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!
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:
- 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.
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.