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Gorilla Music Sucks. Stop Playing and Going to their Shows.

DISCLAIMER:  This article is an op-ed piece penned by a fan of local music in Pittsburgh.  All claims included within are derived from anecdotal information provided by bands who have performed shows with Gorilla Music.

Gorilla Music is a multi-market concert promoter who has developed a pretty poor reputation within the punk rock and DIY community over the last decade or so, most well known for their Gorilla Battle of the Bands competitions.  In recent years, they’ve made a push into the Pittsburgh scene, typically booking a few shows per year, promising bands prizes ranging from opening slots on larger shows, tours, and studio time.  According to representatives from the promoter, they also operate in at least 80 other cities, and have recently begun working with NBC reality show, “America’s Got Talent.”

In this piece, we’re going to examine the effect that Gorilla Music has on local bands and fans.  Based on stories we’ve read online, Gorilla Music can be extremely litigious both with bands and websites who critique their pay-to-play model.  UPDATE:  They’re threatening to sue Pittpunk!

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If you have any stories about Gorilla Music that you’d like to share, please contact me or comment below.  You can choose to remain anonymous.

Gorilla Sucks for Bands

Typically the process works as follows:

  • A local band will play some local shows and develop a little bit of a following, amassing a respectable number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers.
  • A Gorilla representative (in Pittsburgh, names include Ashley Grey, Dezi Moore, and Gregg Kelly) will contact you via mail or Facebook, asking if you’re interested in playing a “battle of the bands.”
  • You will be encouraged to sell tickets.  There have been reports that bands have been encouraged to “boost your numbers” by purchasing your their tickets and giving them away for free, using the rationale of, “you’ll have more fans there cheering you on and increasing your chances of winning.”
  • You’ll work to sell tickets.  We’ve heard reports that bands have been paid as much as $2 per ticket sold.  Other bands have reported earning nothing.
  • On the day of the show, it has been reported that a band’s position on the bill, set length, and a number of other factors will be determined by the amount of tickets you’ve sold.  If you didn’t sell a set amount of tickets, you may not be asked to play again.  In cases where ticket sales are dreadfully low, there have been unconfirmed reports of bands not being allowed to play.
  • It has been reported by local bands that the winners of these battles do not receive their prize, only a “pass to the next round.”  Which happens multiple times over.

Things it’s been reported that a Gorilla Promoter will Tell You

The pay-to-play model is extremely profitable, so companies like Gorilla have finely honed their talking points to respond to any critiques of their business.  If you hear any of the following, it’s probably a good idea to tell them to fuck off.  My comments are in italics.

  • We’re really passionate about your local scene.  Then why doesn’t the promoter live in my city?
  • We’re industry experts.  This tactic is used to shut down musicians who have a problem with their model.
  • We aren’t making any money.  We do it because we love it.  See the numbers below.
  • This is how the industry is.  This is a tactic designed to show that the promoter knows more than you do. 

There have been a lot of other tactics reported, including name calling you naive, lazy, or even a “hater.”

The Math of a Gorilla Show

As a band, sometimes playing for free is inevitable.  Maybe you’re young and haven’t played a lot of shows.  Maybe the show flopped and the touring act needs to get paid.  It sucks, but it’s reality.  One thing you should NEVER do is play for free at a show that’s financially successful.  Many promoters claim that the cost of tickets and requirement to sell is necessary and covers the “very expensive costs of renting the venue.”

So let’s do some math:

Assumptions:

  • Let’s say the venue is $1500 to rent.
  • The average “battle of the bands” features 10 bands.
  • The average ticket price of a show is $10.
  • Bands are asked to sell tickets.  We’ll assume that every band does alright and sells 30 tickets.
  • We’ll assume that the bands are paid $2/ticket.
  • Pay to play promoters tend to do limited advertising.  I’ve never seen a promoted Facebook post, flyer, etc.  They leave promotion up to the bands.

So that would be a total of 300 tickets at $10/head.  That’s $3000.  Subtracting the $1500 for the venue, that’s $900 in profit to the promoter.  The bands would make a COMBINED total of $600.  Or $60 each.  Is the risk of putting on a show worth $900 when the bands are barely making gas money?

