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Tips & Tricks for Women in Music: Performing in Toronto

Written by Keyena Smith

Women and music: it’s a powerful thing. What happens if women use their voices to share their experiences and knowledge with the world? Whether the world knows it or not, women have always helped each other share their stories and women have always empowered each other. It’s only these days that the world is starting to look past the rhetoric of  ~those damn feminists~ and see the importance of women’s experiences. I think it starts with art. Music, specifically, allows women to share, unite and collaborate on meaningful projects. So, in an industry dominated by men, what about women? Where do we fit in?  We help each other. We share what we know.

Allow me to share my own personal tips and tricks for bands, and ways to avoid being taken advantage of. I have lots of experience booking shows around Toronto and Toronto venues with my own band Goodbye, Friends and a healthy dose of cynicism to go along with it all. Here is what I have come to learn, and I hope to hear your stories soon.

Toronto promoters are shit

Maybe this will get me in trouble: ~I D0nt CaRe~ anymore because someone has to start speaking up on this stuff. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I’m not going to get booked by Toronto promoters? I’m already not getting paid by them so it doesn’t matter too much as far as I am concerned. Know this: Toronto promoters (almost ALL of them) are business people making money off of artists. (An exciting new concept, I know 😉

NEVER “pay to play”

Lots of promoters know they can get paid to book artists who are new to the music scene and don’t mind not getting paid in return for being able to play at a cool venue. It seems fun and impressive at first, but trust me, it gets old. Promoters are all doing the same sort of thing these days that revolves around a “pay to play” system. What this means is you buy tickets from them (to your own damn show) that you are then responsible for selling to friends, fans and family. OR, they base payment for your time and music off of how many people you brought out via a tally system they use by asking people who they came to see on the night of the show. Hint: it likely won’t be you because you are a new Toronto act. Even if you are amazing, the system is flawed. Best-case scenario, they will tell you they will “do the math” and then e-transfer you money in the next couple of days. Hint: it never happens.

Promoters are successful because they make you feel bad about yourself

Like the point above, since you are a new Toronto artist you likely will only have a few friends and family and occasionally a fan or two there to support you. Especially if you moved here along to pursue music. Promoters know that this can be stressful and even embarrassing, and lots of musicians don’t even bother asking for money for their time when few people came out to see them. When you do gather the cojones to go up and ask for payment (even if a base payment has been pre-determined by you and the promoter before the show) they will all say that you didn’t bring enough people and wont pay you. AKA- no one likes you or your music so you don’t deserve to be paid. It’s all bull and you are worth more than that. P.S promoters don’t actually promote you. They just make shitty Facebook pages and make the bands playing invite all their Facebook friends. They harass you to constantly be inviting more people while coming up with nothing creative themselves. Hint: You are essentially promoting yourself AND them relatively inefficiently.

Have a set price for your time and art

When a big promoter with tons of likes on Facebook reaches out to you it can feel exciting. You can think: “out of everyone, they picked me! They must love my music and believe in me!” I’m sorry, but this is not true. They have a rotation of bands they reach out to, who they know they do not have to pay. They have people on their team scouting new-to-Toronto-bands who don’t understand how the system works. This is a partnership they themselves benefit from, not you. So, if they’re not willing to say in words, “regardless of turnout, I will pay you (predetermined money) for your time…” it’s a waste.

Being liked by Toronto promoters does not determine your success

Do your own thing. You don’t need scummy, untalented people taking money away from you and making you feel bad about yourself. Promoters are nothing without the people who give their time and art freely. You will be successful if you believe in yourself and always continue networking and marketing. 99/100 times, the promoter wont even be at the physical show. They will “hire” you again if you don’t kick up a stink about being paid.

Even music lovers are bored with Toronto bar shows

The pay-5$-15$-see-your-friend-play-for-half-an-hour system is officially out. No one wants to go out under those terms anymore. No matter how talented you are, Toronto has flooded itself with these promoters and their bars and it’s boring now. People know it too, that’s also why turn out sucks. Invest your time in grassroots performance ideas and let the promoters fight each other to death.

Get creative with your band bookings and marketing

Who says you have to play at a bar? There are hundreds of local businesses opening up in Toronto everyday. Insert yourself and contact them. Set up arrangements to play for set prices to help create atmosphere for their new business. It’s a mutually satisfying partnership that gets everyone out of Toronto band mentality. Most businesses have money they budget for entertainment, so take it for your time and art instead of letting it fall into the hands of promoters. Play at art shows, play in the park or organize a house party for you and your band. Invite other people in the same boat.

Be your own promoter. Be your own best friend.

There are tons of ways to advertise yourself for a low price. Facebook and Instagram adds, busking or just getting out on the town and talking to people. You don’t need anyone else to be successful, just work on building yourself and your online presence and that’s how you’re going to get people interested in you.

Strength in numbers//sexism exists

You are not going through this alone. Everyone in the music industry in Toronto is affected by the bullets above. Women especially. Men in this industry inherently respect each other. Doesn’t mean that men get paid and women don’t. It does mean that there is more respect for men in this industry because not every man’s performance is judged on their level of attractiveness. Create your own events and help each other be successful. Bring out good people to your shows who will pay some money to see you. Split it evenly. Respect each other’s art. Do everything you can, but don’t do it alone.

Remember that YOU are the artist

Artists listen to business people way too much. You are the innovator and revolutionary. You are the creator. If you don’t like what’s happening, change it yourself. Guaranteed, business people will keep doing what they are doing until an artist dreams up a new way for things to be done. Then business people will try to capitalize on it. Remember that you are in full control and they are nothing without you. Believe in what you want because you are capable of making it a reality.

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