To Be Paid or Not to be Paid The Dilemma of the Musician

A few months ago I had an online debate about being paid as a musician. The people who I was debating with thought that all musicians should be getting paid and should expect to be paid a monetary value from all and any of their performances. My stance was that it depended on the venue and context as to whether payment should be expected and by whom. Here's my take on the whole issue….

First off, no one is entitled to be paid for anything just because they want to. To be paid a fair wage, one needs to prove that they are doing a benefit, in many cases a financial one, to the organization who is paying them. With regards to music performance, if you want a venue/booker to pay you for your musical services, then you'd better be prepared to have enough people who will come out and see you perform or be able to entertain the people who come to that venue. This, of course, usually translates to alcohol sales for that venue. It really is that simple, if not enough people are willing to drink or eat when you perform then good luck getting the venue to either hire you/have you play or agree to a guarantee fee.

This brings me to my next point, venue type. I believe there are two types of venues. Bars which have a more regular clientele, and theater type venues which don't.
The Bars often have cover and tribute bands and the people who frequent these venues aren't usually there to see the actual band, but to hear good music no matter who is playing it. In these venues, there may not be a cover charge either. The band is doing a service to the venue by either drawing people in by playing popular well known music, or keeping people in the venue by playing popular well known music. Let's face it, most people want to hear something that's familiar so there's less risk involved in seeing a band playing music you will probably know then by taking a chance on some indie band playing unknown music. In most cases the bars pay the band a guaranteed fee since the band is doing the venue a service.
The theater type of venue, which can also include clubs, often have original bands. I believe these venues actually market themselves to the bands, not the general public. "Need a place to play, check out our club, our specs, our amazing equipment." In these cases, these venues are providing a service to the musicians and bands and it's up to the bands to bring out their own crowd. Sometimes they charge a rental fee, sometimes they don't. The places that don't will rely on alcohol sales to cover their costs while the bands take the door. Of course, if your band has a poor draw and alcohol sales aren't covering the costs, don't expect to be first on the list when a booking date comes available, or you may be expected to pay a fee which might cover some alcohol sales.

One of the points brought up by someone in this debate was that promotion for these shows should be the sole responsibility of the venue. All I could say was "Wow"!!! Talk about wanting it all. Any smart business person knows that you need to promote yourself and not rely on others.

Another point to think about is, who should pay for the performance of live music? Should it be the audience by paying for tickets or paying a door cover? Should it be the venue who pays the band a guaranteed fee in which people get in for free? By having the venue pay you and have no door cover , can't that be seen as encouraging the general public to not pay for live music?

My last point is to do with playing for free. On Craigslist there is often a poster who rants about musicians who play for free. They think that playing for free devalues performances and encourages venues not to pay. While I don't disagree with the poster, I also understand that not everyone is playing music to get paid. For some people, it's a great hobby and getting paid is secondary. For others, playing for free works as a great promotional tool and perhaps a way to make money via recorded music sales. Over all, if you put on a good show and are able to get people to pay money to see you perform, then those musicians who play for free will have no impact on what you do.


Leave a comment

Add comment