On the 6th February, FACT in Liverpool will host an Open Discussion about fair pay for musicians, organised by Bido Lito Magazine. The point is a hotly contended one, with the ever-present quandary of ‘is ‘exposure’ and doing what you love enough?’ Or should those enjoying or profiting from your work chip in for petrol money and practice rooms?
The digital boom has brought with it countless dilemmas for unsigned artists. Spotify, for instance, pays per streams, this means that a record label which owns the rights to, say, Nirvana’s back catalogue, gets the same kick back as a new artists who’s used their own money to produce an album which will get comparatively few streams, therefore earning them very little. On the other hand in an age where ‘no online presence’ is tantamount to ‘non-existent’, artists that choose not to participate will suffer from the lack of exposure.
In order to ensure some return for their investment in the online market place, some bands go straight to iTunes, that way they get paid for digital sales. However, as there is no open sharing site (like Spotify) that is free and widely known, the initial problem of being heard still remains.
In an interview with Leeds Unsigned, Victor Comben, (who’s just starting out as a singer songwriter after years in bands) said: “You want people to listen, that’s the main thing, otherwise you’re just playing to yourself. The thing is that making, producing and promoting your music is time consuming and expensive, if you’re getting nothing back from that, it’s just not possible to keep going. Eventually your rent becomes more urgent than your album sales.”
So, for new musicians, what are the options? The first is to get all your music on Spotify and iTunes, you pay for the priviledge but if all goes to plan, you’ll end up in profit. This is a risky strategy for those who play music instead of earning a reliable income though as an unsuccessful campaign of this type will leave you shouldering the costs of all the production, the time of writing and the cost of being on iTunes and Spotify, without you actually having an income – in fact, you’re probably in the red already just from making the album.
Option 2 is to only get on Spotify, then sell albums privately , like at gigs or using Bandcamp. If you do this you need to be putting an album on there that will be listened to repeatedly, over a long period of time. You get a smaller payout per/stream on Spotify then the larger one-off payment yielded by digital sales.
Which leads us to option 3; only iTunes. This seems the most profitable as you don’t need as much attention to make your money back, but you need people to have heard you first and if you’re not on streaming sites, you may struggle to create the buzz needed to release a profitable album.
20th February 2014
Following the discussion, Leeds Unsigned spoke to Christopher Torpey, Editor of Bido Lito Magazine who chaired the event.
Leeds Unsigned: What were the main talking points of the discussion?
Christopher Torpey: We had 10 or 12 points laid out that we wanted to address. In order to do that we invited people from all corners of the industry. We had promoters, a representative from the Musicians Union, musicians and ourselves. We weren’t out to get anyone so we wanted a balanced debate. Mainly, we were talking about how musicians and promoters can best work together, there did seem to be a battle line drawn in the sand between the two, usually over one off events where someone feels they’ve been ripped off.
LU: So what came of the debate?
CT: We weren’t out to find solutions, we just wanted to get as many people involved together at one and talk about it. Every case is different and should be treated as such. I think one point which was agreed by all was that musicians need to put an accurate value on their work. Whether this means asking for more money or knowing not to ask for too much. Likewise, promoters have to keep everyone informed about what’s going on when it comes to pay.
LU: Was Pay to Play mentioned?
CT: It was, that was part of the reason we invited the Musicians Union. They reiterated to the musicians that they should be asking for money to play. They spend time and money getting to even the local scene and should be rewarded. Some young bands don’t like asking for money or don’t know they’re being exploited by the promoters. That said, they also have to be realistic, it’s unlikely you’ll get a rider and travel costs if the promoter’s had to spend a lot on headliners, venue and sound.
LU: What would you personally like to see change?
CT: I’d like to see more transparency. Bands should know what they’re getting paid before hand, if the night’s a success, the promoters can pay more. I’d also like more of these discussions – maybe not in this format but just more communication. Musicians and promoters are equally reliant on each other, you can’t take one element out without it all falling down. Also, with online music sharing being so prevalent, gigs are now often a bands primary source of income so it’s more important than ever to co-operate.
Bido Lito also live tweeted and created a Storify for the event, which can be found here: https://storify.com/BidoLito/work-and-play-are-musicians-fairly-paid