You Want Musicians? Then Pay Musicians!

Imagine calling one of the best local restaurants in your City /Town and asking them the following question... 

"I have an exciting proposal: There will be a large group of people over at my house this Saturday night, and I'd like to have your chef, and a few kitchen staff, come over to my house for this event as well...

Your kitchen staff could bring all of their own equipment, set-up in my kitchen and whip up some dinner for us, it'll be fantastic! 

Now, unfortunately our budget for food is a little tight, so the chef and staff would be doing this free of charge... But, I can guarantee that your restaurant, Chef and staff will receive valuable exposure in the process!"

Next, modify the above paragraphs for application to use for: plumbers, electricians and furnace repair guys. Perhaps add in..."You can even put a sign in my driveway if you like."

Maybe try creating one of these for the car Mechanic or for your local auto-body shop as well. "Your shop will sure benefit from this in the long run."

Now, if you're a working musician, stop and consider this for a moment... Funny how musicians don't get the same courtesy.

It happens to all of us, eventually. You're 'invited' to play a bar or club for the exposure. Maybe for a free beer. The owner will make it sound like he's doing them a favour. Just think, you'll "maybe even" sell a few CDs or get booked for another gig there, it's all good... Or, is it....

Actually, the message is appalling: Your talent isn't worth any money. Just load up, drive over here, set-up and start providing a service for US... just shut up and play. In fact, in some venues be thankful you're not paying the place for the privilege of playing.

Now, consider this... the Super Bowl is trying to do just this very thing!

For the big game on February 1, 2015, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the NFL is chasing three acts to play the halftime show: Rihanna, Coldplay and Katy Perry. But unlike past years, in 2015 it wants these artists to pay for that coveted slot, either through future tour income, or other financial arrangements.

It's a plum gig, no doubt. Every act that plays the Super Bowl enjoys an immediate surge in popularity, including Bruno Mars this year. After his dynamic 12-minute set at Super Bowl XLVIII, he became one of the hottest concert tickets of 2014. According to Forbes he has made $60 million so far this year, compared to $38 million last year. About 112 million people watched Mars play halftime. Exposure doesn't get much bigger.

And the NFL wants to cash in. The league has never paid for its halftime entertainment, but it covers the massive production costs. All part of putting on a show for which a 30-second commercial costs $4 million. So if Coldplay wants a piece of that, Coldplay can pay for it.

So far, Coldplay aren't biting. And neither should Katy Perry or Rihanna. It's astounding to think performers of that stature will pay to play, for a league which makes $10 billion in annual revenue. Even more galling, the NFL itself makes the halftime show part of the Super Bowl hype, and it's often more memorable than the game. Charging Katy Perry to play the Super Bowl is like paying an entrance fee to get into McDonald's.

Arcade Fire hasn't been asked yet, but their agent David T. Viecelli sums up the music industry's reaction: "I hope that everybody tells them to go get stuffed."

"I think it is precedent setting," says longtime Niagara Falls musician Steve Kostyk. "When you see the world's best being lured into those kinds of arrangements, it certainly creates the idea with smaller venue owners to perhaps try the same thing."

Kostyk is on the executive board of the Niagara Region Musicians' Association, an arm of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada. The group discourages local artists from playing for exposure because it sends the wrong message to bar and club owners.

"We're trying to build a sense of community," he says. "We're responsible towards each other as musicians."

Younger artists are most vulnerable, he says, since club owners know they're desperate for playing time.

"You tell them that they're far more valuable than they think they are," he says.

Niagara singer Beth Moore says she does the occasional show as a favour, but "it never feels good to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted." Jay Forhan of The Black Flies says free gigs for charity are one thing, but finds it distasteful for bars. "My response would be something like, 'Okay, thanks, I'll check my schedule and let you know,' and then not call back."

Anthony Botting of A Book For Wanderers says there are limits to playing for exposure: "I am usually open to playing my original material anywhere that might allow me to reach a larger audience, but I wouldn't be so quick to take on a full night's worth of playing for exposure alone."

There's a bit of 'free' involved with any artistic endeavor, but when it financially benefits someone else, it becomes unpaid labor. It sends an ugly message to artists – your talent is worthless, your services aren't important. The more they consent to playing for free, the deeper this attitude is entrenched.

Plenty of others will try to diminish what you do. Don't do it to yourself.


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