Complaints from bands who’ve worked with Gorilla Music are plentiful, and range from failure to award prize money/other prizes to unprofessionalism to litigious.  These comments were submitted, and while no one asked for anonymity, I’ve made the choice to keep names off of this.  In the case that you’d like your name to be attached to your comment, drop me a message:

Okay so just to be clear on this I’m not some kid that doesn’t realize shows do cost money to throw and that not all ticket sales shows are pay to play, personally as a promoter my shows are ticket sale shows they aren’t mandatory ticket sales but they are ticket sales. So sometime in the winter last year my bands split mates and best friends played a gorilla battle of the bands for who knows what reasons. We wanted to go support them and hangout because we live a couple hours away from each other and Pittsburgh is kind of like the halfway point so we went to hang out with them. We bought our $10 tickets from them and helped them unload their van and set up merch and everything before doors and told the gorilla people we had tickets and we were just helping and got our hand stamped and gave them our tickets and continued helping. So we’re all unloaded and I went looking for the bathroom and as I walked by Ashley and her other two Co promoters they said and I quote “well this band brought us the most money, so we’re going to have them advance” and this was an hour before doors and an hour and a half before the first band even started. That left a bad taste in my mouth but then after all the bands played they were doing the judging and without any warning or anything they kind of just threw our friends merch off of their merch table and sat pizza on it and took it over as the judges table. Then they asked the audience who should win and for the band that won or advanced or whatever they do the judges at the table and on the stage screamed for them so it sounded like they had the most fans there. Now I’m not saying that band that won wasn’t good and shouldn’t have won because they weren’t bad and they did bring some kids out but they only won because they gave gorilla music the most cash.

Terrible representatives and communication.
The promoter//representative I had talked to for both shows did not show up at either show and I had to work with someone who had no idea who we were.

Our tickets got lost in the mail, like literally the envelope got opened and fell out somewhere and it took 3 days to get ahold of the representative.

I was in a band years ago and we were slated to play a show for them. Our drummers father died and we cancelled our appearance about 6 days before the show. I still went and gave the rep our tickets back and apologized for the inconvenience. 2 weeks later I got threatened with a lawsuit claiming that since we didn’t sell our tickets and uphold our obligation we were being sued for the outstanding balance ($250, roughly) and damages to the show….ready for it? $1000!  Needless to say I called a family member who is an attorney and the whole thing got squashed quickly. Nonetheless, it was a doozie!

Me and my band got to the second(and I think last) round of one of their battle of the bands. With the lineup already determined (by ticket sales), a random band joined in last minute and apparently paid enough money to be given the last slot of the night. Needless to say they won, regardless of any crowd they actually had there. A member of gorilla music later contacted us, saying how we totally got screwed over for 1st place, and if we’d be interested in being put into the second round of another competition. Obviously we declined

My band played one of their BOTB a few years back. Someone was nice enough to turn us on to neverpaytoplay.com once we announced it so we were able to not fall into any trapping of theirs. From the time I got tickets for the show up until the actual show date I received weekly calls from a gorilla rep checking on our ticket sales. The day of the show we showed up, loaded in an hour before doors, and the rep hadn’t showed up yet. When he did we signed a contract agreeing on the amount of money and tickets we turned in and then played our set. The sound was solid, but that was because the show was at the Rex and the Rex rules. To their benefit, the gorilla rep acted as an mc which I thought was a nice touch. Overall though it felt iffy for me.

Another issue with Gorilla (and other pay-to-play promoters) is one that I have with the entire concept of Battle of the Bands style shows:  MUSIC IS NOT A FUCKING COMPETITION.  Especially within the punk and hardcore communities.  We’re a scene.  Bands and promoters work together.  They help each other grow.  There’s a reason we work hard playing and promoting shows in dingy clubs, basements, and bars while the mainstream folks are going on bullshit reality series.  Don’t let that nonsense infringe on our scene.

