Can't Pay Rent with Compliments

Will Play for Food

I've notice a very frightening "trend" in the music business. I'm calling it a trend because it seems to be how the music industry has shifted and eventually, trends die. I believe it's worse on the local level, but it's happening world wide to every genre. What trend am I talking about? "Music has no value and should be free."

I played a show about a month ago at a bar in Portland. While we were setting up a guy from the east coast came up to me and asked if we we're tearing down or setting up.

"We're setting up to play," I said.

"Right on. Can I buy a CD from you?" he asked.

"Of course, man. They're only 5 bucks." I say. He hands me two 5's. "Oh, you want two? I'll grab you another one..."

"No, it's cool. I only want one. I'm from (insert town here) and this is my first night in Portland. Just one CD is fine." he says.

"Wow. Thanks, man. I really appreciate it." We finish setting up and play our set. I'm still pumped up from the ego boost he gave me. Being in the middle of setting up and preparing to play I didn't catch his name or where exactly he was from, even though he probably told me. I only remember it was somewhere on the east coast.

After the set a few more people came up to me to say how much they liked what we were doing. One of the people, can't remember his name either, says, "You guys were fantastic! I'm a promoter here in Portland and want to get you guys on the radio. Can I have a CD?"

Sure. I hand him a CD. "Cool," he says. "Do you have any XL t-shirts?"

We do, so I picked one up and handed it to him as he told me more about where he promotes and that he wanted to get us on a radio station, and blah blah blah...I'm still high from performing. You could've told me my dog just died and I'd be like, "Oh? Right on, man. Cool, cool."

I grab a beer and start braking down my gear. Go home. Unpack. Sleep. Wake up.

Wait a minute...that promoter didn't buy the CD or the shirt I gave him. Why? We paid money to produce that shirt, we spent a year in the studio recording that CD...why didn't he pay for our work?

Honestly, it's not about the money. And it's not about how much work and money we spent to make these things. It's about our perceived value. That promoter really liked us, but as soon as I gave him something for nothing our value went to zero. He expected it to be free. After all, he is a promoter.

Now this isn't completely his fault. It's my fault. I let him take my work without charging. When he asked if he could have a CD and a t-shirt I should have said, "No problem. CD's are $5, t-shirts are $15."

Reflecting back I can't help but think about the first guy that came up to me before the show even started and wanted to buy from us. For whatever reason, he understands the value of a musician's work (maybe he is a musician too). Regardless, this wasn't my first encounter with this new trend in music that the "promoter" embraced with us. There have been several times where people have been dumb founded when I tell them, "this costs X amount of money." It was as if I was the first person to tell them that Santa Claus isn't real. It's time for us to make a stand and change how we do business. We need to recognized our own value and not give away our work anymore.

I'm guilty of giving away my work out of desperation just to be heard, but how much longer are artists going to continue to do business this way? How much longer canwe afford to do business this way? Someday I want my day job to become a hobby and music my career. I'm not just afraid for myself, I'm terrified of the possibility of no one being able to make a living in music if things continue this way. It's frightening to think of all the great music the world will miss if musician's can't afford to make it anymore.

"Do you know what the difference between a musician and professional musician is...? Professionals get paid." - Mark White (Spin Doctors)

Never pay to play. Keep music valuable.