Is Afton Live A Scam? Any Worse Than Venues?

Music Manager

My band, Windhaven, just received an invitation to play a show at the Orpheum Theater in Tampa, Florida on August 28th. The invitation came from an company called Afton Live, which I’m well acquainted with. Since I’ve lived in the Tampa Bay area, every band I’ve played in has received invitations from Afton Live. A few of the bands were really good. A few were laughable. Afton loved every one of them.

Every band who has a web site, MySpace or ReverbNation page has likely heard from Afton Live. From what I can gather, the company mass e-mails bands, preying upon the younger musicians who are excited about playing anywhere at any time. If you decide to do a show, you quickly realize that you’re expected to sell tickets to the event. The more tickets you sell, the more money you make (though far less than Afton keeps, and far less than you’d make at a regular gig). The order that the bands take the stage is determined by who sells the most tickets. In short, what Afton Live does is book venues and then find bands to play on the bill; bands who are willing to sell tickets mostly to their friends and relatives, and then perform for next to nothing. Apparently there are plenty of bands out there who are willing to do just that.

There’s been an ongoing debate online about whether Afton Live is a scam, or if their shows are technically “pay-to-play”. It’s semantics, really. Since there has been music, there have been those who prey upon musicians. There’s hardly a professional act that isn’t well acquainted with the shadier aspects of the music business. There’s always going to be someone eager to shake your hand and pat you on the back while they offer you the next great deal. Roger Waters wrote a famous song about these people; just listen to Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar” some time. These sorts of people are part of the landscape. They’re always going to be. And there’s really nothing wrong with it, from a legal perspective.

While it’s debatable whether or not Afton Live is a scam, the fact remains that they’re doing nothing illegal. They’re booking shows and inviting bands to play those shows based upon certain conditions being met. It’s entirely up to the bands to understand what they’re agreeing to, and to decide whether or not they’re being taken advantage of. That’s a business arrangement. Is Afton Live’s business model entirely ethical? Well, I don’t think so, but that’s a personal issue.

But the more I think of it, the more I believe that Afton Live is doing nothing any worse than what a lot of the venues are doing. We’ve had a heck of a time getting our band, Windhaven, booked at venues because there are so many places out there who expect artists to play for free. Our band is an acoustic duo, so we’re not going to get into a lot of the Rock clubs where I know bands get paid. What we’re left with are cafes and shops that feature acoustic music. Almost universally, these places expect you to play for free, with the only possible compensation coming from tips or merchandise sales. In other words, they’ll give you a slot, but whether or not you make any money is largely dependent upon bringing your own crowd with you.  And, sadly, there are apparently plenty of musicians in the Tampa Bay area who are willing to play at these venues for free – usually people with day jobs who are just noodling around on the weekends “for the love of music”.

For a year and a half I performed weekly on Wednesday nights at a fairly well known venue in Ybor City. It was for free, but we always considered it a free place to practice. Sure, people would occasionally wander in, and we always approached it as if it was a gig even though we were often working out new songs. The clear understanding was that the only reason we were willing to do it for free was because it saved us the trouble and expense of renting a place to practice. But hardly a week went by that I didn’t find myself having a conversation with the owner about how we needed to find a way to attract more people to the venue. “It’s all about filling the seats,” he would say. I would often look at him and politely nod, but I knew there was no way our band could fill up a club on a Wednesday night. Christ, Ybor City is dead on Wednesdays. People typically don’t hit the clubs in the middle of the week. He knew this as well as we did, but he still always felt us out about how we might get more bodies into the venue on those Wednesday nights.

I always understood where he was coming from. He worked with a promoter on the weekends who staged exactly the kinds of shows that Afton Live puts together. Four or five bands would play these shows on the weekends at this venue, each selling a certain number of tickets. The promoter got paid. The venue owner made money from beer and food sales. The bands got to play Rock star in front of an audience. And, presumably, everyone went home happy. So this venue owner naturally wondered if something like that might be possible during the week.

Our parting of the ways came when that promoter died and another person stepped into his shoes. Within a week the venue owner was telling us that they were going to start doing those package shows on Wednesdays, and that we might be able to do a set or something. I smiled serenely, and knew that our involvement had come to an end. I wasn’t going to drive to Tampa from Saint Petersburg to play one set for free. While we had always played for free on Wednesdays, we were getting something out of it – a free place to practice. As part of a package show, that incentive was gone.

I never faulted this venue owner for wanting to find ways to make more money on Wednesday nights. He owns a venue. It’s about making money. The more people who come into the place, the more money he makes. What always bothered me was the fact that he never had to pay for the entertainment himself. The old model of paying a band to perform was not something he was familiar with. It was, in fact, something he would have scoffed at. Unfortunately, this seems to be the rule, not the exception.

So… the question I’m pondering, for the most part, is if what Afton Live does is any worse than what this club owner, and any number of other club owners, is doing? He gets bands to play for free or nearly free, makes a lot of money from the sale of food and alcohol, and laughs all the way to the bank. That promoter makes more money per ticket than the bands that sell them, and laughs all the way to the bank. The only people who don’t laugh all the way to the bank are the musicians, who put their heart and soul out there for a handful of peanuts, and are told they should be grateful for it.

In the end, maybe my perceptions have been shaped by the fact that I’ve been a musician for thirty years. Sure, I’m a dinosaur. I remember the days when it was a simple transaction. If you booked your band in a venue, you got paid. It was up to the venue to promote the show and provide an audience via regular customers. Sure, bands developed a following, and you could expect some bands to bring in more people than others, but no one was expected to play for free. Maybe those bands who brought in the big crowds got paid more money, but the low level bands still got paid.

