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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Time for change.

Over the last week or so the thorny issue of filthy lucre has again raised its head and partially divided those who work within the music Business (small m, capital B).
On one side is the status quo who wish to maintain the gravy train and exploit musicians, and on the other is those who wish to see a fairer division of labour being sought with all involved being rewarded for their efforts.
Nothing that has been said is any real surprise to me though.
Over many years now we have eased into a system where young bands and artists are placed firmly at the bottom of the food chain.
Everyone out there is their natural predator and there is a line of people stretching to the horizon wanting to take a bite out of them.
On every single night across the length and breadth of this country artists are playing for either no reward, or very little reward, to an audience that are lining the pockets of virtually everyone behind the scenes.
The venue makes a buck, as does the promoter/booker, while the bar staff, security and cleaners all get paid from the over-all takings to.
It is of course right and proper that anyone who is putting in some hours of labour, or who are providing a service, should be 'fairly' paid for such, but can anyone logically tell me why the entertainers are being held out of reach of the cash share?
Isn't it exploitative to profit from the effort of another without rewarding them?
Now put like that the answer is simple.
Of course it is wrong.
Any right minded individual is going to cry out at the unfairness of the system.
It is blatantly and offensively wrong.
Yet it goes on with nary a complaint being uttered.
Many of my readers, as music fans, will be aware of this, but I'm going to lift the lid a little bit and let others have a peak at the worms within the can here. Comments will of course be more than welcome.

Pay to play may not be illegal, but it is immoral.
So to circumvent that what we get is Battle of the Bands contests.
Each band/artist pays a fee to enter a competition that allows them to play a gig.
You see that there.
They paid a fee to play a gig, but by calling it a competition it's somehow different from simply paying to play.
The defence argument is that the winner of said contest can win a prize.
Okay so here goes.
5 bands pay £25 each to enter the talent show so that's £125 to the organiser. Then they have to sell 30 tickets each at £5. So now the organiser has bumped his taking up to £875 before the curtain has been raised.
Then if the organiser is also the venue as is often the case there is the alcohol sales for the night to be considered.
On the low end I would think that it would be fair to an average of £10 would be spent within the venue, but it will more than likely be £20, but lets just go for £10 and call it another £1500 to add to the £875
(Now remember that this is a low average as most battle of the bands contests have more than five bands, sell tickets at more than a fiver and take in more over the bar than I have said, but that a total of £2375 made on what is normally a mid week show as they don't want it to have an impact on their weekend takings.)
Not bad.
Take off all the outgoings for that single night and the usual cash prize of £100 to the winner and it is still a tidy profit in these economically horrible times.
Not for the bands though.
Then there is the ticket split deals.
The venue/promoter has a 6 band bill with the band being told that they have a minimum set amount of tickets to sell or they aren't playing.
So the reality is that the bands promote the gig and act as ticket sellers and then on the night do the actual entertaining of the crowd for a split of the tickets sales.
(They normally get £2 from a £5 ticket.)
Nice division of labour there, and couldn't it be argued that the £3 that they hand over is in fact them paying to play?
These practices are in my opinion morally wrong, and I am sure most people would agree with me.
Even when an effort is made to even the playing field you get the vultures starting to circle to ensure that what they consider is the rightful balance is restored.
I'll give you an example.
The Bay in Glasgow recently offered itself up to bands to book for free.
They would even throw in a back-line, sound engineer and print your tickets for you.
All they asked was that you had four bands on the bill.
Of course the bands had to promote the gig and sell the tickets, but they got to keep 100% of the money taken.
The Bay would profit from this through drink sales.
All very fair and above board.
To me it was the offer of a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for musicians.
A real step in the right direction.
Then a promoter came along, block booked it and offered to arrange gigs there.
The cut would be 50/50 between the bands and promoter.
So the venue offers itself for free, sorts out the tickets, equipment and sound engineer while the bands promote and sell the tickets, but get half of what they would have accrued if they did it themselves directly with the venue.
If it's four bands that's not a 50/50 split. It's a 12.5/12.5/12.5/12.5/50 split and for that 50% what has the promoter done?
Sitting about waiting for bands to ask to play and then collecting the cash seems to have been the idea.
It's now been sorted out, but it highlights how this sort of behaviour is now considered the norm, even by bands who are widely accepting of these abusive offers.
So what is the answer?
Well I would advocate that bands do it themselves.
Just simply book your own gigs with like minded bands and split any money that is left from the venue hire etc between everyone.
If that is too much work as maybe the members of the bands are too busy to commit the time and effort to it then by all means get a promoter in, but arrange a fair split.
If four bands are playing and there is one promoter then it's a fifth of the profits each.
Just ensure that everyone involved knows their role and fulfils it.
Is that really too difficult for people to comprehend.
Lets just all work together to cut the middle men out and give musicians their well deserved slice of the pie.
I've been accused of being naïve for stating this in arguments, but normally it's from someone in their early twenties who can't accept that there are answers to these issues outwith the system we currently find ourselves in.
I don't think I have all the answers so I'm happy for others to throw in their tuppence worth and even to point out flaws in what I suggest.
Just as long as people are thinking about this then I'll consider it a job well done.


