Controversial Promoters Raw Put Bands in Front of Audiences -- For a Fee
A Los Angeles-based company called Raw would like to give your band a show. And also, possibly, an award.
In exchange, it would like a few dollars.
Raw's clunky, full moniker is RAW: natural born artists -- it's not an acronym but rather references "unpolished" performers. It puts on parties in more than 50 cities each year, showcasing not just musicians but also designers, photographers, filmmakers and other artists. A typical event features a fashion show, live music and a film screening, along with photos, jewelry and other crafts on display.
It's all capped off each year with a national awards ceremony, which this year takes place in Los Angeles on Jan. 13 at the Belasco Theater. Fifteen hundred people are expected to attend, and awards will be dispensed: The prizes for musician of the year include meetings with music executives and with influential KCSN DJ Nic Harcourt, an ad on the homepage of ReverbNation.com, an electronic press kit produced by indie company Eenie Meenie Records and more.
Founded in 2009 by event producer Heidi Luerra, Raw's headquarters are located in a subleased office in Laguna Hills. Its website says the company's mission is to "hand-pick and spotlight local artistic talent." It has received overwhelmingly positive coverage, described alternately as a "grassroots movement," a "support network/showcase for aspiring artists" and "a budding creative's wet dream."
The problem? Although this isn't mentioned on Raw's website -- or in most of the write-ups about it -- the talent has to pay to play. Artists, bands and designers who want to be in a Raw showcase need to sell 20 tickets at $10 apiece. If they can't, they must make up the difference out of pocket.
It's the same presale system L.A. Weekly wrote about in 2010 at some Sunset Strip clubs. Even today, management at the Key Club and the Whisky A Go Go place the burden on some bands to fill the venue.
Raw's Luerra puts a positive spin on the practice. "We created the ticket requirement not to be a pay-to-play but to give artists who have 'starving artist' status access to participate by basically crowd-funding with their supporters," she tells the Weekly.
As we reported in December, groups increasingly are turning to crowd-funding websites such as Kickstarter to pay for their projects. Is Raw's system the same thing, or is it just another example of the much-derided pay-to-play? Bands and artists we talked to paint a mixed picture.
Sacramento pop-rockers Wrings don't mind the presales, lead singer Zack Gray says, because many Sacramento clubs have the same system. As far as he's concerned, Raw is worth it as long as you win an award, which his group did from the local Raw chapter in November. They also won at the national level, which means they get the prize package and will perform at the Belasco.
Their victory got them meetings with some small labels, one of which helped the Wrings land a deal with Los Angeles-based Position Music, a publishing company that places music in movies, TV shows and commercials. It's not as good as a record deal -- and it hasn't led to any licensing deals yet -- but Gray is optimistic.