By Doña Oxford
(re-post by permission, copyright in the author)
I have been a professional working musician since I was 16. I’ve been fortunate enough to have played with legends such as Keith Richards, Bob Weir, Levon Helm, Buddy Guy, Albert Lee and many more on every level: arenas, festivals, even dive bars. This is how I make my living, gig to gig, paycheck to paycheck. I’ve spent countless hours and serious money investing in my education and skill.And I’m getting really tired of giving away my art for free.
Its expected. We as artists are expected to give away free downloads, free CDs, free videos. We even pay the nightclubs to play for a crappy 40-minute time slot, all under the guise of “exposure” or “promotion.” It’s bullshit. When has an A&R rep ever showed up at your gig?
Just last week, a local blues band asked me to play on their album for free, as a marketing tool to get better-paying gigs. So I’m expected to spend my gas, my time, wear and tear on my car, my ideas and my hard-earned skill in the hopes of your band getting a few paying gigs on which you might hire me?
This is my living. I don’t work at the donut shop or as a temp at an office. I’m not a weekend warrior. I make music. I have rent and bills, overheads and employees, just like the record companies and club owners do.
In 1970, the average band made $400 a gig in a local bar. Today in 2012, it’s even less. We are one of the only sections of American society whose income has not increased with inflation. It’s appalling.
And yet top record labels, managers and agents all complain that they’re losing money and want to raise their fees. Some are charging the artist 35 to 50 percent for representation. Labels are now taking a cut of tee-shirt and non-album-related merchandise — money that isn’t theirs. And I’m so tired of hearing big companies whine because they say they are losing money. The artist is and always has been, throughout time, the lowest paid. Yet… remember… without the artist, they have no product to sell.
In 1999, everyone laughed at Metallica for going against the new Napster concept of file sharing. And look where it has got us. Why should the consumer buy music when they can get it free from YouTube? Why should the consumer buy your entire album when they can buy one track for 99 cents. Of which, if you are lucky or savvy, you may get a whopping 30 cents.
And now everyone is up in arms over the SOPA and PIPA laws. They are so afraid they will lose access to their beloved internet and their freedom of speech.
Let me tell you something: Michaelangelo, Dalton Trumbo, Eugene O’Neill, Reinaldo Arenas… none of them had websites and yet these artists found a way to get their expression out to the people. It’s all a facade.
Don’t get me wrong, I oppose the SOPA law because it is quite dangerous the way it is written. However, I am thrilled that it opens up the anti-piracy conversation. And so what if someone actually had to pay another artist for the use of their work in order to put their self-serving bullshit video up on YouTube? That artist deserves to be paid.
The “Occupy” movement is all about casting light on corporate greed. But what about the greed in all of us? It has become so commonplace that we expect to get everything for free. Especially if it’s art-related. Free music, free movies, free TV (don’t have to watch commercials now with DVR). My momma used to say, who will buy the cow if they can get the milk for free?
By expecting everything for free, we have devalued ourselves. We have bartered ourselves down to the lowest common denominator. We have increased the amount of crap we now have to wade through in order to find the gems. We have lowered our standards and the quality of our art has suffered. Lip-synching, auto tune, horrible lyrics, reality TV, bad sequels, etc. Every Joe Schmo is in the game now. So we have to compete against crap for no money and false opportunity.
Bill Cosby once said, “Mediocre people are very, very dangerous when they get together. There’s one thing they are not mediocre about and that is fighting off people who are superior. They bring standards down and make it appear that you’ve really got to be a genius to be mediocre.” Thank you, Mr. Cosby.
We are the artists. We are the free thinkers. We are the creators. We are the innovators.
Doesn’t that deserve respect? How about self respect? I know times are tough and it’s hard to say “no” to what looks like an opportunity. But how much are we really gaining in the long run?
Artists need to know their worth. We need to start demanding that we get paid for our talents. We need stronger unions, anti-piracy laws and maybe something as simple as integrity. We need to support our fellow artists instead of asking them to do us a favor. And we need to feel worthy enough to say, “No, I deserve better. I am worthy.”
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