  1. PS. I wrote that while sleep deprived and staring down the barrel of a twelve hour night shift. So please forgive any rambling.

  2. you are right for the most part. At Pivo we encourage the DIY ethic however a good promoter is crucial to a thriving music industry, an essential part of the food chain.
    This is something The Bay have come to realize very quickly in their short stint as a new music venue.
    Somne bands can promote their own gigs, get there mates bands on the bill, organize it well, have a busy night . the bar makes money. everyone`s a winner.
    Unfortunately many bands are too busy/ lazy/ unsure (delete as appropriate) to do any of the above.
    It`s a rare commodity for a creative person to share both a capital M and capital B in Music Business. If I asked the best guitarist in the west of scotland to create a facebook event page he`de look at me like a dog seeing a magic trick for the first time.
    The rip off merchants are being found out big time (we have banned them from Pivo) but if it wasn`t for promoters their would be far less live music on the Scottish scene and
    they would not be as busy.
    The Bay has had to start off by organizing all these DIY gigs. Making THEM the promoter. an unpaid and stressful job.
    If the bar aint busy then the promoter has a hire fee to pay, a sound engineer to pay, sometimes overheads such as flyer costs plus mundane realitys of adding it to listings, spamming social networking sites and sitting on the door all night for very little in return.
    we don`t deal with the promoters who rip off bands anymore but to succeed as a business we need the odd promoter to pull off a good gig. If it was left soley to DIY gigs we would either only be open 3 days a week or would shut down as a result of empty gigs costing the venue hundreds per night.
    The trick is ask around. Dont use BAD promoters. And when you`ve been around long enough to do it all yourself then do it all yourself but there will always be young bands needing help and direction and until they get a top manager, plenty live experience or simply a big enough fanbase and friendships with a pool of simular bands they will need the evil promoter to get them gigs, complete the bill, promote the night, run the door and pay the venue

  3. All fair comments Mark, and that's why I added at the end about those using promoters to work out exactly what they are getting and make it a fair division of profits (if any) between all parties involved.
    A good promoter should be like an additional member of the band who is putting in as much effort as them to make an event a success.
    The problem is that there are too many wanting to jump on the capitalist bandwagon and occupy a position for profit, where as others - whether that be the band themselves or an honest promoter - can fill that role and make it a fairer system.
    So as you say 'ask around, Don't use bad promoters'
    It's not about cutting promoters out of the equation, but instead cutting the chancers out who are taking far more of their share.
    As an aside the offers from venues like Pivo Pivo are The Bay are financially astute in a pr sense. The simple question that any band should ask themselves is who do I want to work with? These guys who are offering a fair deal, or this rip off artist. The big picture is that once the word is out about the good venues and promoters then they will benefit while those who are morally destitute will reap their meagre rewards.
    This can be a sitauation where the good guys can come out on top as long as everyone raises their awareness of the situation and works towards changing it.
    Have a wee look at the blog udate called 'My girlfriends crying in the shower stall'
    I think that will show that I do see the issue from both sides.


  5. Unfortunately most 'promoters' these days seem to think that promoting consists of putting an event page on Facebook, putting 5 acts on the bill, who will all bring 50 mates each then takes the bulk of the swag. There are exceptions (Hello Brighton!) but in my time back treading the boards, they would willingly have you pay them if they could. Like you say, every other bastard gets paid for a nights work (rightly so) but musicians are often exploited because in the main, they do it for the love of it.