Should I Play a Showcase Gig?

Legitimate Music Showcases Are an Opportunity; Others Are a Scam

Couple watching singer and band performing jazz in nightclub
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Showcase gigs can be a tricky subject. The idea behind a showcase is just that -- to showcase your music for people in the industry and, hopefully, some potential fans. You can think of it as a debutantes' ball for musicians. This is your big introduction to musical society, and hopefully they are going to embrace you, sing your praises and convince people to buy lots of your music.

That's the theory, anyway.

In reality, not all showcase gigs are created equal. Some are worth your time and energy, and some are just plain old scams. There are a few kinds of showcases that are always worth a shot:

  • Your label is putting on a showcase show to introduce you to the press, agents and other people who could helpful in promoting your music. (Actually, you'll find you won't have a great deal of choice in the matter when it comes to one of these shows, but that's OK--it's a good, although increasingly scarce opportunity.)

  • You've been selected to play a showcase at a music trade show/music convention.

  • Another music related business, like a club or magazine, has selected you to play a showcase they are putting together.

Now, none of these opportunities are surefire, guaranteed ways for you to get a deal, get press, get fans or anything else. What they do have in common is that they are arranged by people who are in the industry, who likely have contacts they can fill the audience with, and who selected you specifically to play.

The other thing they have in common--and this is a big one--You are not paying to play them.

Pay to play showcases are the real danger for musicians. These are showcases run by people who charge musicians lots of money for a chance to play a short set. These showcases are advertised as attracting music industry people interested in checking out new talent, but if anyone in the industry at all even shows up, it will almost always be people as interested in preying on musicians as the person who is putting together the show.

Here is the major red flag to look out for: The only criteria for playing the show is that you pay the fee. Also, beware of showcase opportunities that use buzz words like, "top music industry executives", "representatives from major magazines" and so on. These are vague claims that may be totally lacking in substance. If top record label execs were frequenting a particular showcase, the person behind that showcase would be presenting the specifics to musicians and the press. It would be a great point of promotion for their event. You may end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to play for a "top music industry executive" who is CEO of I-Like-Pretending-I-Have-A-Record-Label Records.

Showcases shows are always a gamble, as is making music for others generally. They may love it, or just like it or think it sucks. The only way to find out what they think about your music is to get out there and play. But there's just no good reason to pay a lot of money to appear at a showcase. Save for the occasional music trade show application fee, don't reach into your wallet for a chance to play a showcase. The odds of the stars aligning and you landing a major deal at one of these events are so small that it is just not worth it.

Late Breaking News

As the music industry has increasingly gone online, so have showcases. Now, new companies offer musicians an online pay for play experience. The jury's still out on these, but definitely look hard before you leap.

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