Now all that has shifted. It’s a paradox, actually. You’re expected to play for free at these venues to build an audience. But even when you start attracting an audience there’s no real way for you to monetize your growing popularity, since the bulk of any income is going to the venue owners and promoters. Why would anyone in their right mind agree to such an arrangement? And how dare anyone tell me that this is “what you have to do”. How many people would go work a construction job for free on the presumption that doing so might some day lead them to being popular enough to do the same work and actually get paid?

In the final analysis, I believe that Afton Live is a scam. Not because people are being cheated, but because Afton Live preys upon the needs of up and coming musicians. Inexperienced musicians believe that all they have to do is keep playing, even if they have to do it for free, and they will eventually reach the big time. Sooner or later some producer will discover them and they’ll be on their way. So while what Afton Live does is not illegal in any way, it’s certainly immoral in my book. But what I contend is that they are not the only guilty parties here. Any venue that allows Afton Live to book these shows in their facilities is as complicit in the exploitation of young musicians as Afton Live or any other promoter who puts together these kinds of package shows. Any bar, cafe or shop owner who expects musicians to perform without any prearranged compensation is as guilty as Afton Live of engaging in questionable business practices.

I don’t blame any of these businesses. If I was Afton Live, or a promoter, or a venue, cafe or shop owner, and could get musicians to provide free entertainment while I capitalized upon their talents by selling tickets, food, alcohol or merchandise, I would be a fool if I didn’t take full advantage of that. Just as if I would be a fool if I owned a construction company and had to decide between paying one laborer a fair wage and another nothing at all. The question I keep coming back to is not whether or not Afton Live and these venues engage in anything questionable, but rather why musicians are so eager to prove themselves idiots and fools by allowing their talent to be monetized by these vultures with no real compensation to the artists themselves?

So. Is Afton Live a scam?

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Renagade
11 years ago

I came across your post while researching this Afton Lives shady dealings for my own blogpost. This one is so well done, I chose to write a little and then refer my readers to here.
Hope you dont mind 🙂
Regards, Renagade
http://renagadesmusic.blogspot.com/2010/08/bands-heads-up-on-afton-live-and-way.html

The Recycled Citizen
11 years ago

I, too, was prompted by this company and stumbled on this article. Thanks so much for writing it. I’ve been playing on and off for almost 20 years and it’s attitudes just like this that has chased me away from the music business. I now play because I want to for the joy of music. Once I removed money from the equation, I became much happier. Cheers! BTW, come on out to the Hideaway Cafe on Thursday nights for one of the best singer/songwriter nights around. Great beer, great people and fantastic music. If you go, introduce yourself to the owner, John Kelly (usually behind the board) and tell him Bo sent you in. You won’t beat the sound anywhere!

Mike Makarov
10 years ago

I was contacted by these clowns. I replied that I charge $600 minimum and DO NOT sell tickets. Hopefully that will keep them away.

john
john
10 years ago

“Afton Live preys upon the needs of up and coming musicians”
Here lye’s the whole problem with your premise. For some strange reason you don’t think people should pay for needs, look around we live in America. Sure it would be great if no one have to pay for anything, but we do have to pay for our needs and wants. We have to pay for food, shelter, transportation, and every single one of our other needs.
You’ve been around for thirty years, and you’re right clubs used to pay bands to play in their clubs, but not because they were more ethical or something. In the seventies and eighties there were not nearly as many local groups or genres of music. That limited supply of bands created great demand and most groups could draw a decent crowd. Now bands are a dime a dozen and very few have any drawing power.
We have had what is called a paradigm shift. Back then clubs needed bands and the clubs, just as you stated, all the bands got paid. Now the bands need the clubs and promoters, Just as you stated, but the bands don’t want to pay the clubs,
So using your logic shouldn’t you be calling the bands unethical? And please don’t try to use your construction worker analogy to make a point. No one needs to dig a ditch, they dig the ditch because the employer needs the ditch dug. If clubs start needed bands again, because bands can draw people without selling pre-sale tickets, then I assure you, bands will start getting paid again. Its basic economics.
The clubs are not even asking the bands to pay them, just to bring some people to their shows.

Daniel
10 years ago

My only question is how is Afton Live to expect a producer to perform that’s when I knew it was some type of scam do they show up with a laptop and play beats interesting article I’ll keep an eye out for more!

Nokumnoctalata
Nokumnoctalata
10 years ago

“Daniel says:
May 19, 2011 at 10:44 am
My only question is how is Afton Live to expect a producer to perform that’s when I knew it was some type of scam do they show up with a laptop and play beats interesting article I’ll keep an eye out for more!”
lol i did just exactly that too a few years back I showed up with laptop in hand went up on stage proceeded to play my works(mixed them though) and they where like anytime your ready and i was like……..Oh I don’t rap or sing i just produce ha ha

James
9 years ago

@ John
Your entire comment is inane. I’m guessing you work for Afton or a similar company.

Tampsterdam
Tampsterdam
9 years ago

Ya, total scam. Thanks for the warning, these characters just reached out to me today. I was excited initially, but after a quick google search, hellz no!!

Chunky
9 years ago

Afton is a middle man that figured out how to take a basic ideal and exploit it everywhere . I have done a show with my band and it was an overbooked nightmare. The bands all 9 of the worked well together and solved the lack of a stage manger and a some what drunk sound man to make the night worth selling tickets . Afton does exploit new bands but I think that if your in a band and green then it’s worth using them becouse your not going to get your shit together enoff to find a place to play live anyway . I mean that in a very general way .
I guess that for me both a working musician and an original musician I would look at it this way . If you want to try to sell tickets and build a following or just pay to play its not a bad thing to try Afton just make sure you don’t let them push you around at the show i.e. like changing the order you play based on ticket sales or other bands trying to get the best spots the night of the show . It’s a good induction to the way things are now and the ideal of pay to play has been around since the 80’s here in the bay area and back then if you gave away fronted tickets to your shows they would hold on to your gear untill you paid them back . Jhon nady of Nady wireless fame used to do that to bands no lie. Now the side is for the basic cover bands these shows are a waste of time for them. Most are pros and have connections and do get paid to play bars and clubs . Lipshok my band was a cover band for many years . Afton shows are just a good way to play our oringanls to a crowd so we know going in we are giving away tickets to fans and friends to premote the new songs. So in closing Afton is pay to play if you don’t want to premote and sell and expect going to lose out if your expecting to get paid you have to make that happen . If your a pro and show up with a PA then you need to do your research these shows aren’t for you at all.
Clubs today have it tuff cuz most people don’t want to leave there homes after all look at all the crap they have big screens video games and free porn! I thing if I was in a band wanting to make that Wednesday night big I would give out free beer and porn and set up a big screen so they could play games or watch porn while you do your set !
Chunky out

