Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Paying to play at the Killarney Festival of Music & Food

Would your band be silly enough to pay to play on a stage at a new, untried festival in Co Kerry?

The pay-to-play stage is just up the hill to the left

Wed, Feb 4, 2015, 09:48


There may be frost on the ground and snow on the hills, but we already have our first Irish summer festival swizz story of 2015. If 2014 was the summer when Irish bands were grumbling about not getting paid to play various festivals (sadly, very few were willing to name and shame the offenders in public for some reason) or getting shafted by the likes of Light Colour Sound, 2015 may be the year when local acts are asked to pay if they want to play festival stages.

Step forward, the Killarney Festival of Music & Food. This is the festival which used to be the Westport Festival of Music & Food but which is moving from Co Mayo to Co Kerry in 2015. The festival announced their first slate of headliners the other week which included the likes of Burt Bacharach, Mundy, Texas, Damien Dempsey, Paddy Casey, The Undertones, The Proclaimers, Jools Holland, Father John Misty and other household names.

You can be sure that each and every one of those acts are getting paid handsomely to appear in Co Kerry in June because their agents will be making sure of that. It’s a different story down the bill as many Irish acts have discovered in the last couple of days. Acts who emailed the festival about playing – there is an email link on the site for artist applications, though we must assume that Burt, Jools, Mundy, Paddy, Damien or their agents did not send in an email on spec – received an interesting reply, about a “brand new initiative” called The Actbacker. Here’s the spiel on this yoke:

Thanks you for your interest in playing at this year’s Killarney Festival of Music & Food. The Actbacker, emerging talent stage is a brand new initiative which allows us to offer a platform to allow you get you music into the public domain, raise your profile and have an all-round great festival experience and get PAID for doing it..

The stage is open to 9 acts per day (18 total). The chosen acts will be selected upon review of several criteria. These selected acts, in order to qualify will need to sell a minimum of 50 day tickets to friends, family and fans. The acts will not be limited to selling 50 tickets and the more you sell the higher you will appear on the bill, the acts selling the most will headline.

In order to track ticket sales you will be required to set up a project on “fund it” (details will be provided). There will be a six week window to allow for ticket sales. Once the project deadline closes you will be provided with the quantity of tickets to distribute. The full amount raised per act will be split 70% / 30% (festival / act), after deduction of Ticketmaster commission and Vat. The 70% retained by the Festival will cover the costs for the stage to include staging, sound, lights, insurance etc.

It might say in caps that the act will get PAID but this is PAY-TO-PLAY by any other name. In fact, it’s the best pay-to-play scheme in the world ever because it’s disguised as a scheme which is doing YOU a favour. Any band who wants to play this particular stage at the brand new, untried festival – a festival so new that its Facebook page is still titled “Westport Festival Of Music And Performing Arts” – must hassle the feck out of 50 “friends, family and fans” to pay €76 (plus Ticketmaster fees) a pop first. The band will get paid roughly over €1,000 for their troubles after various deducations, but the festival will pocket €47,880 for very little effort. You wonder what the FundIt platform makes of this but, then again, maybe this kind of crass exploitation is what crowdfunding was supposed to be all about.

A cynic like me has to pause for a nanosecond to salute the promoters for their initiative (and brass neck). It’s such a good idea that you know – you just know – that other festivals are already kicking themselves for not thinking of it first. Forget about getting grief for not paying the bands, here’s a handy way to get the bands to pay, play and plug the festival. It’s a supersized version of that Guinness Projects’ thing from 2013.

While many acts will encounter pay-to-play at some stage of their career, it’s usually when they’re starting out and don’t know any better. Some of the acts who’ve been pointed to the Artbacker shizzle are acts you’ve heard of, acts who’ve been played on the radio and acts with a few releases under their oxters. They’re not newbies by any stretch of the imagination and yet this is how the Killarney Festival of Music & Food wants to treat them.

You know, though, that there are many acts who will jump onboard with this. It always happens. Even though it’s pay-to-play – and pay-to-play on a whole new level – some acts will be desperate enough to go for it. They’ll look at the bottom line – we’ll get over a grand to play at this festival in Co Kerry – and go for it. The fact that they will be expanding a lot of their own time, energy and social network capital to get friends, family and fans to pay for this festival appearance will escape them. The fact that all this time, energy, money and social network capital will go to promote the festival and not the band will escape them too. The fact that they’re only getting to play because they paid to play – and they’ve raised €3,800 and are getting less than 30 per cent of this – will completely escape them.

Because bands want to play festivals, they’ll do anything to do so. They’ll play shows on rickety stages with no soundchecks and indecent PA systems in return for a few cans of warm Lidl beer. They’ll put up with the kind of shite that no civilian will so they can say they played at some festival or other. You know because of all this that many acts will be happy to go with the Artbacker shizzle.

But there will be many other bands who will rightly see this as the thin end of the wedge. If the Killarney Festival of Music & Food get away with this – and make €47,880 in the process – other festivals will follow. And if other festivals follow, it’s inevitable that this will become the way new Irish bands get to play on festival stages. If you thought that bands and arts organisations flooding your social media timelines about the Guinness Projects’ nonsense was bad, wait until your nephew or next-door neighbour’s daughter wants you to spend €76 on a ticket for a festival in Kerry so their band can play on a small stage tucked well away from the main arena at 1pm in the afternoon. Commonsense will go right out the window.

You have to wonder what the folks who’ve welcomed the festival to Kerry think of all this. Of course, they’re thinking about bed nights and the cash the festival will bring to the town and environs. Here’s Kate O’Leary, prez of the Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce, speaking on the occasion of the festival launch. “Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce is delighted to welcome a music & food festival of this calibre to Killarney, the birthplace of Irish hospitality. We are looking forward to facilitating the event and to enabling the festival to grow to its full potential.”

