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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Salem, Oregon isn't the most obvious place that you'd expect to blow up with hip-hop beef...yet, here we are. However, it's not so much about beef, but the difference of opinion, that is tearing some people apart right now. "Opinions", as we've all heard the saying, "are like assholes- everyone's got one", but who's to say who is right, and who is wrong? Well, that's just it. Opinions are not fact, therefore, no one is right, and no one is wrong, no matter how much you agree or disagree. We've seen this in politics lately..everyone being pulled apart by opinions. In the end, it's not fair to anyone. I've decided to bring a little more attention to this last week's hot subject mainly just to soften the toxicity of the wind blowing here over the Willamette Valley, but the subject stretches on throughout the hip-hop universe, near and far, and deserves a look from many angles.

So...What IS Pay-to-Play?

Well, it's pretty much in the title, but if you're new to the game, it means that you basically have to have a fat wallet or really supportive, rich parents. For those of us who don't have that option, your best bet is to focus that money on making sure you get your music on lockdown, meaning, mastered, pressed, make some videos, and build your fan base (that doesn't consist of just your cousins and best friends). Be your own promoter! However, if you're just hellbent on opening for your favorite artist, or even just an artist you know will pull a crowd, then you're probably going to have a conversation with a "professional" promoter, which is basically the middle-man between you and your dream opening-spot for a headliner that you'll most likely never meet.
can be shady, but that can't steer you completely away if you're at all interested in the "opportunities" that they can offer.( I say "professional" and "opportunities" in quotes, because not all experiences are the same..let alone, worth your time..

Here's the basic deal: A promoter sends out an "opportunity" to his or her followers. Perhaps you're already on their list of artists they like to book, perhaps they have no idea who you are. A personal message is usually dished out to interested parties, explaining that if the artist wants to open for a big-name show, they either need to pay in the area of between $200-$500 for the spot, or sell a certain amount of tickets (around 20-30 at $15-30 a piece) in order to land their position. If you don't sell all of the tickets, you're going to be looking at paying even more out of your pocket. ( I did forget to mention that there is often a non-refundable deposit of usually $150+).

The question that is boggling minds lately, is, is it worth it?
Well, that's where the matter of opinion comes in. 
You're not going to be able to have a truly valid opinion if you haven't experienced the issue. Even more so, just because you had an experience, also doesn't make your opinion valid. You can hold your own morals..
 You can say that you will never pay-to-play because it's not right for your journey, but you don't have the right to push your opinions and personal morals on to other artists if that's the path that they feel they need to take. This is where the "beef" is coming in. Too many artists are at each other's throats at the moment, over which way is the "right" way to go. Like I said, there is no right or wrong, but you have to find out on your own if it's right or wrong for you. 

Here's what Salem, OR, MC Aaron "ThatKidCry" Nash had to say about it:

"Pay-to-play is a popular topic today. I personally say NO when it comes to pay to play from a promoter stand point... My opinion as a promoter, is that it's our duty to book good shows with GREAT lineups of 3-4 of the best openers you can find. Pay THEM if you can. Ultimately, as someone throwing a Monthly for over 2 years now, I can say that it definitely seems more important to me from that promoter perspective to provide the people a show worth watching from beginning to end... and if you do provide them a show worth watching? Then you may even see more people asking when your next show is, rather than have them bitch about how miserable it was to watch 12 random inexperienced rappers just so they could see the headliner they paid for at 1:30 am.

On the flip side though, from an artist stand point, and as a man trying to get on shows with pre-packed audiences who will hear you for their first time... there's rare moments where I'm offered pay to play spots that are reasonable. I've only ever paid to be on one show in my life, and I felt like that was a big mistake afterward because it wasn't worth what I got from it. But I've also seen it work for some people... like say you're offered a spot to open for someone like Brother Ali, or Hopsin, or Tech - and you're given 30 tickets to sell. The demand for those artists is already high so your work is cut out for you. Your tickets are gonna go fast, it's a positive business decision, and the promoter gets his good ol' security blanket (the primary reason promoters ask for ticket money up front is to cover show expenses such as venue cost, high artist prices, hotels, flights, promotional materials - and by getting that money up front, while you make your money back off the tickets, they get the security of being paid regardless of how many tickets YOU sell in the end. Basically it's a way of making the artists work harder, which also gives zero safety net for the artists who has no fans. This is also why I say pay to play is ONLY a good thing for the artist when the headlining artist is a "sure thing.").