Tim
Tim
9 years ago

Does anyone know if you actually get the refund they say to request from the website, which you can’t actually do cause I’ve tried? I received an email saying my money has been refunded and another telling me to log onto the website and click, “request refund”. There is no request refund on the website.

Sonny
Sonny
9 years ago

If Afton is a pay to play promoter, then you are right, no band should go through that. But if they are the middle man, books show for you, and you are not committed to ticket sales, and have the opportunity to play for free, I see nothing wrong with that.

Dave
Dave
9 years ago

Thanks so much for your intelligent and thoughtful discourse on this emerging ‘business model’ that smacks very strongly of the same imbalanced profit margin and lack of development the major music labels have perpetuated over the last 40 years.
The comment in response to John was also well written and really hit home for me for a couple reasons:
“What will suffer are local music scenes, when the only artists who are willing to perform are the amateurs who are happy to be compensated with nothing more than a pat on the back. You’re right, in that it’s basic economics. It’s not the venues’ faults, or Afton Live’s, that there is a glut of “talent” that allows them to cash in on the vanities………”
I have been playing in bands all over Northern California and the Pacific Northwest since the early 90’s, booking shows, and doing all aspects of what is involved in promoting musicians and trying to provide benefit and a great experience for everyone who attends; fan or band. Afton is becoming something of a fixture now in cities like Portland, Seattle, San Jose, and most recently San Francisco. I have played on 3 Afton promoted bills and have a few other friends in bands who have as well. We are not what you have described as “(sic) vain-obsessed weekend warriors” but rather musicians who want to play shows in an over saturated market of bands, so are willing to try and make the best of whatever situation is offered.
I agree completely that the business model that Afton uses is disingenuous at best, a rip-off at worst, but as you noted there are (sadly) plenty of inexperienced bands or those who have no problem compromising their time/talent while making Afton and the local venue who partners with them wealthy. The issue for me is that Afton (and the half dozen other national promotion companies who are similar) are not invested in trying to recognize the unique potential of the local music scene as it stands and leverage that, but instead forces their model of what a show is on that scene.
As an example: In San Jose and now San Francisco Afton has started booking shows at just a few clubs, the nights they do shows at these venues look and feel totally different from the shows booked by the local promoter, and often result in a contentious internal relationship between the bands playing that night which eventually leads to a fracturing of the music community as a whole.
Afton show nights have between 5 and 7 bands playing on a Thursday night with a door charge of between $10 – $12 per head. Other non-Afton nights there are typically 3 bands playing with the opener starting at 9:30 and the admission is between $5 – $7. No one in SF that I know (including myself) goes out to see a show before 9 just based on the logistics of work, school, and mealtimes not to mention the well-established club culture already in place for many years.
The Afton shows create tension and sometimes anger because of the bands who are obligated to play before 9 (I refer to these bands as cannon fodder) because they never play to anyone except the bar tender and the other bands queuing up. Since Afton never provides a specified set time for any of the bands until the night of the show (or if they do often changes that at the last minute based on information that none of the bands have access to) this leads to infighting and hard feelings between the musicians rather than promoting a supportive community where we can encourage each other.
Often at Afton shows fans (and the other bands) do not stay for anyone except the band their friend is in because of this kind of manufactured contention, as well as the fact that Afton never provides a locally sourced contact who is invested in not just the take at the door, but the development of the scene and potential of return bands/fans based on an overall positive experience for everyone. The best way to get your band shows is to network with other bands, in this kind of environment all the bands feeling such intense competition and having no promoter at the show to speak with, causes zero band networking in most cases. Divide and conquer should be the Afton motto in my opinion. My experience is that Afton is a booking machine, with no more regard for local talent, color or flavor than Warner or Sony; this attitude actually discourages bands on the same bill from collaborating or supporting each other. It is not in Afton’s interest to have this kind of community, because if all bands are in heavy competition to pre-sell tickets and jockey for the few coveted time slots announced only at the night of the show this creates an easy opportunity for them to capitalize, control and profit with the least amount of work for them. Fans don’t want to commit to buying tickets for a weeknight show (especially if their friends band is playing at 6:30!) because often it’s hard to gauge the logistics I mentioned above in relationship to making it out of the house especially if a ticket is $10 or above.
I guess the best I can hope for is that Afton will attract and siphon off the “low hanging fruit” so that better shows will be available at venues that refuse to succumb to this one size fits all booking model. So while I think the idea of pre-selling over priced tickets to over booked weeknight shows is abhorrent and I won’t be playing any more Afton booked shows; the fact that they have such blatant disregard for the local musicians, community and culture is what really makes their business model and policies totally unacceptable.