Gorilla seemingly primarily preys upon young bands with limited experience, who are star struck at the offer to play a large venue.  Please don’t fall into this trap.  Keep practicing, playing shows, and getting your name out there.  Eventually, someone will come to you and offer you a chance to play at the SAME EXACT VENUES opening for larger acts, or even paying you!  Stop paying to play.

Related:

Battle of the Bands are Scams.

Gorilla Sucks for Fans

Pay to play isn’t just awful for bands… their shows are a bit of a chore for fans.

  • Chances are, you’re attending a Gorilla show to help a friend’s band win a battle of the bands.  Perhaps you were badgered into buying your ticket from an overzealous friend, family member, or significant other.
  • The band who you came to see often doesn’t know what time they’re playing.  That means you’ll have to wait for their set.*
  • There are usually more than 8 bands playing these shows, with no sort of overlapping theme.  Depending on the tickets sold, you’ll see a death metal band play before a jam band, followed by a group of rapping juggalos.  Some people like that kind of diversity in a show.  Most people don’t.
  • This shit is EXPENSIVE!  Seriously, $10-$15 for a show with ALL LOCAL BANDS?  That’s outlandish.  You could go to three different (and arguably better) DIY shows for that.

So please, stop buying tickets and attending Gorilla Music shows.  If a friend or family member asks you to purchase a ticket for one of these shows, let them know that not only will you not go to this show, but let them know WHY you won’t be attending: you don’t like seeing your friends & family get ripped off.

11 comments

  1. Hey Adam,

    I do not appreciate you slandering my name with such false facts behind them, the only shows I have ever promoted in Pittsburgh was a few Mushroomhead shows back in the day and an upcoming Dope show on Dec 7th. For somebody who does there own shows your math sure is off very much, on a regular show that we all the bands get paid off their ticket sales. I will give you a for instance on Dope the tickets are 15.00 and the bands keep 1.00 for every ticket sold 2.00 at 30 sold, 3 at 50 sold and 4 at 100 sold. So while you say that I do not do what I say how about you look again. You know all of our phone numbers are available on our website including the owner of the companies. Not to mention you would work for a rival promotions company so how one sided is your views on this matter. I respect your journalistic integrity i really do Adam, but why write an article about our company and not ask them to comment. It is because what you wrote was an attach on a rival company that does give bands in the market opportunities to play in different cities like Cleveland, Columbus, and other cities. I guess what I am basically trying to say is while I respect your opinion, I think you should get both sides views and then write your article. But you probably will not do that, anyways Adam like I said we are reachable anytime to talk to anybody about their comments and concerns.

    Have a nice day

  2. My band has been getting screwed over by Gorilla for years. I know Ashley, and waited for two hours outside a dive bar for her to show up late to a show she was putting on. They have been thoroughly ruining our scene for a while, and so my band, Dead End Job, and several other local acts, many punk groups, got together and formed Corrosive Music. Essentially we pool our resources under one name to book huge shows, but don’t take any pay. It all goes to the bands. We are currently driving companies like Gorilla out of Kent Ohio, and hope to move from there.

  3. My band has been getting screwed over by Gorilla for years. I know Ashley, and waited for two hours outside a dive bar for her to show up late to a show she was putting on. They have been thoroughly ruining our scene for a while, and so my band, Dead End Job, and several other local acts, many punk groups, got together and formed Corrosive Music. Essentially we pool our resources under one name to book huge shows, but don’t take any pay. It all goes to the bands. We are currently driving companies like Gorilla out of Kent Ohio, and hope to move from there.

  4. I’m in a band and we started our career with gorilla and they screwed us out of headlong spots, door money, and studio time and we destroyed there name for the Cleveland music scene contact me if I wish to know more dan Doyle on facebook

  5. 100×4=400
    100×15=1,500
    So bands fork over 1.5 k, get 400 and you keep 1.1k. Doesn’t sound fair when they are the ones practicing, promoting and performing at the show…
    Bands should be getting paid before the promoter. as a promoter I don’t make a penny unless every band has made the amount they need to that night. Oh, and I happen to go to shows. My shows, there show. I’m a member of the scene, not a vulture.

