You don’t become a musician for the money. You become a musician because your love of music collides with practice, taste, hard work, expertise, originality, community. Learning how to play instruments, conspiring with your friends, capturing euphoria in the sound, your creativity finding an outlet for exploration. It grants you coolness when you have no idea how else to get there. And you want to share your music with anyone who will listen.

That last part is where your vulnerabilities are exposed, to the ratty companies seeking profitability above all else, including and especially fairness. These corporations prey off starry-eyed hopefuls who refuse to consider their own worth and fail to take a stand when it comes to trading their talents for a deserved paycheque.

There’s a strange business of getting artists to perform for free. You can’t really blame a business for wanting to keep their costs down at all costs. Unfortunately, that is the nature of capitalism. But, you can, and should, disrupt their sleazy practices, so that eventually it becomes financially irresponsible for them to continue their blatant devaluation of art.

A few years ago, indie band Ex Cops was asked to play a SXSW show run by McDonald’s, but instead of being paid in money they would be paid, as is commonplace, in exposure. The band rejected their offer took their gripe to Facebook, which, sure, can be an effective tool. But this doesn’t stop the burger chain’s marketing team from trying again. They will eventually find someone else naive enough to play for free, and – after getting some new customers by showing how cool they are by getting this band to play – they persevere with the commodification of entertainment and continue on their path to fast food domination.

Instead, Ex Cops should have happily agreed to play the show for free, even hamming up the response to indicate how grateful they are for the opportunity or whatever. Then, after getting all the details, they just don’t show up. The marketing team is left scrambling and pissed off on that day, and hopefully their event goes to shit. The band could even pretend they’d intended to show up, but say, “Oh, we actually got a last-minute gig that pays money instead of exposure. You understand how this might be better for us, right?” to hammer the point home.

What’s McDonald’s going to do, refuse to pay their their fee? They already did that. Tell their friends? They don’t have any. The multi-national company needs to get screwed over repeatedly for any meaningful change to be incited.

We expect artists to be more generous with their time and skills than the rest of us. They usually are, with charity events and benefit shows and the like, but it is a little unfair to assume that they don’t need money to live like everyone else. You shouldn’t get paid because you enjoy doing it? The logic is absurd and is what trains artists to give up on a passion in favour of tolerable security.

A television producer asked Brett Caswell if they could use one of his songs on a show, with the payment being that that sweet sweet exposure. After going through a list of other people not getting paid to be part of the production (no one), he told them the particular song they wanted wasn’t available for free, but they were welcome to use a different one that he sent over, an improvised, dissonant, objectively terrible song to use instead. More of this, we need.

Some musicians intentionally keep their ticket prices low so that more of their fans can attend the shows. Not necessarily on a Fugazi level, but with a more reasonable discount from what the market can handle. But inevitably, this leads to a reseller market where the grey economy gets the money and fans still pay through the nose. What musicians need to do is sell counterfeit tickets at increased prices through a third party like Ticketmaster’s minion StubHub, while making it very explicit that these tickets will be nullified. After a few shows of enough people complaining online, this secondary market will disappear, and the band will have made a few extra bucks off people who didn’t follow directions.

Musicians, the real artists anyway, are often idealistic, which leads to them remaining on their high horses and then getting knocked off by jousting corporations. With an acceptance of living in a purely capitalistic world, just a little chicanery can make enough small changes to make their livelihoods more livable.

September 28 – Annie Clark gets overexposed
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