Reality
Reality
9 years ago

So Afton tells you to sell tickets at 7 to 10 dollars a piece. You get paid 1 dollar a person you sold a ticket to. Yes, they are scammers, not illegal, just scammers taking advantage of you. They dont give a crap what kind of music you are, who you are, what you are. They just want you to sell tickets at a certain prices and you get next to nothing except for headaches because they do not organize show night for you. They make money doing basically nothing. Stay away from Afton.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Afton Live wouldnt be so bad if they had more concern with the quality of the talent they book and the way they set up and output the show. Since they really don’t, you have to take the matters into your own hands. I’m in ATL with a lot of up and coming musicians. A lot of them are good acquaintances and we mesh well in a line up, but with ultimately different groups of friends/fans. Luckily we all have the same mindset when it comes to promotion, marketing, and branding ourselves as artists. So, I did this once and it was a great turn out:
We (about 6 acts) all hit up Afton Live and get booked on the same day(s) and bring a good crowd. We make our own personal flyer design and promote the night as a concert event and hit the streets, bring our promo teams and hype it up almost like a special event at a night club or a party/kickback. Now Afton Live books more than 6 acts, but all the acts not in on the promo usually end up getting the salty time slots. Once that passed, we were basically able to convince the venue people to lets us have someone host between acts (interacting with crowd, playing music, telling jokes, etc) and introduce the acts so it looked more organized event and not just awkward pauses then someone randomly performs. If you could something similar to that, then every act could bring a decent crowd (15 people minimum of NON friends/family), then that’s a way you can make Afton work. If it were in my control, as Afton I would not target any and all artists. They need to actually review the artists’ page and see how many friends/followers they have, listen to the quality of their material, see their play counts, watch their videos and then target those who are performance ready. But that takes too much effort, so they’re not going to!
I do Afton shows every now and then because at the end of the day….nothing comes out of my pocket as far as a venue rental, PA system, staging, bar/kitchen, etc. I have friends/family that come out, but we treat it like a night out on the town where as we would have spent a $10-$20 cover charge anyways. Then I’m pretty established online via twitter and fb, and offline promoting to the local high schools. I am no Beyonce, I cant sell out Madison Square Garden but I can surely sell the minimum 5 tickets they ask (and even if you dont sell the 5, they still will let you perform and book for future shows, so your not pressured to buy the tickets yourself to secure your spot). Most people just get booked and promote just to friends/family….but thats just them obviously not knowing the music business. If anything, you need a team contacting STRANGERS. Before you even think about bookings or performing you need to find a solid lead single and a secondary single (either full song or a snippet thats on your music pages, but not the titled track you are shoving down peoples throat) and promo at the mall, school, park, shopping centers, etc that get people hip to your music and following you on twitter/facebook….then once you complete that step thats when you start having shows and you’ll sell tickets. Everyone wants to be so quick to say Afton is a scam, but 98% of the artists dont do their correct promo and shouldnt even be at the level of doing live performances.
People don’t go to music venues to discover new bands anymore. People go to music venues because they know that someone they like will be performing. You have to make yourself in demand.
And i know the logic will be “oh well if you’re in demand, then you should have promoters contacting you to pay and book you” not true. If you go to college, are you guaranteed a successful career? Just because you have some fans, doesnt mean you will book shows. But if the majority of people actually promoted the Afton shows to a fanbase, then it’d be good for everyone. The fans of one act and discover fans of another. Then also if you have a small fanbase that you are trying to cater to, you have shows for them to attend and you dont have to invest your $$ and time setting it up. So basically, if everyone just did their part….things like Afton wouldn’t be bad. So many people agree to perform at these shows when they have a song on reverbnation or something with 20 total plays, they tell ONLY their friends and family, then get mad when the only people that attend are the other acts friends and family just being nice trying to support. Use LOGIC. Take an entertainment music marketing class.

Arielle
9 years ago

I agree with Nicole on this 100%. It sounds bad, but it’s the reality. Musicians today think they’re entitled to so much more. Do no work and get paid a ton mentality. Realistically look at your fanbase, do you have fans that would LOVE to come and see you and actually would come and see you. Most say yes, and then flake. Or they say yes, go see you and then the excitement is gone past that. They know what you play, and what to expect, they can just catch you online, or get a mix CD or demo CD.
The supply and demand curve shifted (if you don’t know what that means, learn supply and demand, it’s crucial for business) to where bars and clubs have way more ”talent” and I use that loosely than they have time slots for. Every johnny or betty DJ/Rockstar wants the best time and wants to be paid loads for it. Remember that your first 10 or so gigs might make you enough to buy fuel to get home from the venue. I didn’t expect much when I played, but then people saw that I was good, yet some didn’t think it was that good because they haven’t come back or people forget.
Also remember to bug the absolute shite out of people. People are busy, and they forget. Send emails and texts and call them with the most essential information. Time, date, price, location, and maybe dress code if needed.
Don’t forget some of the biggest artists today used the internet to get started. Sometimes it was sheer dumb luck, and sometimes they worked their online asses off to promote themselves. Also get favours from other people, never pass up free promotion, doesn’t matter whom it’s from. The custodian of a building might know a guy in finance who knows a promoter and they’ll talk if you’re good enough to talk about.
Right now it’s called get performance ready, and have demos, then promote, promote, promote!!

Johnny
Johnny
9 years ago

I read your article and though I’m not a “dinosaur” as you stated you are with as much experience, it seems you are expecting everyone else to do the work. Granted hard work goes into making songs, I write music as well, but filling the seats is the hardest part and it makes perfect sense that most of the money would go towards those doing that. You could easily eliminate your gripe by renting out a venue, promoting it and keeping all the profits, but if you don’t you’ve gotta ask yourself why. Let’s not make young musicians think it isn’t their job to sell tickets, because that is nonsensical. If you can’t fill a venue, then it makes no sense to pay you for your time performing. In fact, like you said yourself, you should be paying the club owner for allowing you to practice there in that instance. Let’s direct new artists properly.

aaron
aaron
9 years ago

I think one thing ur missing is Afton couldn’t prey on musicians if they didn’t allow it, also what u want is a club pays u 100$ and does all there own promo and makes $1500-$2000 on a night by bringing in 300 ppl, when if u could draw 309 by aftons guidelines us make upwards of 600$ so by this logic the old way was more of a rip off

