Thanks to an attempted protest at this past weekend’s Break Out West, I’ve seen a handful of people discussing this topic online. People have been sharing the articles (links below) that have been written and throwing in their two cents. Everything I have read has had some interesting comments and great arguments from a variety of different perspectives. I’ve been asked a couple times for my thoughts on the topic and at first I was going to stay away, but I then I noticed there is one perspective that hasn’t been shared that I think needs to be.
In case someone reading this does not know what I’m referring to, this is in regards to the recent ‘picketing’ that occurred in Edmonton protest the fact that artists performing at Breakout West Music Fest are not getting paid. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a firm believer that artist should get paid (or receive something of value) when they perform. Other music industry colleagues can also vouch that I have been around long enough to know what goes into putting on a show, costs involved and even the logistics, which can impact the artist getting paid and sometimes the opportunity to play in front of key industry professionals can be worth more than a pay-check.
I know both sides (as well as a couple others) and as much as people may not like to hear this, I’m a firm believer that there is no fixing this situation. We can argue, protest, and/or discuss this topic to death, but the simple fact of the mater is that it will never go away. Artists will always be asked to perform for free and there will always be artists who agree to play for free, so the cycle will continue with no end. It could be just me, but it feels like both sides expect the other to change their view and change their ways and that’s never going to happen.
Don’t agree with me? Then I challenge you to look at it outside of the music industry.
Ask a lawyer how often they get asked for free legal advice.
A photographer how often they’re asked to take pictures at a wedding for free because it’s family or a close friend.
Ask your buddy who owns a truck how often they get asked to help someone move?
Retail outlets and restaurants are regularly asked for donations in exchange for putting their logo in the bulletin, program, brochure, webpage,…in other words for “exposure”. Even at Breakout West they have sponsors and donors who have donated services in exchange for a space on their poster or handbooks, to help the donor gain some additional ‘exposure’
I think every profession in one way or another is asked to provide their goods or services for free or in exchange for ‘exposure’ in one way or another. Looking back at my job history, when I started working for BMG music a lot of my friends assumed that meant they would be able to get free CDs. I was regularly asked for tickets to shows, even shows that BMG had nothing to do with. When I worked at Shaw, whenever I told people what I did and what company I worked for, the first question I always got was “Can you hook me up with some free cable?”
We’ve probably all done it at one point or another, we’ve asked someone to do something for us for free that they typically get paid to do and for the most part we don’t even know that we are doing it. I sincerely doubt that Breakout West is intentionally not paying artist to screw the artists over or to line their pockets. They believe they are creating an opportunity for artists to play in front of industry professionals they may not always get the opportunity to play in front of. At the same time the American Federation of Musicians union and the other musicians involved likely had the best intentions picketing/protesting at various Breakout West events, but in my opinion they went about it the wrong way.
Musicians getting asked to perform for free or ‘exposure’ isn’t going to go away. Protesting or complaining online is not going to fix what cannot be fixed. Instead, I believe we should be investing our time educating ourselves and other musicians so that we know when is the right time to say yes and when to say no to ‘exposure’ gigs. Many businesses that are regularly approached for donations have specific standards or areas in which they will agree to get involved with. ATB Financial for example indicates on their webpage who they’re willing to donate to and sponsor. Artists should adopt the same policies.
You don’t see Pepsi complaining that Coke didn’t get paid for all the product and swag they gave away at an event. Chances are if Pepsi is complaining it is because they missed out on getting the same opportunity to promote their product. Every business is different, has different values and different ways operating. Every musician is different as well and just because you may not agree to play a certain ‘exposure’ gig it doesn’t mean another artist might see some value in taking the gig. As an artist know what is best for you and your business and accept that sometime that might mean doing a gig for free and remember, if the gig isn’t right for you, you can always say “No”.
Here’s some links to the articles I was referring to:
I also wrote another blog along the same topic over a year ago: