Recently, a friend asked me a question. Rather simple at the time, as I was offering advice and assistance with a tour booking and yet I was stunned into momentary silence when I heard it. The question was, "Why?" (in reference to why I would do this or that for free.) Honestly, this word is one of my favorite questions... ever. One word with infinite opportunities for learning. At any rate, she asked, I answered and we moved on. But the look I saw, the honest confusion on her face, made me think. Not about why I do what I do, not about why I am generally happy to do it for free, but more about the fact that this is questioned. So, here's my two cents on the subject...What is wrong with the system?
How is this what we've become? How do we live in a world where every listener downloads music for free, streams from a thousand sites for zero, sneaks into clubs, copies their friend's playlists, rips off of YouTube, has a library of 20,000 songs they never listen to that they got for free, etc, etc, etc, and yet, every cog in the machine that helps put this music together and put it in front of people's faces wants their "fair share" of this massive cash cow? If you've spent even five minutes with an independent artist, you'll hear phrases like, "pay to play," "pass the hat," and worse still, do it "for exposure." Some of you, dear readers, may not be familiar with these expressions.
If not, here's the short version: they all hearken back to the old 60s-dad go-to, "get a real job." "Pay to play" refers to the club or event being so great for crowds, labels, industry people, etc that the band playing has actually had to pay to perform there for that 30+ minutes. True story, but more on that another time. "Pass the hat" references a tip-based show where the crowd will get a tip bucket or jar or hat or whatever to throw their change into to pay the band(s) performing. Amazingly, a lot of venues will actually take a cut of that money as well. And "for exposure," well, that's some artists' worst nightmare. That means your friend, colleague, manager, promoter, whoever, believes that you should play, paint, perform, do anything and everything magical that you create for free because the people who see you do it will lead to money some day. Because you'll get famous if you play this coffee shop or that pub or guesthouse. This, dear reader, is bullshit.
A while before I left Korea in 2017, a campaign entitled "Music is Work" began, organized by a number of my friends and acquaintances. They sought only to educate the public on how these musicians, artists, creators of beauty have jobs. This is work. Art is work. Music is work. The truth is, this is the most honest work I've ever known. Musicians create out of a sheer need to, a "calling" if you will. They give us joy, empathy, laughter, sadness, emotion and release and ask simply that we enjoy receiving these gifts. They hope that someday they'll be able to make enough money to quit their jobs at coffee shops and in offices, but they do it knowing that those days may never come. That they may be gifting us this music just because somebody should and they'll do it until their last coin because they know how vital it is to keep the music alive.
So I ask the world now, if everyone loves the creation, but nobody pays for
it, and the creators are left working empty jobs to pay their rent, why the hell do the promoters, managers, labels, YouTube channels, radio sponsors, DJs, VJs, etc. get their cut? If it's an honest 10%, then I'm game, because 10% of nothing is the same nothing all the artists are getting. But for some reason, everyone knows CJ, Sony, ClearChannel, Warner Brothers, Virgin, etc., and we all know they're worth billions, but far too few of us seem to know Sleater-Kinney, Fugazi, Galaxy Express, HarryBigButton, The Medicine Dolls, Uhnellys, Los Jitters, Lightcraft, and literally thousands of others, and every last one of them has at least one "day job" per member. But you can be damn sure whenever any hard-working band puts on a show, despite the fact that they might not see a dime above cost, a thousand middle-people all the way up to the suits will get some cash... real cash.
So what my friend's question really brought to my attention was, where the hell is all of that cash coming from? Well, the lame answer for the big guns is "advertising," which would actually be all well and good if any proper amount of it actually went back to the talent that is creating all of this joy and passion for us. But, the sad answer for all the indie gems is, the bands' own pockets. That's the real crime in all of this. Imagine you went to work 80 hours a week because you loved the job, because the job needed doing, but you also worked another 30 hours a week because the job you loved charged you 50 bucks a day to be there. How long would you keep that job?
Think about that the next time you watch an artist perform. Watch them pour their hearts out for all of us and realize that it's probably costing them about 5 bucks a chorus to entertain us. Think about what that means for our future. A future with no original music because we've exploited these artists to the point of no return. No new club music, because there's nothing to sample. No new pop music, because there's no one to write the lyrics. All that's left is the one song that everyone hates, but seems stuck on repeat in every show, at every shop and on every radio.
Buy a CD. Buy a t-shirt. Pay the cover. Protect the future.
Spread the love. Spread the music. Support local artists. Support talent wherever you find it.
~Keep RoKing my friends!~