TheMadCowboy
8 years ago

Well written post my friend. I never heard of Afton until I got an email a few days ago, and I’m happy I found this page here so I can politely tell them to fuck off. Here in MA I’ve seen a few venues that traditionally were known for good local music go quickly down the shitter due to pay-to-play shows popping up every weekend.
It’s definitely a real whacky time to pursue making money with music. It’s an uphill battle, to be sure. It can be done, but to what end? The music industry has done more to kill music than anything else… When I listen to Leadbelly and hear what music sounded like before there was an industry behind it, and then turn on the radio and hear auto-tuned jackasses singing over manufactured beats, it makes me lose a lot of faith in the world of making music, or any art for that matter, a business. I guess I fit the description of a full-time working slob who sporadically plays when he can; but I’m a dad, I can’t afford the amount of time and effort I used to spend attempting to book, promote and play shows that make me money. So I just record stuff, and play when I can (often for free or a minimal pay)… I tend to think the days of glittery rock stardom and making a lifelong career of wealth off of music are long gone.
“The songs are just fantastic, that is really what I think / Oh and by the way, which one’s Pink?”
That’s the name of the game.

Dilly
Dilly
8 years ago

“If I go out and round up the customers for a new restaurant, bring in all the food, cooking utensils, grills, deep fryers, etcetera and cook the food myself, does it make any sense to turn around let someone like Afton make most of the profits from that effort? “…You don’t bring anything. All Afton asks of you is to presale atleast 5…yes 5 tickets. It’s easy to sit back and call Afton a scam, which it probably is. But honestly who the fuck cares, as an up and coming musician myself i take any show that comes my way and i do my best when i perform because that’s what i love to do. I’m no superstar so i feel zero obligations from any venue or promoter to get paid for performing. Now if you truly bring large crowds and you have a decent fan, you should steer clear of Afton. With that said beggars can’t be choosers. If you want to play shows, but NEED to get paid or have a good time slot, move the fuck over and let real artists who just want everyone to rock because of what they do.

joe
joe
8 years ago

We just went through this this passed week.
We’re yet another DIY band trying to get a start. The craigslist ad was definitely what I was looking for: a booking company to help book gigs so I could focus on writing and releasing material.
I didn’t catch on to the pay-to-play part until well into receiving multiple emails. I’ve presold tickets to open for bigger bands. It became clear when they kept saying they’d bump our slot, shorten our set, or refuse to let us play entirely if we didn’t sell the ‘suggested’ draw when I signed us up.
So… I rallied all my friends and family to secure our slot and presold the amount.
We get there, there are 7 acts (2 metal, 2 dj’s, 1 alt, 1 punk, and 1 ukalalee duo) and 30 minute sets.
We got ‘low marks’ for taking a longer time to set up (ear monitors, backing tracks, click) and they pretended they couldn’t pronounce our name at the end of the night. Lumus. Our setup took 22 minutes, they allowed 10minutes total for prior band striking and next band line checking.
Anyway, they aren’t responding to my follow up emails about the check they promised to mail the next day, and I no longer have access to the show information that stated how many tips and ticket sales we had. Something like $30 in tips, and 30 tickets at $11 each.
So yeah, the rep was ‘nice and persistent’ until we got our end confirmed, then disappeared.
You tell me if its a scam. That’s my experience. Thanks for letting me comment.
~ Joe
lumusmusic.com

Junction
8 years ago

We were approached by Afton for some of our acts to play their shows. We did an experiment with the Happy Goat Band in Nashville. Bottom line was they did not follow through with anything they said they were going to do. They cut their set to 30 min instead of the promised 45. There was no promotion on their end whatsoever. There was no so called representative or organization of the event except for a rude girl that checked you in and told you how many tickets you didn’t sale and what time you went on. If it weren’t for the professional sound man Brody at the Rutledge, it wouldn’t have happened. Some of the bands didn’t bring gear because they were told they didn’t need it.
Afton is making money for sure and no they don’t screen or care who gets on the stage. They don’t promote the event at all. They buy the venue then have the artists pay for it.
Here’s the deal. Live performance should be about exposure for your fans and a way to gain more. I am glad I didn’t send any of my industry contacts to the show because it would have been embarrassing for sure.
You would be better off pooling your money with 4 or 5 bands and approaching a venue and doing the show yourself. Get an MC for it, maybe some sponsors and Rock the House down. If you built up over 5 or 6 clubs over a 100 mile radious, you would have a little money maker. Marketing works. i believe the thing all the bands have forgotten about is ENTERTAIN THE CROWD! Be different, make people talk about the way you dress, the things you do on stage, your music!!! Most of the bands all look the same and have inter-changeable set lists… If your a cover band you sure don’t need to do the Afton thing… Bars and Clubs ain’t payin’ because your not creating the demand. Think about what you would pay Afton and how much to do it on your own and what the return will be. Trust me, if you work with the venue and ring the registers, they will have you back. Talk with the people and gain fans.. That’s what it’s about.. Sharing your music.. Anyways just my thoughts.. Afton is not necessarily a scam but it definitely will not help your music career and might just do the opposite.

Happy Mann
8 years ago

I play in the Happy Goat Band..We played an Afton Show….
There were good things about it and bad things about it.
I will say this…It was a false path to take for the Happy Goat Band….but hey there you go…..
No hard feelings on our part however I will say this…YOU GET WHAT YOU PLAY FOR.
Rock on!!!!

