise to get them studio time or not. Either way, while I think the endeavor of getting young, probably bad bands out playing shows in front of people can be an admirable one, Gorilla Music definitely was making money by pretending to be something they weren’t to bands that were new enough to believe them, and I don’t think that’s very ethical.

There’s a flip side to this! Aether Realm has played tons of shows as local support for bands larger than us within our genre – Alestorm, Turisas, Ensiferum, Insomnium – and for a lot of these shows we were required by the local promoter to sell tickets. I know some people that think this practice is also an unforgivable pay to play scheme, but I’m a little bit more grey on this one. Sure, I imagine some young bands really think jumping on these shows is like an “investment” in the band (it’s not), but I’ve never felt led astray or pressured to sign up for something I wasn’t ready for in this case. I always felt like being on the hook for 300 dollars worth of tickets, selling 200 dollars worth of them, and then eating the last 100 dollars was something I was just willing to do for the experience of playing with bands I liked. We weren’t really adding a ton of value to the shows, and be being there we made the set-up a little bit more complex. If it was a band we liked, we weren’t spending that much more than we would to go see the show in the first place.


John from Thunderforge:

Thunderforge was offered a gig at Diva’s Nightclub in Northampton, MA, which we heard about through another band in the area. For those not from the area, Diva’s (sadly now closed) was predominantly a LGBTQ nightclub that mostly booked EDM, but at the time was interested in booking live music to fill in the calendar. Most of the bigger venues in western Massachusetts either A) ignore heavy music, B) are owned by scumbags, or C) both, and we were chomping at the bit to have another larger club where we could have touring bands come through, and we took the show hoping it would lead to more.

There were ticket sales involved, but that was nothing new for us. We were never informed, however, that we were required to sell a minimum number of those tickets – until we get a Facebook message a couple of days before the show, from someone we’ve never met or heard of, asking how many we’ve sold. Apparently, some local “record label” was the promoter in charge of the show, and never bothered to contact us until the absolute last minute, or tell us that we’d be on the hook for unsold tickets if they couldn’t cover the rental fee for the venue.

Red flags immediately start going up, and we hit up some of our friends who were also playing – they’ve never heard of these guys either. We hit up the band who hooked us up with the gig, and they’ve heard of the label, but not these dudes messaging us. I also look up the label’s social media profiles and see that they’ve done absolutely zero promotion for the show. At this point, we (along with most of the other bands) decide to bail on the show, and while we don’t divulge the full details, we make it known that the cancellation is due to the unprofessional way in which the show was handled.

These guys finally decide to get active on Facebook and blame “band negligence” (lol) for the cancellation. We get a response to our post about the cancellation from “a friend” of the label (who was clearly listed on their FB page as the owner/admin) claiming they put in a lot of “hard work” and even had “radio promotion” for the show. We reply directly with a list of all the ways the show was run horribly, from the fact that none of the bands even knew who these guys were, to the undisclosed ticket minimums, to the complete lack of promotion (you claim there was radio promo, and you don’t ask bands for music to play or try to get them on the air?), to the fact that they had the nerve to blame the bands for their terrible mishandling of what could have been a great opportunity.

The “label” tried to crowdfund a studio construction project a couple years ago, but hasn’t posted on social media in over two years. Diva’s, as I mentioned, is no longer open, and metal shows never really materialized there before it shut down – though, to be fair, they had nothing to do with the promoter’s shittiness.


Brian:

1. So literally we got booked after our first show ever, and I guess the promoter heard we opened our first show to like 70 people and this dude books us as headliner. Yes, books us as headliner. Like billed it with our band photo in the flier, whole nine yards. I even told him we were very new. Obviously we played to like 10 people but the best part about it was the direct support band got legitimately mad at us for headlining – as if we made that call.
2. A super shady, piece of shit promoter whom we have completely severed ties with booked a whole bunch of locals and tried getting the bands to do presale. I guess bands were dropping left and right due to this bullshit and after two months of failed correspondence the promoter finally cancelled the event.