  6. Gregg Kelly is the worst promoter in the history of any promoters. Gregg breaks down and cries when shows aren’t going good looking for sympathy because he failed. Gregg will then take all of the money from the drawer and leave others to pay his bills. I’ve been in the industry for 20+ years and have been involved with 600+ events and rental over the world and have never seen such a crybaby bitch in my lifetime. I have nothing against Gorilla. But Gregg Kelly is one to stay away from. He is a joke in the industry. Everyone knows it except him. Everyone.

  7. Gregg Kelly is the worst promoter in the history of promoting. This dude is so wack that when his shows fail, he begins to break down and cry. Literally crying tears on stage or backstage looking for sympathy from people because he failed from the get go. Then when there is no money,m he will take the drawer and leave other people to pay his bills. I’ve been in the industry for 20+ years and have been involved with 600+ events and I have never seen someone as sorry as Gregg Kelly. I have nothing against Gorilla, but stay far away from Keg Belly the crybaby if you know whats good for you. Period.

    Now Gregg might try and comment on this rebuttal with useless I didn’t do anything bullshit, but nobody is going to buy it. There are numerous witnesses to this including a good friend of his who even told me Gregg got kicked out of a library for breathing to loud…no joke

  8. Gregg is also a liar about Gorilla not doing ticket minimums…basically Gorilla gives the best time slot before any headliner to either a very good friend or whoever turned in the most money and sold the most tickets. So if you have a group that claims they sold 200 tickets, but really they bought the tickets themself and nobody showed up to see them perform as proof, they still get the best slot. NOW, if you don’t meet there needs they will take your unsold tickets plus the money you made from any sales and if you are lucky you might get a 6pm time slot or you might not even get to perform at all. There is over 50+ artists in Cleveland that can testify to this including myself because i’ve seen it with my own eyes and was present when it was happening with varuious artists at Gorilla shows. Again, I have nothing against Gorilla, but facts are facts….

  9. Gregg Kelley messaged both of my bands before trying to get us involved. The one band, Juggernaut, played a BOTB for them a couple years ago before I joined, won, and saw no studio time. I guess they forget that when they asked us to play this past Fall. When my band, Reverie, turned it down, he told us that if we played he’d make sure we won even without selling tickets, especially since we would have been coming out of town. Pay to pay has always been stupid. I’m amazed it’s still practiced, albeit by idiots.

  10. I live in Boise, my band resides here in Idaho as well. We have been working with Ashley Grey and they have gone above and beyond in helping us. (Maybe its because we sell tickets) We do however have been offered a percentage of sales from Gorilla, we’ve even been booked out of town by them. We never had to sell tickets for the out of town gig. However, we were given tickets to sell for our own profiting, not theirs. Though, we were under the impression we would be later in the line up and a few other quirks. But no big deal no major complaints. It was a great outlet for networking with the Knitting Factory in Spokane, which we successfully did.

    We are active in our scene, self promotion, promoting fellow bands and bringing them onto bills with us for larger shows. The fact of the matter is we DID NOT NEED Gorilla’s help, but everything they’ve offered, they have delivered (with results of course). The thing that quirked us, and that you are on point with is: the mixture of bands, the age group of the bands, and the seemingly endless “Battle” process. It gets to a point where it IS a chore to get your friends there (in our case we are a metal band) expecting the same style of music, hardrock/punk/metal, and you find yourself and your friends/fan base waiting endlessy to hear something they enjoy and can have fun with. In our case it was at a venue that doesn’t allow re-entry.

    Though, the industry is full of these models that Gorilla follows, and you should always be mindful in which you decide to subject yourself to. The industry, should you want to make money, wants to see your worth in the process. They want to see people enjoy your music, want your product, and if you have the skills to sell that product, before any label/management/marketing firm will ever sign an agreement with you.

    Bottom line, in the industry you are a product for these people to sell. Which depending on who you are, those could be the wrong reasons, or even the right reasons. Just keep in mind, it comes with the territory and you are going to have to comply with the terms that set in front of you when these companies find you. If they have done injustice to anyone, there’s a county courthouse and you can always file a claim against them.