Kat
Kat
8 years ago

“My only question is how is Afton Live to expect a producer to perform that’s when I knew it was some type of scam do they show up with a laptop and play beats interesting article I’ll keep an eye out for more!”
I’m a producer and I perform.. not through Afton though, ha! And not just going on stage to “press play”. Producers and electronic music has been on the rise for a long time and it won’t surprise me to see it become one of the prominent music forms..
Also it’s not hard to get nice paying gigs if you just went out and asked. I guess would also need the music to back it up.
Anyways, Afton messaged me wayy back in the myspace days when my music was really undeveloped and not something that I was anywhere near satisfied with. That was probably the biggest red flag for me. Shame on them for building their revenue on the dreams of starry-eyed inexperienced musicians.

TANR
8 years ago

Hi there. I’m a music artist that recently did my first Afton show. I love your article and it opened my eyes quite a bit. I agree that Afton is just profiting off of inexperienced musicians. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing some shows for Afton when you barely have a fan base, and not much of a buzz. You can do the show, and get some practice, sharpen your craft. I’m just using these shows to make sure I can actually perform well in front of people. and once I do that, I’ll cut Afton out and book my own shows. But when you don’t know where to start, and you need practice, I think Afton is a good start. Just don’t let them work you too long.

Andy
Andy
8 years ago

Fortunately, I still manage to get paid very well locally for shows in Denver. When I tour, I get paid next to nothing, but that’s a whole other blog post.
It took me years to get to a point where club owners respected me enough to offer me decent shows for decent pay. When you first start out, and you can’t get booked anywhere, a company like Afton sounds like a godsend because they’re offering shows in clubs that wouldn’t normally book you.
The thing that needs to be explained to bands taking advantage of services like this is that this immediate satisfaction and gratification leaves no room for organic growth and makes it hard for those club owners to view you as a valid artist who put the time in and worked hard. It starts with the club owner and runs up the chain to people at actual booking agencies, record labels and management companies. The “industry” is very aware of these pay to play scams and won’t give the bands that take advantage of them the time of day. Playing a string of Afton shows will not get you a record contract. Touring consistently and making connections with other bands just might.
Playing shows can still be really frustrating sometimes, but I’m on a first name basis with most of the club owners in town and they appear to respect and admire my talent. Afton and companies like them can never offer anything close to this and I wish more people would just put their heads down, play music they love and wait for their hard earned rewards.

Alldrin
Alldrin
8 years ago

You just save me some grief with this. Haha thanks!

micha
8 years ago

As professional musician, composer, and lyricist who has found ways to get paid for what I do (it is NOT easy!), Afton definitely sounds like a scam. In addition to this, I really don’t understand why musicians are expected to do everything these days. I put two hours minimum into practicing or otherwise developing my craft every day (it’s often closer to four hours). How in the world should I have time to promote, market, figure out target demographics, and book? It’s ridiculous. Non-musicians and amateurs like to say, ‘aw, you just need to get yourself out there’. Um, no. My job is to write and perform music and to develop my various crafts. If I spend less time doing that, the quality of the art suffers. Artists are not, by nature, businessmen. Our brains function differently. I would really like to see a Metamorphosis-style turning of the tables on these people who prey on the giving souls of artists. I would love for them to wake up and find that their skills are suddenly considered less valuable than their business counterparts. I would love to see them pour their whole lives into the vast black hole that is the music industry, never getting fully recompensed for all the blood, sweat and tears they have shed. And then, on top of that, to watch them be abused and told to just work harder until their souls collapse and die.
And then, because I’m still an artist, I would feel terrible about wishing such a horrible fate upon them and things would go back to the way they are now lol.

Mike
7 years ago

My band, AFTERLIFE, just got one of these emails from Afton Live. Or MyAfton as it was listed in the email. The joke’s on them…because we haven’t played live in 22 years. In fact, the band was effectively split up since 1991, until October of 2011, when we regrouped to record our 4th album “Compass Rose”. And we plan to continue recording in the future as well, but considering we don’t all live in the same state, we’re probably not ever going to play live again. I’m not sure which of the various websites we’re on that Afton got our band’s email address from, but I pretty much figured it wasn’t a “legit” interest in our band, but rather a blanket “come on” that’s sent out to thousands of others. I doubt they listen to your music, look at your photos or anything else. Probably just look for an email address they can spam to. But after reading the above post…this sounds a LOT like the way a lot of clubs in Atlanta, Ga did back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I remember we used to have to sell tickets to our own shows. I forget the rates we got…seems like it might have been something like 2 dollars for every 5 dollar ticket sold. Which honestly that’s not bad…that’s 40%, but still…the clubs expected you to fill the place on your own, and do all the legwork (promotion, etc).
The bad thing is…one club in particular that we played at regularly really shafted us big time. We were scheduled to be the headliner act on a particular night, and the weekend prior to that, we were the featured band on a commercial station in Atlanta (96 Rock). We were interviewed, had a number of pre-recorded songs played on air, and performed two acoustic songs live during the show. We took calls from listeners and gave away copies of our 2nd album. We very heavily promoted several upcoming gigs, and most prominently the gig at the particular club I’m referring to. But on the night we were to play…we showed up and were told they had added 3 more bands to the bill, and instead of going on at 10:00pm like originally stated, that we were to go on at 8:00pm. Not to mention our set had been shortened from one hour to 30 minutes. We had a choice…go on early or leave…so we went on. But after our set, we decided to just pack our gear up and go home, because we were ticked off. The way this club was set up…when you loaded your gear out, you went right by the “front” door, and we overheard a number of people who showed up around 9:00pm saying they were there for AFTERLIFE, because they’d heard them on the radio earlier that week and wanted to see them live. The door man was telling people we’d already played, and quite a few of them turned around and walked away, rather than going inside. Atleast we got a little bit of justice out of that one.
In case anyone’s interested you can check us out here:
http://www.reverbnation.com/afterlifemusic
We’re also on facebook, myspace, soundcloud, soundclick, and others. But we’re not the only band using the name AFTERLIFE (there are several others), so it’s best to go to the reverbnation page and follow the links to the other pages.
We have a brand new CD (released April 1, 2013) available for purchase, or digital download:
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/afterlife5

