Greed vs Necessity: Does Buying-in Help or Hurt the Music Industry?
Have you ever been to a concert and wondered how that terrible opening act got the gig? You probably thought to yourself that they have to be friends with the headliner, or maybe it’s someone’s cousin – while it is possible that nepotism is responsible, it is very unlikely. So what gives? The buy-on is usually to blame for this situation; this is something that is not a secret in the music industry but is mostly kept quiet around fans.
It’s just another form of payola, an illegal, yet still very common practice in the unregulated music industry. The band with the most financial resources makes it to the top, especially in today’s climate where record labels are rarely developing new acts or giving away cash advances. Typically a venue owner, promoter or more popular band, will charge the newcomer a fee to play.
The way it works is a new band is charged to play a one-off show with a specific band, or to go on tour with them. Basically, the unknown band is paying for exposure to the larger band’s fan base; this usually starts at $1,500 per show and has been known to run in excess of $100,000, especially for a festival. A lot of very famous bands are using this strategy to make a few extra bucks.
One of the problems with this model is the lack of camaraderie between bands; it is rare that bands are friendly with one another since everything is monetized and there is so much competition. Gone are the days when a larger band takes on an unknown act, usually you only see similarly popular bands on the bill – if it does happen that an unknown gets the gig, it’s more than likely because they paid a large sum to be there. Not only does the lesser known band have to pay a fee, but it also has to find a way to come up with the money to pay for transportation and food. And this is why you are seeing so many band related Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns going around. Because it doesn’t cost $20,000 to make an album anymore. Most of the money being donated to these campaigns is used for buy-ons, but bands aren’t very forthcoming to the fans about their intentions.
The other problem is that buy-ons usually hurt the smaller band. The reason being is that for one, most bands who pay-to-play are usually given an early time slot before fans fill up the venue, so they are playing for only a small number of people, or in some cases, just bar staff. When it comes to festivals, often times the buy-on bands are stuck on an off stage that no one pays attention to because one of the more popular bands are rocking out on the main stage. The other issue is that the concert goers who are there for the main act are rarely converted into fans of the buy-on band, even when the performance is half decent. So this model of paying for exposure usually only benefits the people charging the fee.
While it is hard to deny that it’s wrong for a greedy venue owner, or shady promoter to charge a band to play with a better act, is it wrong for a more popular band with clout in the industry to take advantage of a struggling band trying to be discovered?
Some say it’s just another source of revenue in an industry that is already slim pickings, others say it is destroying the very fabric of what the music industry has stood for, and will ruin the experience for fans … like having to sit through a sub par opening act not because they got the spot due to talent, but rather because they had access to a lot of money. What do you think about buy-ons?
*The views expressed in this article are solely the views of the author. It does not reflect the views of The Stoop or its staff.
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- Greed vs Necessity: Does Buying-in Help or Hurt the Music Industry? - January 7, 2017