Meanwhile, paying for your spot to open for a barely known artist on tour with a few thousand plays is gonna be extremely difficult to sell high priced tickets for. Especially for an active artist who people already get to see on a regular basis. Also note: none of the positives in a pay-to-play situation have anything to do with how your art is made or how you sound to an audience. It's purely a business affair and shouldn't be treated or viewed as an "opportunity"... I would say that putting a deposit down on a new overpriced vehicle and trapping yourself in a 4 year plan isn't an opportunity - so putting a deposit down on a slot for an overpriced rap show while struggling to sell tickets isn't an opportunity either. 
It's business.
So which is it... Business over art? Art over business? Which is more important to you? Artistic integrity or a lucrative business? Can you have both?
What say you?"

So...What Say Me?

I agree whole-heartedly with Nash here. His experience with pay-to-play turned out to be a road that he didn't feel he needed, and I respect that he actually tried it out before deciding whether or not to continue. In his case, he actually ended up getting booked for free after already paying for his spot, and my guess is that is because he is truly one of Salem's absolute best emcees, and was picked based on his pure talent. Of course, I don't know that for a fact..which is why I labled it as my guess...because in my "opinion", he deserves to be requested on big shows. 

"Business over Art? Art over Business?" 
Here's the thing. We're all wired differently. That's one of the most amazing things about humans. We can all go in whatever direction we choose...for the most part, anyway, depending on environment, finances, etc. If you feel that your art should be given away for free, then by all means, go spread it to as many people as you can. But, if you happen to be in the position where you feel what you do is valuable enough to charge a fee for your art, then there should be nothing holding you back from doing so.

I say this because the other night, an emcee out of Portland , (whom I won't say any names due to current harassment towards that artist), say that "not only should artists never pay-to-play, but artists should never be paid to play."

Here's my thoughts on the subject.

I disagree strongly with the last half of the statement. I personally feel that anyone who works on anything that they are proud of, should be able to charge a fee for their skill/art/etc. It doesn't matter if it's rap, or woodworking. If you put your heart and soul into it, and you would like to benefit monetarily from said project, you have every single right to. You also have every right to give it away in hopes to spread your message, or whatever your motivation.
 I grew up with my father being paid for every gig that he ever played at. I saw the business and the art working together from my earliest days on earth. When I moved to Salem, we noticed that artists weren't getting paid anything to perform, nor, were many asking to be. We started throwing great shows and paying artists, even if it was just enough for gas reimbursement for coming out. We saw a change over the next few years. Artists are finally walking out of the venues with a little thicker wallet than they were in the past. People are recognizing their worth and demanding compensation. Not even so much demanding, but deserving as well. Local venues are starting to understand that artists deserve a kickback for a great turn-out. This is the business. It was this way long ago, and it needs to be the way forever.

Now, I hate money. Anyone who knows me, hears me complain about it all of the time. Sure, I like to have money, but I truly believe it is indeed the root of all evil. But, I'm also smart enough to understand that we can't really live without it in this day and age. I'm surely down for the art. I've always been someone who is constantly looking for a way to break the "starving artist" cliche. Artists should never starve, as far as I'm concerned, especially since nearly every single artist I've ever known has a family to support.

I found myself infuriated at the statement about not paying artists. This came to my attention the night after our biggest show this year, the live gathering of as many of our "Partie Down" artists as we could possibly get on stage, crossing hairs with the most successful monthly hip hop event in Salem," NW Monthly", put on by the above, Aaron Nash at the Triangle Inn in South Salem.
 I felt offended, even though I know that as a society, we've allowed ourselves to become too {offended} lately. But, in my defense, I am the wife of the man who put the majority of this show and album together. I've watched him on countless nights, over the last 2 1/2 years, struggle and stress with all the things that there is to stress about getting both a show and an album together. For hours, weeks, months, years, he put in every moment that he wasn't working at his full time job or helping me raise our three children, into every molecule of that project. For every step of every piece of merchandise, I was right there behind him, encouraging him to spend the money to get it done. I spent late nights listening to him and other artists from the album brainstorm new ideas, and did everything I could to show my support. Now, my husband, the logical, good-hearted man that he is, made sure that not only did he provide cd's, stickers, decals, shot glasses, artwork, and even skate decks to sell and give away at the show, but he made sure that the merchandise sales were split between all artists involved and paid them for their performances. He didn't have to do that.  He had already recorded and mixed the entire album. He spent hundreds of hours with his noggin between headphones. Hundreds of hours patiently drawing up artwork and creating his own flyers, getting them ordered, putting them all over town. Hundreds of dollars on mass amounts of merchandise.
 My man is his own street team, and I commend him for that.