Chris Boehm
7 years ago

Thanks for writing this. I had to look up this company after I saw it wasn’t the venue directly that was contacting me.

kill the idiots
7 years ago

Dude, I just started taking to them. They give you no information. Won’t personally meet with you. Won’t even call you, they do everything over email. Im going to cancel my show with them. They say sell 15 tickets if you want whatever time slot you pick, but if someone else picks that time slot and sells more then you you get bumped… they don’t tell you that tho. Whoever said they require you to sell 5 tickets must have worked with them forever ago. Now it’s 15. OOHH and now it’s all online, and they try to make you sell online because it’s cheaper HOEEVER tickets are 13 at the door. Online its 11+a 1.95 tax. .. ITS 5 CENTS CHEAPER ONLINE WOW. On top of that their Web sales wouldn’t work for my fans and they won’t let me go on with “doorsales” when the problems on their end HAHAHAHA money hungry idiots. If you pay for these people, I feel sooooo sorry for you.

Scandinavian Hateland
7 years ago

We just got an offer. We replied with a question: “Hi, Mikael. We’d love to play in Atlanta. If we sell tickets to the show, we’re guessing you’ll pay for our expenses, such as airplane tickets?”
This reminds me of the “Emergenza festival”.
They call out to all bands. There is an entry fee. For the entry fee you can play on a local scene. On top of that you have to sell tickets.
The band selling the most tickets can play at the main event.
It’s promoted as a music competition, but what it really is is a pyramid sceme.
We’re too old to be caught up in these shitty “deals”.
Best Regards
Micke, Scandinavian Hateland

John
7 years ago

DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER, book with Afton.
My band received an offer from Afton to play a show in Atlanta. Only after we had agreed to it, did we find out it was a 10-band showcase. We had participated in a similar 2-show event with a different company, a Battle Of The Bands, and were familiar with how the tickets-for-timeslot system works. We’d sell tickets and, based on the number sold compared to the other 10 bands playing the showcase, we’d get the timeslot of our choosing. We were pretty successful doing this before, so we gave it a go.
For a host of reasons, we did sell the least number of tickets, so we weren’t surprised to get the very last timeslot at 2:00am. However, when the second-to-last band was playing, we were told that the club was closing for the night, and we wouldn’t be playing. AT ALL. They also cut the 2nd-to-last band’s set short, going so far as to cut their singer’s mic mid-song.
We showed up at 5:00 for load-in, waited around for NINE hours so we didn’t have to leave our gear unattended, only to be told that the Afton rep had left and the show was over. The people who bought tickets to see us didn’t get to do so, we had to pay for parking, and we had bar tabs. They wasted our and our fans’ time and money.
When we confronted the venue about it, we were told “it’s a rental,” and we needed to contact Afton about it. I agree that some of the blame should be shared with the venue, but Afton contacted us first, booked us, stayed in communication with us for weeks,and then didn’t carry out their end of the deal when they cancelled our part of the show. We saw their rep once the whole day, when she came by to inform us of our timeslot, then, as far as I know, she just left with the money from ticket sales.
9 hours is a long time to wait to find out you’re not going to play, and they had ample opportunity to tell us that we weren’t going to take the stage.We could have been told the day before, when we were given a ticket-sales count. They could have told us when they did the final timeslot assignment right after load-in. They could have told us halfway through the show, or before our drummer assembled his set.
Afton, once they get their money, does not give a flying f*ck about you or your band. They really have no incentive to treat you fairly once they’ve reeled you in and you’ve done all the work for them by selling tickets and doing all of the promotion. They misled us from the beginning.
DO NOT BOOK THROUGH AFTON.

Mickey DAZE
7 years ago

“I did a show with Afton back on Feb 16th”……
my name is Seth but my stage name is Mickey DAZE. I’m a hip hop artist who, well, has a very difficult time booking shows. I just released a project and it was doing fairly well on the internet (Datpiff and Audiomack to be exact) I was just looking to perform and get some practice in. I never contacted Afton Shows, though I was contacted by them via email. I was sent the same routine everyone has witnessed; but I was desperate. I felt like I was holding myself back from growing because no venues will book a artist with little promotion. I jumped on the afton offer because I had no choice when it came to me being a artist. I got my physical tickets (which was 8.99) I paid over 200 dollars on ticket validation and I was supposed to pocket the sales I get with the physical tickets. the day of the show me and my DJ was setting up but I didn’t know they were running on my set. the performance for the most part; since it’s been awhile since I had my last performance, was okay. It was practice to me and that was okay. over I think, two weeks came when I got a check and it came out to be 65.00. My heart sank when I saw it because i can’t live off of sixty five dollars!!! My girlfriend and my dogs can’t survive off of that. To be honest, that was one of the fee times I questioned even rapping; because I go to concerts and I think to myself, “why aren’t I getting gigs like this”?
I treat(ed) Afton as it is; a get rich quick scheme to prey on those who are prone to set themselves up for failure. I should know, because of the acts before and after me were just terrible (well, one band named Barnabas and a couple of acoustic acts were).
I told myself that I’ll get back to SXSW if it was the last thing I do……
not for Coast 2 Coast, Afton Shows or any other “pay to play” scams.

Erica Smith
Erica Smith
7 years ago

Wow!!! Thanks for this! I was just recently contacted by these idiots..and I will NOT be scammed!!!

Trey
Trey
7 years ago

Thanks guys for the responses. I’m not apart of a band but I do Dj and was recently surprised by a message on my soundcloud account by Dan Peterson ( afton rep). I will not work with them. I’ve played several venues in Orlando for free and have actually gotten paid off of guest list attendents without having to throw down a dime. Will not book with them

jmay
7 years ago

I just recently had a run-in with Afton. And let me tell you.. I firmly believe anything they claim they can do for you… you can do yourself. And not only did I not so the show. I was received with a very rude email. This “company” in my opinion is not worth dealing with. Put in the legwork. Book a venue and work out a contract with them. I was very shocked from the email just recently sent to me today. Google them. You will see.

