Unpaid but a good platform?

Just this week I had an unexpected, but very interesting facebook chat with a great musician and all-round good chap called Terry Crouch. I know him from my days in and around the Chelmsford / mid-Essex acoustic scene where he puts on some good ‘showcase’ nights for up & coming singer/songwriters. I also had the pleasure of recording him and singer Lucy Lawson a wee while back (go check ‘em out at http://www.lucylawson.com/acoustic_h.html). Anyway, this conversation brought up the thorny issue of playing for nothing. We didn’t have any big new ideas or conclusions, but I do think this sort of thing needs debating more. So, here’s how it went…

TC
Want a spot at one of my Black Bull Acoustic nights? Sadly unpaid, but a good platform..

DB
Hi Terry. Thanks for the offer old bean. I’m guessing the ‘sadly unpaid’ is not under your control, but it’s something I really don’t agree with unless it’s an open mic. Are the bar staff working for free? Nope. Then why should the entertainers who bring people in to the pub? You do loads of great work for up and coming musicians mate and are a fine guitarist, so I’m not having a go at you. Just the situation you find yourself in. We don’t expect fortunes, but every performer should get something… in my humble…

TC
Understood, but such is the nature of these ‘showcase’ nights.. this one happens to be rated as one of the best around. I go to the lengths of providing ‘live performance’ videos which get banded around quite successfully afterward, along with quality photographic portraits that many use for their advertising and even their album/CD artworks.. so, although you’re not getting paid in ‘folding stuff’ as such, at least these nights are very good platforms for people getting their music out there, plus you get a vid and a photo for good measure. Plus (and don’t take this personally please!!), if nobody’s heard of you, how do you expect to get a name for yourself without playing anywhere? This is not aimed at you personally, as I know you and know some of your stuff, but many do not – that’s what I’m here for.. I ran the acoustic stage at The Fling last year, and will be running the same stage at the Olympic Relay Event at Hylands Park in 3 weeks time, where there’s 15000 potential new fans.. and none of the acts are doing it for money. I know, as a musician, that it isn’t entirely the way we want things, but such is the nature of the way things go. I know you’re good Dave, and would want others to see that!

DB
Thanks for your thoughtful reply Terry. So many things I want to pick up on I hardly know where to start. I know I’m no Ed Sheeran, but does that still mean working musicians like you and I should play for nothing? Not even some travel expenses? Not sure. As for the excellent services you provide for people playing your gig, that is indeed worth something… but I do hope you are getting paid! I’m just not sure it’s healthy to put a zero value on what we do mate. And yeah, it does come down to folding stuff in the end. Pays for new strings and kids shoes! I guess we can all *choose* to play for nowt and considering the photo/video extras you provide, arguably we wouldn’t be playing for free. Hmmm. More thought required but I’m now thinking this discussion should differentiate between amateur activity and professional activity. Later perhaps. :-)

TC
Totally with you Dave.. and wish I had the power/position to change it!

Enter James Partridge for the final word for now…
Over at LATI (Live At The Institute, Kelvedon) we charge enough on the door so that we can pay everyone. It works, people still come and everyone gets paid. But we set our stall out like that from the word go, and it was ever thus.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, but meanwhile, if you’d like to read more around issues facing grassroots musicians go have a look at musicsupportedhere.com and check out the video interview below that I did a couple of years ago (With Sarah from The Floe) to support Music Supported Here when it was just launching. Still makes a lot of sense…

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