Nothing there about the acts, is there? Indeed, you have to wonder if the business supporters of this event and any government or local authority bodies providing financial or other support to bring the festival to Kerry are onboard with making Irish bands pay-to-play to enable the festival to grow to its full potential. Is this rock’n'roll’s version of “the markets will decide”? Or is it the case that they don’t even think of the acts beyond the headliners, as long as they turn up and play some happy songs (or even just a version of “Happy”)? What about the Irish acts who’ve been booked and getting decent fees to appear at the festival – how do they feel about the pay-to-play inititaive for their fellow acts and the two class system in operation in Co Kerry? When are acts going to cop on and stop accepting this kind of behaviour? So many questions to ponder between now and June.

UPDATE: Here’s some clarifaction from FundIt, which was received by Irish Times’ arts editor Laurence Mackin in response to earlier queries

In late January we had a short project idea submit from Killarney Festival seeking to fundraise on Fund it. They wanted to find a way to create a separate stage to provide space for the bands to play, and ensure the bands would be paid from a proportion of ticket sales. The idea of separate campaigns by individual bands was mooted, but we were clear that we wouldn’t know if this was within our Terms & Conditions until projects were submit and moderated, and we were able to discuss with an individual band or artist if this was something that was appropriate for them to do and to engage their audience with.

Each project that is submitted on Fund it goes through a rigorous moderation process, to ensure each element of the project fulfils Fund it’s Terms & Conditions, and to prove the transparency and sense of the idea and the potential network accessible and interested enough to pledge support to it. We also take a lot of time to ensure that artists are ready, motivated and understand the risks around crowdfunding and the work it takes to bring a project over the line.

Over the past four years a large number of projects on Fund it have been associated with festivals, where artists have needed to raise funds to support their participation. This has also been the case with residencies, exhibitions and other events. So an initial discussion with Killarney Festival did not raise specific alarm bells.

To be clear, NO project has yet been submit to Fund it by a band associated with the Killarney Festival. If and when a project is submit, should an artist or a band decide to follow the process proposed by the Festival, it will go through the same rigour as others before anything goes live on the website. Once a project is on the site, it is the artists’ audience who ultimately decide whether they are happy to support an idea or not.

However, we always work from the premise that Fund it is a community, and the community decides what is fundable and what ideas should be realised. We feel strongly that a section of the music and arts community have spoken out in response to Killarney Festival’s communication with bands and we will be guided by that in our advice should any projects be submitted in relation to the Festival, as we do in all moderation of projects.

Fund it’s All-Or-Nothing policy (projects must hit 100% within the funding timescale) is specifically designed to protect the artist – they are at no risk of financial loss through making up any shortfall and having to deliver rewards they don’t have the appropriate funds to deliver.

UPDATE 2: plans for the stage have now been withdrawn. Some great comments in that post about “misleading comments”, “negative reaction” and “incorrect reporting” but no examples of same. If they were so concerned about creating “a brand new stage for emerging Irish talent” like they say, why not go ahead, do it and pay the acts? As for the “incorrect reporting”, all the facts here and in other reports came from emails sent by the festival so what exactly are they on about?

UPDATE 3: that Facebook post linked to above has now been deleted, probably because of the overwhelmingly negative comments from Facebook users which it attracted. However, it was issued as a press release yesterday so the text is below. I asked the festival PR yesterday afternoon to provide more details of the “incorrect reporting” outlined in this post/press release and will update this post when (if) I get a reply – I don’t think I’d be waiting this long for a response if I offered to interview some of their acts or plug the event. As I said above, all the facts here and in other reports came from emails sent by the festival so it’s difficult to know what they’re on about with this “incorrect reporting” allegation.

Killarney Festival of Music & Food had planned to create a brand new stage for emerging Irish talent. The promoters wanted to create the stage in response to the hundreds of requests that we receive each year from relatively unknown acts who wish to play at the festival.

In the past, we have only been able to accommodate a handful of unknown bands early in the day as festival openers, however this year we wanted to fill a stage for a two full days with musicians playing up to 11pm at night. We were planning to create a platform to promote new acts and accommodate up to 18 new bands over the weekend.

We wanted the Emerging Artists stage to be a highlight of the festival however due to the significant costs associated with creating a well-produced stage for new talent including a marquee, sound, lighting, generators, barriers, stage management, security however the promoters can’t afford to create a stage and cover these costs for bands who have little or no track record. We would be delighted if a sponsor would come on board to cover the costs of the stage, then we wouldn’t have to go down the crowd funding route.

Contrary to misleading comments circulating through social media, we were not asking bands to ‘pay to play’. Bands and musicians who play would be paid a good fee (more than they would receive at any other festival), receive promotion through the festivals website and be included on festival merchandise and in an extensive marketing campaign while getting the opportunity to play alongside world class acts including Burt Bacharach, Jools Holland, TEXAS and many more to be announced.

Bands were being asked to do a little bit of work to earn their slot and if they were performing at their own gig they would have to do the same. All the bands had to do was reach out to their fanbase and seek their support and their fans would get a full day ticket for the festival in return. Bands were not been asked to ‘pay to play’.

Crowd funding sites including Fundit, Indigogo, Kickstarter and PledgeMusic are already widely used by many Irish bands and musicians to raise funds to produce singles and albums so there is no reason why they can’t help launch musicians careers by helping fund, profile building, live performances.

Due to the ongoing negative reaction as a result of incorrect reporting, Killarney Festival has made the reluctant decision not to go ahead with this stage at this time.

We have always supported and booked Irish talent and so far over 85% of the line-up is made up of Irish bands and musicians and we will continue to support Irish talent as much as possible.