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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