Friday 24 February 2017
On The Payment of Musicians... And How a Plaster Rhino Destroyed My Faith in Humanity
'Yeh, basically it's going around about you that your exploitative and you use musicians to make you money. Actually, he said your a d**khead and scum'.
Right. OK. Now it's all coming back to me why I stopped promoting concerts. This old chestnut.
The weird thing is, whenever I stop putting on gigs, I have regular emails from people asking me when I'll start putting on gigs again. Saying things like 'my band need somewhere to play, there's just nobody putting on gigs here anymore'.
It's true and this is why - the bullshit factor.
I lost money over a recent gig, where I was greatly let down by a venue's management. Every artist was paid, I made a loss. I come back to England after living with my partner in Ukraine for a while, to hear that 'people' are angry about my 'exploiting musicians'.
So, I've put it off, but I'm going to tell you what it's like to be a gig promoter, and why nobody puts on any gigs here anymore.
Sadly, the days of bars paying £300 a pop for acts every night seem to be gone. With pubs shutting down right left and centre, the music industry is malnourished compared to what it was in every sense. It's a bloody tough living for the best of us.
So, when all this started, I felt like I'd got the golden deal. I would promote a gig at a small local venue. I would be paid fifty pounds flat fee, but if I filled the room I was given I would receive another 50, which I would divide equally between the other five acts playing that night. Given £20 expenses, that would be thirty pounds for me, which was more than fair I saw considering the work that actually goes into promoting the night. When I'd proven how freakin' awesome my gigs can be, there would be a set price for £100 per gig, regular slots and for once, everyone gets paid, everybody is happy. Right?
The day before the gig, it's well promoted, pretty good Facebook numbers I'm feeling positive. There had been some setbacks though. I couldn't use the room I wanted, because the managers felt there wouldn't be enough footfall to the bar. I couldn't put fliers on the tables for the regular customers - I'm not really sure why still. My posters weren't up in the windows, but I didn't care. I knew the acts I'd chosen had the draw to make a great night for everyone.
Then I read the message.
'Ive seen that you've booked a lot of acts for this concert tomorrow - you do know we can't pay you?'
Holy f**k. My blood ran cold. I'd literally put my last few pennies into this concert, trying to make it beautiful. I didn't even have a fiver to my name. How could they possibly not pay me? We shook on it. I rushed for my coat. Would I have to find another venue? I couldn't call it off now.
Eventually we agreed that I had been offered money to promote the gig, and I would be paid the baseline fifty pounds. The hours were ticking down, but something else was eating me - the acts playing that night had agreed to play without fee, as this first show's payment would be adjusted to the audience numbers to remove risk to the bar. I had always assumed though that the bar would fill up and we'd get the hundred to split. But now it seemed obvious that the bar wouldn't pay the hundred whatever happened, the deal wouldn't be upheld - I couldn't let the acts go unpaid. I decided to pass round a bucket through the audience and split what we got between the acts. Best I could do. (each act got a fiver).
Weird for a performer, but I suffer anxiety quite strongly. I wasn't a good compare this night, I was restless, and unhappy. I knew I couldn't please this management, although I also knew they were running a profit on the night. Going by the deal we'd shook on, I should be paid the full hundred, and it would still be worth there while, but that handshake felt like a world away. I put back my last pennies on drinks to settle my nerves. I was here with my friends, but I just wanted this to be over. Something felt really odd for me, but I thought 'brave face. this is your party'.
The gig was full of great musicians, but I'd put myself last on the bill, and to my sadness the room was almost empty by the time I got to play. I'd shot myself in the foot again for everyone else's sake. But the gig had gone OK, and that was a relief.
And then the Rhino.
This horror story reached it's peak when without warning a plaster bust of a rhino dived off the wall without prompt, to smash on the floor. I went to look, and it seemed the tacks the held on it's hanger had vibrated out of the plaster as the music played. I decided honesty was the best policy.
F**k no it wasn't.
'That Rhino cost £80.'
'Really did it?'
'Yes, it was my wife's pride and joy. Of course you'll have to pay for it, but as a good will gesture I will give you £20 still for the night'.
What. The. F**k.
'Are you sure it cost £80?'
'Positive, I just looked it up online'.
'Funny, because it says £19.99 made in china on the sticker on the back of it...'
But I didn't have the energy to fight. I didn't have the energy to argue that I shouldn't pay for breakages that weren't my fault. That we'd agreed that if I got more than 20 people into the bar that My payment would be doubled - allowing me to pay a full £15 with the bucket money too (thats more than I earn working for ships by the hour). I just wanted home and bed. I was close to a meltdown that night and I'm lucky my friends were there to pull me out of the pit.
I made a loss.
Gig promotion sucks.
Lugging gear around sucks. Making artwork sucks. Postering and fliering sucks. But it's worth it.
What really sucks is hearing that one of your friends who played the gig is trash talking you. Saying 'He's lucky he's not in the country, because he'd be in trouble if he wasn't'.
Apparently this person was upset because they didn't know I was getting paid when they weren't. Even though they were.
And I wasn't.
WHAT THE FFFF....
I don't know who this is, but this is what I want to say to them:
What's wrong with you?
I've played thousands, literally thousands of unpaid gigs. For the fun. For the love of it.
If you don't want to play an unpaid gig, just don't do it. Please. If you don't get anything out of it, don't say yes. Stay away.
There are people who need unpaid gigs. For fun. For experience. For practice. For the sake of doing something cool with your friends.
I'm doing my best. To pay you. Even when I can't give you hard cash, I take videos, pictures, I record and mix you for free, I make concert movies, I share your stuff and I listen to your music.
I'm a fan. That's all. Everything I've ever done has been 100% genuine. Full of love. And I thought I was doing it for you.
I'm sorry to the hundreds of people I've worked with who've never thrown it back in my face. I wish I could see clearly enough right now to realise that your love and your friendship means so much more than the haters, but I'm tired of this shit now.
Maybe it's time to move on in lots of ways and try something new.
I could do with something to restore a little faith right now...