Editorial Stream of Consciousness: Artists Should Pay and be Paid

9th November 2013 4 comments

An email response by musician and composer Whitey (AKA NJ White) in which he succinctly explains to a television producer why his music may absolutely not be used for ‘free’ with the misleading guise of the payment being the promotion and publicity received from being involved in the project has gone a bit viral.


While I support White’s stance and completely agree with every word, verbatim, I do have one issue with its premise; musicians are JUST as guilty of this behaviour.
Perhaps it’s the ‘free’ mentality that the arts, particularly music, struggle with but artists themselves are just as guilty of asking people to do things for them with no intention of paying even the most menial fee for someone’s services.

As someone who spends countless hours each day helping artists via the articles I write in support of new music, the business and industry information I write/share, and working with artists whom I advise on varying aspects of their careers, I can tell you with certainty that artists find it entirely acceptable to ask people to work for ‘free.’
As I’m sure is the case with everyone who works in the music industry, in any capacity, not a day passes in which I don’t get an email (or several) from an artist wanting me to write press releases, band bios, set up Wikipedia pages, give them marketing advice, plan a release strategy, or heaven knows what else. When I ask what their budget is I’m frequently met with a response along the lines of: “We don’t have any money but It’ll be great promotion for your web site!” or “We’ll tell our musician friends all about you and how awesome you are!”
With regard to the first response I can’t help but wonder how much traffic a band seeking me out and asking me to write about them could actually generate. Don’t misunderstand; Thirty Roses does very well and I’m often in shock of who some of our followers are, but let’s be clear, Radiohead isn’t blowing up my inbox begging me to honor them with an interview. No artist who is well established and working successfully as a musician is going to seek out a journalist and request that they interview them or review their record. With regard to the second response, I must admit that the idea of spending hours on something for a band so that they, in turn, can tell the other musicians they know that they found some stooge willing to do tons of work for them for NO money is just this side of an appealing proposition.
It’s terribly unfair that anyone should find it appropriate to ask an artist to play or give away their music for no money, but it’s equally unfair for artists to do the same to other professionals.
While I am always looking for artists to write about, I’m not always looking for artists to sucker me into doing what they should be hiring a press agent or marketing team to do.
Much of the time I’ll oblige, to a point. I love talking about the music industry, I love sharing ideas and strategies that have proven successful for myself and the artists I’ve been fortunate to work with, and often, I say such things in normal conversation.
Just as ‘Zoe’ in Mr. White’s email had made a conscious effort not to allocate appropriate funds for music, artists often neglect to allocate funds in their own budgets for publicists, marketing agents, social media directors, managers, and all of the other people involved in working alongside them. Artists are absolutely right in thinking that they should be paid for performances and use of their work, but it goes both ways. Artists need to realise that they must alter some of their habits moving forward in order to achieve some semblance of equitable remuneration.

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  • Edwin Masters

    Sounds like a simple question of perception,& power. Besides it’s all a gamble. 5 card draw I mean. As a writer you write stuff about bands, a few get noticed, & you get noticed for having known them back in the day. When your in the Bazaar you got to haggle. It’s part of the game within the Game! So why get upset, just stand up for your Rights as a human being, that’s all. Don’t blame a cat for being a cat. Pax et Fortuna! EAM

    • Edwin, I’m not really talking about writing as much as I’m talking about more business oriented things. Obviously when I write about or interview an artist it’s mutually beneficial. That said, I don’t particularly like it when artists contact me, ask me to write about them, and act as though they’re doing me a favour, somehow.
      What I do find slightly hypocritical is artists who won’t acknowledge that there are a lot of things they need to pay for but don’t want to because it’s more fun to spend money on gear and recording than it is to spend money on promotion. There are a good many artists who want PR agents and marketing folks to help them for no money at all and act as though those professionals should be honored to represent their band and that should be payment enough.

  • You make some valid points Christine. We need to be aware of more than our own perspective. Still, there’s no doubt that the world and nearly all of it’s inhabitants and global entities take advantage of and demean musicians, songwriters, artists – and our egos allow it. I agree wholeheartedly with the songwriter here.

    • I agree with the songwriter, too, which was the first thing I said. I spend my life defending musicians, their work, and their rights. That said, all too often they’re just as guilty of expecting people to work for them with no intention of paying them. Many artists devalue the work of others in the industry who make their careers possible.