Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on the recent picketing at the annual BreakOut West music festival. Those picketing were protesting the fact that artists performing at BreakOut West were not getting paid, which then expanded into the ongoing discussion/argument about how frustrating it is as musicians to be asked to play for free in exchange for exposure. I’m not going to recap the entire post, you can read it yourself (if you haven’t already) by CLICKING HERE.
What I would like to do is share some thoughts I’ve had since posting my thoughts, which were prompted by some comments and discussions I and others have had in response to my post (and other similar posts).
Artists often hear “you have to remember it’s the music BUSINESS” and are often told that as artist you are your own business and need to think of what you do as a business. I know I have personally said both things to a wide variety of artists over the years. No one ever disagrees with these statements, we all see the truth in them, but we just rarely act on them. I have often finding myself explaining that focusing on the business side of the music business does not mean do what the rest of the music business is doing. If artists would take the time to look at how other businesses operate, attract customers, create awareness and engagement, they could potentially be more successful.
For example, restaurants are in a very similar business to musicians. A restaurant has regular customers, but can’t solely rely on those customer, they need to be trying to attract new customers all the time. Similar to a musician’s repertoire, a restaurant has a menu where some dishes are their ‘hit singles’ and others are fan favorites. Along with the menu, the atmosphere and having an engaging environment are what help ensure customer’s come back for more. The same can be said of live shows. I can go on, but I’ll save that for another post.
The business practice/topic I want to discuss in this post are tradeshows. There are a wide variety of trade shows that happen every year, from Home & Garden Shows, to tradeshows targeted towards brides and getting married. The online definition for a trade show is “an exhibition at which businesses in a particular industry promote their products and services.”
In some industries, renting a booth at a trade show is a crucial step for a brand new business to break into said industry. It helps create awareness, allows for some networking and even helps business generate sales and clients. Tradeshows do not pay the businesses to set up a booth, in fact it’s up to the business to purchase the space from the tradeshow. The tradeshow does what it can to attract potential clients to the event, but from there it’s up to said business to promote itself, network and find new customers and clients.
An event like BreakOut West is very similar to a tradeshow. BreakOut West is a music industry event that draws musicians, but also music industry professionals and of course music fans. Artists who get an opportunity to showcase/perform at this event are basically being given a tradeshow booth to showcase what they can do, promote themselves, do some networking and attract some new fans or potential industry partners.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I full heartedly agree that musicians should be paid to play and getting offered ‘exposure’ is often an unrealistic offer, but I can also admit that there are events where ‘exposure’ has value. Artists need to start doing the due diligence and decide if the event will create an opportunity for exposures or not. In all these discussion I have yet to see anyone mention how artists typically don’t get paid to showcase at Canadian Music Week. Is that because there is an understanding that there is a substantial number of Canadian music industry professionals attending the various events through out the week?
Events like BreakOut West were created to celebrate Western Canadian Music, but they were also indented to help musicians create opportunities for musicians to be see and network with music industry professionals. No all events like this are suited for every musician, just like not all trade shows are for all businesses. You’re not going to see a metal band at the Canadian Country Music Awards, just like you won’t see a booth making custom duck hunting decoys at the Bridal Showcase. Instead of complaining about potentially not getting paid for performing, take the time and see what other value you can gain from performing and if in the end you don’t see any value, say “no thank you” and look for your next opportunity.