Drusky Entertainment responds to social media allegations; says they don't "pay to play" | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Drusky Entertainment responds to social media allegations; says they don't "pay to play"

A social media post about Drusky Entertainment is drawing criticism from area musicians and event organizers, but the local concert promoter says the allegations are unfounded.

On April 8, Dr. Amber M. Epps, founder of Local 412, described on Facebook as a "united guild of Pittsburgh hop hop artists," shared a link to an artists' page on Drusky's website, along with a screencap with the following text:

"dear hip hop (and other genre) artists: join the drusky entertainment email list to find out about touring shows that are looking for opening acts. there are no gatekeepers for this. you just gotta know where to find the info. some shows pay. some do not. some shows require ticket sales. some do not. but YOU won't have to pay to play. you're welcome. now tell ur friends. 🥰"

Two days later, Day Bracey, podcaster and organizer of Pittsburgh's annual Black craft beer festival Barrel & Flow, shared the screencap and criticized the promoter, writing: "'some shows pay. some do not.' Are these non paying shows charitable fundraisers?! How is this still an acceptable model in 2022?! As artists, we all deserve better..."
A few musicians commented on Local 412's original Instagram post, thanking them for being tagged. But the post, shared by Bracey, has since garnered further criticism from local artists and musicians for not paying musicians — whose shows often require money for transportation, food, and equipment, in addition to their time and talents — and the specific call for "hip hop artists," who are often Black.

But both Local 412 and Drusky say the concert promoter isn't the one who specifically called out hip-hop artists, and they both say the post was done to help bring Pittsburgh's hip-hop musicians more performances.

"None of the wording came directly or indirectly from them," Epps told Pittsburgh City Paper in a Facebook message. "There are so many promoters out here charging artists $200-800 or more to perform or be an opening act. I wanted artists to know there are other opportunities out there that they don't have to pay for and can actually get paid for."

A representative from Drusky confirmed the post didn't come from their organization, telling City Paper it was written by someone in the music community "trying to support artists and let them know we have a mailing list available that we send out to local artists with support opportunities."

Bracey, who hires musicians for Barrel & Flow, says he has an issue with promoters not paying local musicians for their time.

"The massive hemorrhage of talent in this city over the years is due to lack of fair-paying gigs," Bracey tells City Paper, alleging that Drusky has a pay-to-play model. "Gigs that only benefit the producer and venue. You can't build a thriving scene by paying artists with exposure. Exposure doesn't cover studio time, equipment, travel, rent, food, or anything else needed for an artist to survive & prosper."

The Drusky representative tells City Paper that they try to work with artists "to create a collaborative pay structure that allows artists to generate revenue for their performance," adding that they are "always open to working with artists to find a fair pay structure that makes sense with the budgets that we have for a specific show."

"We always try to find a way to make sure artists are leaving shows with some form of compensation," they add.

In response to the pay-to-play allegation, the Drusky representative says the pay-to-pay model "which either asks artists to pay money up front to guarantee a spot on a performance, or frontload cash in order to pay for a minimum number of tickets is something Drusky Entertainment does not require or implement."

In 2014, a local musician told City Paper that they had to sell "a lot of tickets" in order to perform at Altar Bar, a now-closed Strip District venue that was booked through Drusky. But the rep from Drusky says, "We do not currently tell artists they have to 'sell a lot of tickets' in order to perform. That falls under that pay-to-play model of 'you have to sell 'x' amount of tickets to perform.'"

Drusky says they send out a newsletter one to two times a month listing all of their touring national artists that have the ability to add on local musicians.

"While many tours coming through Pittsburgh usually carry tour support, we constantly try to push booking agencies to allow us to add local support to these bills so that we have the ability to help develop artists from the live entertainment perspective and create opportunities to play for national touring artists," says the Drusky representative. "We do that for a majority of the club shows that we are able to, and try to push further into some of the larger shows where it's permissible."

Epps tells City Paper she said she never implied that Drusky uses a pay-to-play model, requiring artists to pay a fee in order to perform, because "that's not true," but adds that there are other promoters who do. "For example, there was an event held in September of last year where the opening act was expected to pay $500 to perform. Nobody is talking about that. But I guess there's no press potential for calling out someone like that," says Epps.

"Drusky is pretty much the only big promoter in the city that not only brings in national hip-hop acts, but also allows local talent to be the openers for those acts," says Epps. "This is a huge benefit to the hip-hop scene, in a city where most established venues will not even entertain the idea of having a hip-hop show or even hip hop artists on the bill. For artists who are just starting out, there are a decent number of opportunities through Drusky to perform at events that they otherwise would not have had access to. My post was geared toward those artists who are still working on getting their name out there and are looking for that experience."

Epps says she's focusing on all of the positive comments and "thank you"s from "the artists who were happy that I shared information with them."

"It really bothers me that something I was trying to do, for good, was taken out of context and misconstrued in such a way," says Epps.

Pittsburgh City Paper's editor in chief Lisa Cunningham contributed to this report.

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