The Gig Site Dilemma:
To Bash, To Bark, To Tack, or To Have a Salad?

Those of us who have worked as independent entertainers (and industry, motivational, or inspirational keynote speakers) for the last couple of decades have seen the coming and going of a variety of services that are often referred to as “gig sites.” They may seem like a blessing to many buyers, but to the working professional they can be a curse — or at least they can sometimes seem like they’re more trouble than they’re worth.


What Are These Sites? How Do They Work?

The sites probably have familiar names to many: The Bash used to be GigMasters but rebranded a few years ago. Thumbtack has been around for a while, as have GigSalad and many others with the word “gig” in the title. A relative newcomer to the marketplace is Bark, which has achieved significant popularity. But virtually all of these sites exist to make money on the transaction between buyers and talent.

Instead of “gig sites,” I think a more accurate term for these operations would be “lead sites.” And how you get the lead can vary from company to company, but there are three main options.

  1. One option is the free/free option — where neither the buyer nor the talent pay anything. These are few, far between, and rarely used. Considering that they generate no revenue, there’s no money to spend on promotion, so that tracks.
  2. Another option is the free/percentage option. Buyers pay nothing to search and may be contacted by multiple performers. Talent may be forced to pay a percentage of their fee by booking payment through the site, or there may be an honor system in place. This resembles the agent model in some ways.
  3. A very popular option today is the free/credit approach. Buyers again pay nothing, and their information is supplied to a limited number of providers. The interested talent has to pay a certain number of credits for the contact information. The credits required for a lead may range from two or three up to 20 or more depending on what the “lead site” decides is the value of the gig. Credits themselves can cost upwards of $2 per credit, meaning that an entertainer could pay $40 or more to send an email or leave a voice message that may never be answered or even opened.


So… What’s The Good, Bad, and Ugly With These Sites?

While there may be some perceived benefits, the issues with gig sites, and particularly sites using the credit option, are many. But let’s start with the positives.

  • For the buyer, there is an obvious benefit: sites like this allow buyers to browse a lot of talent quickly.
  • Another benefit, at least perceived as such by buyers, is that it may force some degree of competition to lower prices. (The down side to this is covered below.)
  • For performers willing to compete on price alone, paying for every lead and being willing to undercut the market on pricing may result in a busy local calendar.

But there are numerous drawbacks for buyers and for talent. Just to identify a few of them, consider:

  • The first five people who respond to their inquiry are not necessarily the best fit for an event. They are simply the ones who happened to be checking their inbox at that moment. In most cases the rest of the talent — including the best fit for you — will never see your information.
  • If you do request a response from a specific entertainer directly, that talent still has to pay the credits to get your contact information, and still with no idea whether they will recoup the cost. They may have been conditioned by poor response rates on that site — including from direct requests — to stop buying credits.
  • The talent have nothing but the word of the provider that the leads they see and are asked to pay for are, in fact, legitimate leads. 
  • A consistent and increasingly expensive payment by talent to be “ghosted” by shoppers who aren’t actually ready to buy but are “just looking around at the options” feeds into the perception that the sites are not worth the money.
  • Talent who compete on price alone are usually of lower experience and quality than performers who do not.

Is There A Better Way?

There is no doubt that clearing houses like Bark, The Bash, GigSalad, and Thumbtack can make it easier for buyers who are primarily price-shopping to find a lot of options that are competing primarily on price. And it’s true that some events will not be as adversely affected by a weak performance as others.

But often, buyers who are producing higher-risk events find themselves browsing these sites as if they were an exhaustive catalog of “all the options.” This is easy, but it is unfortunate because there is a legitimate risk that the people you need for your event are either not on that site, or are listed but not paying for credits to spend money on price competition with lowballers.

Some alternatives:

  • Use lead/gig sites sparingly, perhaps to get a look at several options in some initial research.
  • Do not rely on lead sites as a “one stop shop” — bios, reviews, and contact info. Look into people from multiple sources. Check out their own web sites, YouTube channels, LinkedIn profiles, Google reviews, etc.
  • Do not rely on lead sites to make the connections you need with the best options.
  • Instead of requesting that a performer contact you through a site, which costs the performer money even if you don’t hire them, research the performers of interest and give them a chance to interact with you directly.
Bottom line: When you’re looking for the best fit for entertaining at your event, it’s risky to gamble on your entertainment by limiting your research to the few people who pay to respond to an inquiry on a gig site.  




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One Response

  1. Good post. I agree that hiring someone in a role like yours through a gig site seems like a huge risk. So much of what you do relates to personality and style, so that’d be quite a gamble. I hope you’re doing well!

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