So my argument is, and it really is the only argument that I can say involves me directly is this: If I, the mother of three growing, many times, expensive children, is supportive of  her husband/a fellow artist/producer/promoter, who uses money that could go to raising our family, in an attempt to help several other artists out... If I'm okay with all that, how am I offending the art? How am I doing the art wrong? How is he doing the art wrong by having a heart? By not being a greedy #$%&?
 How is it wrong for him to pay another artists for their involvement? A lot of times, these folks come from Portland or beyond. Our thoughts, is that it's only fair to help someone out with gas if anything, especially if they traveled more than a few miles to get to your event, or to be on your album.  
I'm just baffled by the statement because it's a first for me, I think...It must be a complete different world for those who believe it to be wrong. I'm not here to decide which way to go is correct, As i said, each person has to discover their own path. I'm just personally confused because I seriously support the idea of doing art for art, but I still believe that money is a factor in which we can't and shouldn't deny.  In my clothing business, I've certainly given away  a ton of merchandise. I do it because I can. It doesn't matter if I need money for my water bill, if I feel like giving away my merch because someone liked it, I'm going to do it, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to take all of the material that I've collected over the years and just open up a free shirt shop. Hell no. I'm going to keep challenging myself to up my last achievement and I'm going to charge higher prices for my time and skill. Again. Business.

So back to the main subject.
Is it an opportunity? Is it evil? 
Should you hate on anyone who's paid to play?
Should you tell everyone you know , not to trust so & so?
I advise against it.
Because unless they snuck you a quaalude and forced you to cough up your soul, it's not up to you to be a martyr. Your experience might have sucked, but the next guy could be completely elated to play in front of 1000 people for selling a few tickets. It's not up to you.

Those are just my thoughts. Here's another great point by Olympia, Washington emcee, James "Afrok" Bowman:

" I absolutely despise the idea of "pay-to-play". I feel like artists should get booked because they are dope and talented, not because they can pay to get on that stage. Back when Hip Hop started, you had to be nice on the mic, you had to pay dues and gain a reputation! When I was coming up in my early days as an MC, it was tough to get on a show, you had to be seen and let promoters know that you we're dope! Nowadays, cats can drop X amount of dollars and be able to open for their favorite artists. I have been blessed to be asked to open for some of my favorites. The problem with these pay to play shows is also this, you have 15 artists that are trying to get on opening for a big name. The fans paying good money to see the big name have to sit through 10-15 artists that they have no idea who these openers are. The whole concept is janky to me. Let's get back to artists having skill to hit the stage!"

SoK Entertainment Owner Jason Skiles, also of Olympia, Washington, breaks it down like this:
Artist: Pros 1)Less pavement promoting required for the event Cons- 1) Can get expensive 2) Taken less serious by promoters, seen as rich and lazy Promoter: Pros- 1) Cash up front 2) Don't have to worry about artist not paying for any consigned tickets Cons 1) Risking less promotion for your event from artist 2) Risking bringing artists who have less of a fan base, so fewer people to attend your show

*I'd like to thank Nash, Bowman and Skiles for their opinions on the subject.*

Best of luck to you and your endeavors!

Check out these videos from Curtiss King for advise on watching out for those
 "Too Good to be True" situations in the industry, plus, get tips on how to extend your fan base and book shows!

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I will always and forever be a fan of the Gorillaz and
Damon Alburn for as long as there is oxygen entering my body.

Yes...this is an actual tattoo that I recently got from Gorillaz "Sound Check (Gravity)". 
See, I told you I was a fan for life.
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