black + white

Inspired by some current trains of thought in the media at present, I thought it about time to air my views on the following – I’m not the only one who has the subject on their mind, it seems.

Musicians – don’t play for free. Don’t be grateful for being allowed to play. Demand a fee, plus food and expenses. In fact, play less time for more money. Sounds impossible? No – let’s really get our heads around it and encourage each other to change the  philosophical climate.

Imagine the following: imagine a time past, but not altogether  lost, when musicians were folk heroes, griots, soul survivors and healers, keepers of the songs, memories and stories, tellers of truth, visionaries and magicians. When people gathered to listen and appreciate and when there was a system of genuine patronage of the arts. Let’s also imagine the idea of music and rhythm and story being so inseparable from daily life that all children and adults were exposed to music and song and able to participate to some extent. Imagine all musicians getting paid and nourished, celebrated, respected and rewarded, imagine humans thriving in a self-generating universe of harmonic, melodic, sonic, vibrational creation.

What will it take to make this real again – not just for musicians, but artists across all disciplines?

I respectfully make reference to Horace Trubridge’s excellent article How Cheap is Free? in this Summers Musicians Union magazine, which I recommend searching for on the Union website.

Musicians need to start sticking up for ourselves – because we can put an end to the culture where art is not valued and where musicians are expected to be so desperate to do what we love that we’ll be grateful simply to be heard and seen. I want both – to do what I love and be paid handsomely for it – for as long as we still live in a world where money exists.

This is relevant for female artists whose work has traditionally been undervalued, derided, stolen and driven underground and out of history. Wake up and decide you want to be treated better.

I also teach music. I made a decision about 7 years ago, to charge as much as I could for my services to private clients. I lost some clients, but here’s the thing – I gained more. The ones I lost were not the poor who couldn’t afford it, and the clients I gained were not fabulously wealthy – they’d just decided to place a high value on something that they wanted more than they wanted the money.

There is a lot of material in the public eye these days, concerning money as an energetical phenomenon and reality as a field that shifts with the ideas that we feed it. As we believe, so shall we get…these ideas can used by artists, entrepreneurs and ‘solo-preneurs’ when placing value on your work and your services. Self-confidence makes people feel secure and much happier to part with cash. (Anyone remember the ‘reassuringly expensive’ Stella Artois ads?)  I also have a theory that we all like to feel the largesse of spending money on something that we want and deserve. I’d go further and say that there’s a certain human satisfaction  in being sold good wares, skilfully and courteously, by an expert in their field. So… applying some of these principles, those of us selling a product have become much more confident at justifying a high price for services of high worth. I say to people, if you can afford a TV + license, (or car or dog + license, designer trainers, an i-phone, or i-pad or any number of so-called necessities) don’t tell me you can’t afford to buy an instrument or some music lessons for your self or child – the benefits of which, will be literally, priceless.

I’ve never regretted the decision to hike my teaching rates and my original fear that it would exclude the deserving and attract the rich, actually worked the opposite way. It weeded out  the undeserving rich! Such as the  Kensington mother, who quibbled about my modest sum of £35 for the hour, yet could afford servants (and maybe thought I was one.)

Back to gigging and let’s apply the same principles.

Expansive thinking begets more of the same – if you  are an artist, act wealthy and deserving of wealth. Don’t play for free, expect a fee and change the impersonal, groaning, dying, monster of the music industry into something that you control.

Horace’s article makes some absolutely key points. Concerning festivals where there is clearly budget for toilets, catering, security etc – all the necessaries, why has none been allocated for the actual content: the music? He goes on to point out that no-one would expect a plumber or electrician or such experts to work for free and that actually we invite others’ disrespect if we give away our labour. Who would you trust, (and therefore employ) more, the electrician who works for free or the one who charges actual hard currency for a skilled specialism?

I mentioned gender and the concept of women’s work earlier (which warrants a longer, more specific article). How frustrating and surprising then, when I am told by female promoters or festival bookers, (of women’s arts festivals) that there is no money to pay me, but  that I might be glad of the practice and the exposure, (and presumably the chance to spend my hard-won cash on train fares/taxis and incur lost earnings from other, paid work). I don’t need the practice. I do need to eat. Rather than keep each other poor, let’s turn it around – hire women, pay women, expect to be paid and let’s create abundance and some new ideas about a new economy…

If society transforms as radically as it might do in the next 20 years, the self-employed, the freelancers, will be teaching the rest of society how we’ve survived all these years.

S0…don’t play for free – not whilst money exists! Demand energy for energy!

I have no objection to the idea of doorshare gigs, if done well with good publicity and teamwork – it can work well. And there is the rare occasion, usually impromptu, where unlimited food and drink, bonhomie, and a guaranteed opportunity to sell CDs/secure a better gig, might just about warrant a (short !) free performance. However on principle – if you’re a  festival, venue,  or private function – if you really can’t afford to play, then I’m afraid I really can’t afford to play – simple as that.

For more union supported debate and comment visit musicsupportedhere.com

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