Pay to Play, to Pay for Paying… to Play
sour grapes or the cold, sharp wine of truth? You decide. But it’ll cost ya… well, nothing actually
There’s a debate – which can only get more heated – about whether music should be free. About the dynamic created for makers and consumers of music by the Free Culture – or Freecult, as I prefer to call them because it sounds stoopider (of course, they’re too numerous to be an actual cult, and are in most cases motivated by the prevalent tech-enabled custom of lax, myopic greed rather than any coherent ideology). To clarify, these are the people who collect music like stamps – and never listen to 90% 0f it – rather than downloaders who then buy the product, or some of it anyway. Yes: Product.
Of course money should be involved in music. It’s been inextricably entwined with art since art existed; without patronage, no Iliad, no Odyssey, no Velvet Underground, no sustainable dance/electro music *ever* beyond the first amyl nitrate whiff of excitement, no X Factor (okay, baaad joke at the end there). True, the major labels are getting what they deserve. Unfortunately, the artists aren’t; while many I know or know of haven’t any problem in principle with giving stuff away – and this includes me – to “donate” the whole lot is, in essence, shutting out loads of artists who can’t afford to do that and sustain themselves or their work. As well as carrying a stigma of bargain-basement loserdom. This stuff tends to get downplayed in the current atmosphere of Future Boomer righteousness – or it did until recently. Strange that it’s taken so long to be examined at a grass-roots level: and what it took was a common enough, albeit unthinking, admission from a National Public Radio DJ (hardly the big bad Music Biz Man).
So yeah, £££. Obviously, it’s all in who the gelt comes from… corporate sponsorship, crowd-sourcing, arms deals… and who it goes to. On any lower echelon than superstar, it’s a vexed question (and I’m sick of labouring it, so will stop biting the hand that… sort-of… feeds now). Besides which, you can chop logic about the moral pros & cons all day, but personally? On a selfish level, I don’t really give a shit.
Perseverance for pennies: gotta be done, innit? Well, up to a point. Beyond that, it’s just slaughtering the golden goose.
If I could think of a viable strategy to get round this impasse, as hopefully someone will sooner or later, I’d be a fucking entrepreneur rather than a musician. Or possibly a writer for sites like Gizmodo.com who “refuted” David Lowery with a barrage of meaningless stats. But my point about sustainability – affordability – stands. In effect, it’s like a new form of something I’d hear horror stories about from the bad old days: Pay to Play. Who in their right mind wants that? (And uh, don’t quit the day job btw – assuming you’re lucky enough to have one.)
A Footnote: speaking of Pay to Play…
Putting together a tour without the cradle of logistic and booking support, I’ve noticed something interesting. I’m sure a lot of musicians in my kind of semi-legit position have run into something similar.
The era of literal Pay to Play (in London): a lot of venues demanded an upfront fee for the privilege of gigging to six uninterested alcoholics, the scarcely-more-animate sound engineer, and maybe two mates who were just there because they wanted into the keyboard player’s pants. A promoter with a great deal of sense and integrity (and taste, obviously, as an ally of mine) urged me on several occasions: Never, ever, ever, pay to play. It just encourages the practise, which must be stamped out. It’s clearly a self-defeating way to go, and I won’t insult your intelligence by hashing over why this individual was quite right. But a lot of venues – feeling the bite, so I fling no blame – are now getting into the habit of asking for a hire fee rather than actually promote a gig. Often, in context, this is fair enough; but the implications are uncomfortable.
This may seem rather off the point of the rant above. (God, I’m starting to moan as much as that St Saviour woman…) But it’s a symptom of the same fucked economic model. One alternative is free no-frills gigs, which in theory sounds nice but in practice means variable quality-control: there, see? Free stuff sucks. Can I buy some soil off you, please?