James
James
7 years ago

They aren’t a scam, they’re just shady. It’s akin to comedy clubs hosting “bringers” where desperate to be noticed comedians have to bring four friends who pay a $10 cover and a 2 drink minimum to get stage time, or “publishers” who include desperate wanna-be writers poems in a “special volume” that they have to order a copy of for $50. As you said, it’s as old as time, but it’s not illegal.
They sent me an email and I directed them to my agency and let them know my booking quotes start at $10,000. That stopped the emails pretty quickly. 😉

xopher
xopher
7 years ago

Thanks for this. Saved me a bit of trouble.

Davion Willis
Davion Willis
7 years ago

So what venues can we use??? Or what other web sites are there?

Bluematic
Bluematic
6 years ago

Gorilla Music (based in Ohio, I believe) does the same thing. Luckily, Kansas City is small enough to just hand them $60, tell them you sold 6 tickets and play second or third. The few I’ve been to only have maybe 20 in the audience by the second hour. But we figure that’s more people than attend the shows we put on ourselves and we drop at least $20 on flyers

Glendino
6 years ago

Never associating myself with the “Afton” name ever again.
Unorganized, unprofessional & ultimately disappointing. Their ticket over talent business model is flawed, the sound “engineer” found his food more important than the acts on stage, bar sales were terrible because the bartender + security + management were too busy making fun of the artists as they were on stage, the booking agent was hustling set list spots in exchange for drinks at the bar & had more refunds than happy guests (also charging everyone who didn’t perform regardless of the 2 free guests as stated in the contract). Did I mention the DJ would only spin your set if given 10 additional dollars? Not paying the DJ would result in him disrespectfully walking on & off the stage during your performance, while you’re stuck with a remote controlling a CD player in front of a almost non-existent crowd.
This was more than a learning experience. When you see the name “Afton”, run like hell.

Dana Woodaman
6 years ago

Thanks for putting this out here, it has really saved me some grief. What is really sad is that this practice of clubs not wanting to pay bands seems to be everywhere, not just here in Portland, Or; I am a dinosaur too, who was out of the band scene for years after the 90’s, and really it kind of makes me sick, when I think of how much better even the crappy clubs used to treat bands.

Brodie Kinder
6 years ago

Hey Thanks so much,
Just received an email from Afton Live, and it seemed very… shady, well at least un-personable on how much they wanted me to sign up on the website before really saying anything. This has helped me to not want to book through them, I’ve been a victim of preying venues and promoters and quite frankly I’m in it for the music not the scandal. Mahalo good sir.

John Foxen
6 years ago

Thanks very much for your article. My acoustic duo Foxen has just received a Myafton invitation to play at the Rusty Nail in Philadelphia.
Great idea but I don’t think the gig would pay enough to cover our airfare out from England.
It would seem that now America is getting wise to Myafton the scamsters are spreading their net overseas.
I shall point out your article to all my friends in bands.

Cody McClaine (The Verified)

“Is Afton a Scam,” you ask? Yes, yes, yes in any language that you can say it. I almost got suckered into it two years ago due to a desire to want to perform, but bowed out once I noticed all of the red flags. I have two links that also confirmed my suspicions.
http://neverpaytoplay.com/Afton/&NP2Pafton.htm#BigtimeTop
http://neverpaytoplay.com/Afton/&Afton02.htm
The funniest part is that I’ve seen much of the local Afton shows on Youtube; the crickets seemed to be entertained. I’ve been able to perform in much of the same venues on the strength of the music and not believing in the scam. A new friend of mine talked about having a show via Afton two months ago and I talked him out of that immediately. I had another friend contacted by Afton representative, Amy Cordy, and he flat out cussed her out. Instead of giving this company the satisfaction of taking hard earned money from you, get your bests artists and groups together, rent a venue out, promote, sell the tickets at a reasonable price, and you will easily see a higher profit than what Afton will give you.

loubrass
6 years ago

We’re another recipient of the “MyAfton” invitation to play venues in Atlanta. We’re in Louisville, KY and I doubt they’d be interested in paying for an 8 piece group to drive to Atlanta, set-up, perform, teardown, stay in a hotel for the night and drive back home.
Perhaps if we were on our way to play a venue in the area or somewhere beyond, we may entertain the idea, but other than that, we’re not interested.
Thanks to everyone who responded and continues to spread the word.
All the best,
Loubrass

Kevin M
6 years ago

Thanks for writing this great article. I found it very interesting and thought provoking. A funny fact about the matter is if you simply type “Afton LLC” into google, within the first 5 results are articles claiming Afton LLC is a scam or takes advantage of eager musicians. I wonder if the vast majority of businesses have such critical media turn up in the first few results when searched… My guess is only the shady ones.
I once set up a show with Big Time Entertainment, their previous name when I was in my teens. I remember feeling so excited that someone “enjoyed my music and was interested in booking a show”. As the coils unwound I could see that it wasn’t more than mass spam email sent to millions of bands. I did teach me important lesson though: Never be too quick to make a deal with some one just because they offered you their hand.
Any ways, my final comment on the subject is that Afton is really a drag because it makes the bands sell tickets and do all of the leg work. Like a lot of “scams” out there, some fat cat employs young, naive, and eager people to run around and do the leg work while he sits back and reaps in the benefits. The sad thing is the people with the heart and soul to run around and make it happen don’t get as much as the person who was “clever” enough to mass spam email a group of people (young and eager) who are known for working hard for little in return.
I really like how the author of this article sheds light upon the fact that most venues in metropolitan areas expect musicians to play for free at their clubs. The new expectation really feels like exploitation when hard working people are made to feel like they should be grateful for it.