Rob:

My name is Rob and I was part drummer for a band named Earth To Julie back in 2003-2006. I believe it was either the 2005 BotB or 2006 BotB (I believe it was the 2006) I remember seeing flyers around Peabodies for local bands to sign up and be a part of their annual Battle of the Bands. We thought it was a good idea at the time and reached out to sign up. I remember going out to Peabodies to speak with the promoter and was given a ton of promises: exposure (exposure to what, damned if I knew. I was younger and dumber), the full stage setup, etc. Little did we know it was nothing more than a ticket selling machine (i.e. free labor for Peabodies). They would base how many tickets you sold to where you were placed on the set list. Obviously, there’s problems with this. 1.) That means some group off teens that probably have no live experience but able to have their parents sell $10 tickets at work are going to get waaay higher billing than, you know, anyone else and 2.) You have no fucking clue where you sit on the set list till literally the morning of the show. 3.) people you sold tickets to probably aren’t interested in the other acts, they’re there to see you.

Anyway, we do our part and sell some tickets, not many but it was something (5-10 tickets?). We really didn’t put our hearts into selling tickets, my thinking at the time was that this is supposed major promoted show, why are they relying entirely on us to sell tickets? That totally wasn’t the case. As far as I could tell, Peabodies didn’t promote the show that much at all and relied 100% on bands to sell tickets. I remember seeing flyers for the signup but NEVER for the act itself. I lived downtown at the time at the Chesterfield and distinctly remember never seeing one flyer, ever. Anywhere.

Moving on, we get to the day of the show and we still don’t know our set list yet. We have friends asking about when we’re playing and we don’t have an answer. About 45 minutes before everything is about to start we’re finally told that we are FIRST on the set list and we should assemble for sound check right now. Completely unprofessional. Everyone was absolutely rude, downright dickish during the entire process.Our friends never saw us perform since set lists were cut so short due to the amounts of bands on the bill. I think we ended up playing just to the bar tenders and bar runners.

Safe to say we never went back. Whole experience was extremely unprofessional and a bait & switch. What exposure they promised was a few bar tenders and a sound guy and any benefit of friends buying tickets right from you instead of paying extra at the door went right down the toilet when the venue can’t even tell you when you play until literally it’s time for sound check. I’m just guessing but I would assume most people would of called this a scam.


Anonymous:

My band got to open for [a national tour] back in May, and the promoter had us sell presale tickets. We were given the impression that we would be direct support. A few days before the show, I asked her our set times because my bassist & guitarist weren’t able to leave work early that day. She keeps sidestepping it and asking how many tickets we’ve sold. The day of the show, she messages me at 5:15 and tells us she needs us there at 5:30 while my bassist is still at work on the other side of town. So we bust ass to get to the venue and she has us go on at 6:20 without a sound check. I told her that we had been asking for set times for the past 5 days and she turns it around and says “you guys should’ve been here an hour before doors opened.” And we also only got paid $2 a ticket. That’s her going rate for national shows. We haven’t worked with her since obviously. There’s another promoter that requires “deposits” to be put on national shows (usually $100+), and these deposits are only returned to you if you sell a particular number of tickets (usually 25+ at $15+). And only after you sell your first 25 tickets do you get a cut off the ticket price (usually 30-40%). If you don’t meet the 25 ticket quota, he keeps your deposit.

Thanks to everyone that submitted their stories. What kind of soul-crushing garbage have you had to deal with when playing live? Let us know in the comments.
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  • Dubby Fresh

    What I’m getting from all this is that bands should eat all promoters.

    • Howard Dean

      My biggest takeaway is that Chad needs a serious beating.

  • sweetooth0

    Oof. Man, when I did my show it was just 10 bucks at the door. I paid for the rental of the club out of my own pocket, made the posters, did most of the postering, completely set up the venue with a bunch of halloween stuff (converted it to look like a cave with skulls and body parts and shit), and even paid to rent the equipment. I paid the bands, and took in a profit over what I paid out (minus my time of course). These “promoters” sound like total fucking scumbags to me.

