York musician Ian J Cole wonders why it’s OK to pay a plumber – but not local bands
When I first started playing in local bands in the mid 1970s (yes I am that old), the band members I played with were lucky to get paid £10 each and at the time we were happy just to play. Any money for doing something you love was the icing on the cake, or so we thought.
Fast forward to the 2005 when I re-entered the local music scene by joining the then fantastically eccentric folk punk band Ryan Shirlow and the Bloody Marys.
After spending the intervening years playing music as a professional (where the band I played with wouldn’t get out of bed to play music for less than £300 a gig – it was the 1990s), raising a family and running a business before entering the heady world of academia, I was dismayed to find I was still lucky to get paid more than £10 per gig from the local music venues.
Fast forward to today and this is still the same situation. My current band have been in existence since 2008, we’ve played lots of gigs, have been on national TV (although blink and you would have missed us), have been featured on radio stations in the USA, France, Spain and the UK, released one EP on Corporate Records with a full album due for release later in 2012 – and we’re still lucky to come away with any money from a gig.
Why is this so I ask myself? well everyone wants their music for free these days I’m afraid Ian. Oh, OK!!
I’m reminded of the recent tail of a local band’s first headlining gig for a York promoter a few months back. The gig was not well attended and netted the band £28 after they bust a gut trying to promote it. It wasn’t helped by the lack of promotional support from the venue as the gig didn’t feature on their Facebook or Twitter feeds leading up to the night (it was all about the venue’s club nights, and nothing about the bands that were playing that week).
I understand that venues and bookers need to make money to survive but so do local bands. It may not be a musician’s main source of income but bands need to get paid just as much as anyone else, as in my experience the income generated usually goes back into recording and rehearsal rooms costs. Nobody would ask a plumber to work for free so why do people expect musician to play gigs for free?
The only free gigs should be for charity, but it seems even a good cause has it problems. Last year the Musicians’ Union put out the following statement regarding payment for charity gigs:
“It is extremely unfair to put musicians into a situation where they are emotionally blackmailed into working for no fee and are asked to give their services to a good cause.”
I used my last blog to promote the Best of York CD launch which was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support charity.
The night was very well attended with all of the acts playing for free but it saddened me when Connor Devine (the organiser) informed me that the Basement Bar had insisted on a venue fee and a percentage of the door takings (not very charitable it seems). This is not an isolated incident as we are seeing cases of others getting paid for this type of work while the musicians are not.
Here is a Musician Union statement put out the other day regarding unpaid work for the Queens Jubilee and the Olympics 2012:
“We have been receiving reports of professional musicians being asked to perform for no payment at events connected with either the London Olympics 2012 and / or the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations… Our understanding is that all other sectors involved in putting on these events e.g. security, staging, equipment hire etc are being paid their usual fees but not the musicians. The MU would ask that if you are offered any work around these events, paid or otherwise, that you report the offer to your Regional Office. Furthermore, the MU urges you not to accept any offer of unpaid work.”
It seems the problem of musician getting paid for their work goes back at least four decades, and for many years there seems to have been an exploitation of musicians across the country. Last month I went down to the Analogue to Digital Music Expo in Exeter, Devon and musicians there were saying the same thing: “Plenty of places to play but no one wants to pay us.”
The problem was highlighted by Paul Gray from the Musicians’ Union who said they were trying to get promoters and venues to work together with the bands to share the costs and the profits ‘so everyone makes something’ so there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
And as a parting shot I am reminded of a radio Leeds interview back in 2006 when a good friend of mine was asked if the his band were prostituting themselves because they were selling a gig on eBay.
My friend answered: “Yes of course we are! We’ll play anywhere if you pay us.”