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Del Mar Fairgrounds: pay to play

Local bands weigh costs vs. rewards

Yet another musician expected to perform for free this year.
Yet another musician expected to perform for free this year.

The San Diego County Fair’s 2022 “pay to play” model requires artists who wish to perform at this year’s event to pay a $25 processing fee for their applications to be considered. On the other end, there will be no payment to most of the artists for the actual performances. In essence, this scenario becomes “pay-to-play-and-not-get-paid.”

Place

Del Mar Fairgrounds

2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar

Besides the joy of playing a live gig, what do the entertainers get out of this? Judging by the Fair’s website, it’s the opportunity to play in front of a large crowd, get noticed, and earn that coveted “exposure.” The website states that “Community Entertainment is a vital component of the Fair, offering an opportunity for local talent to gain exposure, and allowing Fair guests to discover and enjoy local entertainers.”

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Katie Mueller, the Chief Operations Officer for the San Diego County Fair, explains in an email, “We historically receive hundreds of entertainer applications (about 600 in 2019 and we have received 268 this year so far) which all have to be vetted, corresponded with, and ultimately, if they are selected, packets of information then have to be created for each one. Once they arrive on site (fair admission tickets and parking are provided for access), they have to be escorted through a golf cart system to their performance place. The fair provides the marketing, venue (professional stage, lights and sound, plus stage manager) for the ability to perform in front of an audience of people. The processing fee at application time helps to cover the cost of staff and labor to process the applications, vet the entertainers, provide the packets of information, and all of the other correspondence that takes place in between. We have charged fees for applications for many years.”

She adds that the payment “is also a commitment fee of sorts in that it ensures that only those that are really serious about participating do so. Not charging a fee of any kind would tax our resources chasing down participants who weren’t really serious.”

Performers who hope to set-up a jar on the stage and collect some random bucks, the way every cashier at a counter service restaurant does these days, are out of luck. According to the Fair’s FAQ, “Soliciting tips during your performance is not allowed. If you solicit tips in any way, your performance will be canceled and the violation will affect future bookings.” Mueller says in her email that this has been a longtime policy, and that “we want our customers to enjoy their experience at the Fair and not feel obligated to leave tips.”

Getting asked to play a gig for free can result in some musicians feeling anywhere from slightly perturbed to full-on irate. Some may feel as if they are trapped in a never-ending musical internship, where the game is to keep everyone working for free. Hector Penalosa, who played the Fair with the Baja Bugs in 2014, puts it like this: “When venues expect you to play for free and get ‘exposure,’ my response has always been, ‘If I want exposure, I’ll run naked thru a Walmart.’” The Baja Bugs made $400 for playing the Fair that year, but he stresses that he would “never pay to play anywhere.” He also notes that “all the food vendors have to give the Fair a percentage of their merch, food, and beer sales. So, the Fair is raking in money from the entrance fee and parking fee as well. And they don’t have money to pay the bands? Yeah, sure.”

Josh Taylor, meanwhile, has played the Fair for free in the past, and he claims that this model of unpaid “exposure” is currently rampant in the live music industry. He says at least three of the Fair’s local stages get legitimately high traffic, and that he’s “probably earned up to a couple dozen fans each year I’ve played there.” He doesn’t seem in love with the arrangement, but he did get a little something out of it. He views the trend as a reality for working musicians that isn’t likely to change, so he works at developing workarounds. “It’s easy and understandable enough to sit around with our friends and bitch about the crappy economics of art — and believe me, I’m not immune to that indulgence — but it doesn’t really answer any questions or solve any problems. I just think, ‘Well, that’s clearly not a sustainable model as a musician, so I’ll try to figure out the next step.’ It’s the same story with streaming killing music sales over the last couple of decades. Okay, so we lost that fight, cat’s out of the bag, no putting it back. So, what instead? Hence, Patreon, etc.”

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Yet another musician expected to perform for free this year.
Yet another musician expected to perform for free this year.

The San Diego County Fair’s 2022 “pay to play” model requires artists who wish to perform at this year’s event to pay a $25 processing fee for their applications to be considered. On the other end, there will be no payment to most of the artists for the actual performances. In essence, this scenario becomes “pay-to-play-and-not-get-paid.”

Place

Del Mar Fairgrounds

2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar

Besides the joy of playing a live gig, what do the entertainers get out of this? Judging by the Fair’s website, it’s the opportunity to play in front of a large crowd, get noticed, and earn that coveted “exposure.” The website states that “Community Entertainment is a vital component of the Fair, offering an opportunity for local talent to gain exposure, and allowing Fair guests to discover and enjoy local entertainers.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Katie Mueller, the Chief Operations Officer for the San Diego County Fair, explains in an email, “We historically receive hundreds of entertainer applications (about 600 in 2019 and we have received 268 this year so far) which all have to be vetted, corresponded with, and ultimately, if they are selected, packets of information then have to be created for each one. Once they arrive on site (fair admission tickets and parking are provided for access), they have to be escorted through a golf cart system to their performance place. The fair provides the marketing, venue (professional stage, lights and sound, plus stage manager) for the ability to perform in front of an audience of people. The processing fee at application time helps to cover the cost of staff and labor to process the applications, vet the entertainers, provide the packets of information, and all of the other correspondence that takes place in between. We have charged fees for applications for many years.”

She adds that the payment “is also a commitment fee of sorts in that it ensures that only those that are really serious about participating do so. Not charging a fee of any kind would tax our resources chasing down participants who weren’t really serious.”

Performers who hope to set-up a jar on the stage and collect some random bucks, the way every cashier at a counter service restaurant does these days, are out of luck. According to the Fair’s FAQ, “Soliciting tips during your performance is not allowed. If you solicit tips in any way, your performance will be canceled and the violation will affect future bookings.” Mueller says in her email that this has been a longtime policy, and that “we want our customers to enjoy their experience at the Fair and not feel obligated to leave tips.”

Getting asked to play a gig for free can result in some musicians feeling anywhere from slightly perturbed to full-on irate. Some may feel as if they are trapped in a never-ending musical internship, where the game is to keep everyone working for free. Hector Penalosa, who played the Fair with the Baja Bugs in 2014, puts it like this: “When venues expect you to play for free and get ‘exposure,’ my response has always been, ‘If I want exposure, I’ll run naked thru a Walmart.’” The Baja Bugs made $400 for playing the Fair that year, but he stresses that he would “never pay to play anywhere.” He also notes that “all the food vendors have to give the Fair a percentage of their merch, food, and beer sales. So, the Fair is raking in money from the entrance fee and parking fee as well. And they don’t have money to pay the bands? Yeah, sure.”

Josh Taylor, meanwhile, has played the Fair for free in the past, and he claims that this model of unpaid “exposure” is currently rampant in the live music industry. He says at least three of the Fair’s local stages get legitimately high traffic, and that he’s “probably earned up to a couple dozen fans each year I’ve played there.” He doesn’t seem in love with the arrangement, but he did get a little something out of it. He views the trend as a reality for working musicians that isn’t likely to change, so he works at developing workarounds. “It’s easy and understandable enough to sit around with our friends and bitch about the crappy economics of art — and believe me, I’m not immune to that indulgence — but it doesn’t really answer any questions or solve any problems. I just think, ‘Well, that’s clearly not a sustainable model as a musician, so I’ll try to figure out the next step.’ It’s the same story with streaming killing music sales over the last couple of decades. Okay, so we lost that fight, cat’s out of the bag, no putting it back. So, what instead? Hence, Patreon, etc.”

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