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Who Benefits From Benefit Shows?


It’s a long standing tradition for musicians to feel a need to help out those less fortunate by playing a show for free once in a while. Well, free in the sense they don’t get paid, but patrons pay an entrance fee and monies collected go to a worthy cause. But the question is: Who exactly benefits? Clearly venues who put up their space, staff and everything else have much to gain by selling drinks, food and any overhead costs covered by the promoters. And often the promoters themselves get a cut (however large that may be). The bands don’t get any money because it’s a “benefit.” So, whatever is left goes to the people it is intended for, right?

Perhaps some of it does. But who checks on this? Bands do these shows because they believe in the cause and often they believe the crowds of people will gain them more fans. Fair enough. And surely if it is a one time thing once in a while, it never hurts to get extra exposure. But what about the scammers, the ruthless promoters that continuously put together these so-called “Benefit Shows” and pocket the money for themselves? Do bands care if their hard work is actually benefiting someone other than those mentioned in the cause? Do musicians care they are being used? Abused? Taken advantage of? Ripped off?

This is such a rampant problem that it goes on seemingly unnoticed and unregulated. There are several promoters and schemers who prey on the goodwill of others to line their pockets with the proceeds and have no shame in doing so. And since there is no benefit show police to check the validity of such promotions, agencies, and single promoters, this will continue to be the case. But what if musicians could formulate something like the Better Business Bureau -only for the music scene? Then bands could do a background check on those that pose as good samaritans when in fact they are crooks and liars. Seems logical and fair, doesn’t it?

One of the main problems in the music scene is there is no unity among musicians (relatively speaking). Sometimes the only thing that brings them together are the GIANT SHOWS where numerous bands play on a ticket (sometimes on more than one day and multiple stages). But this isn’t unity. It’s just a big show where obligations to sell tickets is paramount and everyone scrambles to get everyone they can to these venues. It’s fun for the bands, but not necessarily profitable. It seems everyone involved in the promotion of the music scene gets something out of the deal on the backs of the musicians, yet bands get treated like shit overall. Where is the respect? Is that only reserved for the chosen few?

Musicians: WAKE THE HELL UP!!!! You are getting screwed over time and time again by these so-called benefit show promoters. Answer this question: Of all these promoters, which ones have helped bands make it to the next level? Which ones made you money somewhere else down the road? Which ones kept their promises, helped you out, called you back, hooked you up, or had any respect for your hard work? It appears their only real interest is packing a room, selling tickets, getting bodies through the door, and making as much money as possible for the show. That’s it. They don’t really care about you. At least, they sure as hell don’t act like it.

Here is something to consider: Did you know when people make donations, much of the money they donate does not actually go to the cause? It’s true and you’ve probably heard of such scams on the news. So, if this happens with causes such as helping the homeless, the elderly, military veterans, animal abuse, victims of crimes, and so on, then what makes you think it doesn’t happen in the music scene? Make no mistake about it, IT DOES. And there are people right now asking bands to play benefit shows, or they call it something else, and all they care about is how many tickets you sell. The audacity of some people to make artists feel like pieces of crap if they can’t be machines and crank out ticket sales. If local bands could do that all the time, why would they need a promoter in the first place?

Look, clearly not all benefit shows are scams. Not all promoters are cold-blooded, money hungry scumbags. In fact, there are some really good people that deserve a lot of credit and praise for what they do for the music scene and barely make any money for all the work they put into promoting bands. (You know who you are.) But the truth is, the scammers are really good at posing as good people. They are usually very good talkers and will make you feel they can do so much for your music and your band if you do this (whatever it is). That’s a given. And sometimes promoters don’t even see themselves as doing anything wrong; they may actually believe they are doing bands a favor!! But musicians are worth more than what promoters do for them. Most promoters don’t actually promote bands, they promote shows. They are salespeople and all they truly care about is making money. Whether it is for a cause or for themselves. Ultimately, it is for themselves or those bands they are buddies with. There is no candy coating it.

Here are some examples of heartless scams in the everyday world. If it happens everywhere else, you better believe it happens in the music scene.




6 thoughts on “Who Benefits From Benefit Shows?

  1. Simplest solution – play the occasional benefit….but only ones that you KNOW are legit because it’s in your very specific social or community circle…. i.e., an acquaintance’s house burns down right before Christmas, or your cousin’s brother-in-law has a kid going through chemo and they have expensive medical bills. That sort of thing. If it’s a cause totally removed from anything you know anything about, don’t do it for the promise of “exposure’. And DO insist, if you are giving of your time, that you at least get compensated wth print and online publicity—and LOTS OF IT— free meal at the event, etc. I always say I don’t need full pay AND lots of promotion for me to play a show….but if I’m not getting one of those I damn well be getting the other. I think the most common scenarios of musicians getting ‘ripped off’ is the ones where they jump at any offer because they think they will ‘be discovered’ or ‘make it big.’ It just doesn’t happen that way in the music scene anymore…the 1970’s are over. Talent scouts are NOT out at local events looking to give a band a lucrative contract. Just hohn your craft, play shows that at least pay respectably, and if it seems too good of an offer, or in everyone else’s best interest except yours, it probably is…skip it. Maybe you’ll work a little less that week or that month but you’ll keep your self-respect and your business sense intact.


    • Well said, Dan. This is good advice and certainly if more bands had more self-respect, there would be less scammers out there trying to make a fast buck in the name of some charity (which is really just a means for them to make money off of someone else’s hard work). I think sometimes musicians view themselves and their music as a craft too much and not as actual “work.” If more people did, like anything else, who the heck likes working for free? Volunteer because you want to and you believe in the cause, not because you think it will pay dividends in the form of “more gigs” and “more fans.” And you’re right, if you are going to play a show for free, the least they can do is feed you or give a reasonable bar tab.


  2. This comment comes from a fellow in Massachusetts who wishes to remain anonymous:
    “In my experience, performers in general take it in the shorts in many different ways. While I make no assumptions, it appears that you have a high degree of integrity and courage. (IMHO)

    I’ve been disgusted with the music and dance (formal disciplines) scene – particularly here in MA.

    It’s not unthinkable that if enough like minded people got together, many of these types of problems could be mitigated or even cured. just a thought… … “


    • Thank you, ____. It is not only something I understand greatly by my own experiences, but from listening to the complaints of my fellow musicians about this subject. Some are pretty sore about it, others are nonchalant. Unfortunately, not enough people speak up about it and thus the problem with musicians being taken advantage of continues to grow. Thanks again for your thoughts.


  3. Yes i understand this, i am a part time sound guy, and i do sound every summer outside for two stages for a good cause, i put in around 12 hours of my time to do this, they give me 100.00 bucks and free drinks, i share that with the one that helps me out, this is something i have been doing for years, but i would do it for free, some sound guys say i make them look bad because i do not charge more, my son was very sick and musicians always helped me out, but to be used by promoters for profit bad idea.


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