  • Howard Dean

    “We are putting our beef with each other aside in order to talk about this. In the past, each of us has been screwed repeatedly by this one particular promoter. But this particular promoter was none other than former Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. So it was pretty awesome and satisfying.”

    –Katy Perry and Taylor Swift

    https://cbsnews1.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2004/02/04/444bd77e-a642-11e2-a3f0-029118418759/thumbnail/620×350/3315582b96d60c9039be4d79f1460d00/image597965x.jpg

  • I don’t play live because my band is just me, but within about 6 hours of posting my my first album on bandcamp last year I was A) added to Metal Archives; B) on a million creepy torrent sites and C) contacted by a Polish label, Via Nocturna, to sign with them. At first I was like, haha fuck yeah, whatever, let’s do this. Then they sent me the details, wherein I pay them like $1500 or something and they, in return, press like 300 CDs for me to sell and also get me promo on No Clean Singing and other blogs. For all I know this might be standard operating procedure for smaller labels, but it seemed really predatory to me since I’m not anything remotely worth signing and in this exchange they’d basically get money from an unknown “one man band” and I’d get vague promises of blog promo and a stack of CDs I’d never sell in return.

    • Did you listen to this week’s podcast? Ol’ Via Nocturna makes an appearance.

      • I did not, but I certainly will!

      • Haha, just got to that part. Fucking hilarious!

      • GoatForest

        Yep. Thanks for calling out those goons.

    • GrumpDumpus

      WAIT I THOUGHT I WAS EXKLUSIVELY SELECTED BY THEM OH MY AGING HEART

    • AndySynn

      Oh yeah, that whole “pay to be on our label, but you’ll get some cds out of it” scam is a doozy. Particularly since the label(s) who do it inevitably work to undercut your sales, so you’re essentially paying to create competition for yourself.

    • GoatForest

      Your story is my story. Seriously, it’s damn creepy how similar my experience was.

  • Pagliacci is Kvlt

    I’d go to that fest in the middle just on the off chance that I might find out who actually stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

  • Hans
  • GrumpDumpus

    I HOPE THIS ARTICLE BLOWS UP THE BLOGOSPHERE LIKE THE LAST TWO SO I GET TO BE ORNERY AT SOME BUTTHURT CHODES

  • HessianHunter

    A DIY shitshow story:
    I contact a guy who plays music and promotes shows in a smaller city in my home state. We’ve met briefly before. He readily agrees to book my punk band on a Sunday night.
    The show gets booked at an art gallery with three local bands. It’s advertised as “starting” at 8 PM, which typically means the first band will start playing at 8:30 or 9, which is a sane hour for a weeknight show.
    A couple dozen people are there, ready to see music, at 8:30. The promoter, who’s band is playing first, has not begun to set up his gear yet. 9:00 passes, and he starts to get ready. He finally starts playing at 10 PM. His band is sleepy, majestic post rock. They play for one. Fucking. Hour. Then his girlfriend did ambient noise for 30 minutes or so. Then literally the entire crowd left, citing “sleepiness” before they fall asleep. We play a crisp, 20 minute set of freaky, spazz-out punk rock to no one but the other bands. They tell us we are amazing. We try to hide our fury over the fact that we could have very easily played that same set to a reasonable crowd two hours earlier.
    A fourth band, yet more post rock, plays to a vacant room. Their hearts aren’t in it. Everyone is tired.
    We get paid a little money. We stay at the promoter’s house, still trying to quell our rage while politely discussing why 30 people bailed immediately before we played. He didn’t offer to take blame for things running so far behind at any point even though that was the obvious conclusion.
    I forgot my blanket and pillow at his house the next morning. He said the next time he visits my city he could drop it off somewhere I that could grab them.
    He never did it.

    • Rolderathis

      Now you have to sell tickets to see Pillow & the Blanket LIVE IN CONCERT.

  • Lord of Bork

    I’m really hoping that band Decatür is just math metal songs about Decatur, Illinois.