One local alt-weekly doesn't want to pay artists, and the villagers aren't happy about it.
Listen. Hear that? The loud hum loitering in the crisp Colorado air? That’s the sound of every musician in the state moaning over a recent article posted by a local alt-weekly titled “Why Musicians Don’t Deserve to Get Paid” — or as anyone else in the industry calls it, clickbait. It’s not doing so hot with the villagers.
The details of it are sordid, at best, even if it was intended to be satirical in nature. Rehashing the meat of it and dissecting each of the author’s six reasons could be a viable stance, if we were into it, but would offer few solutions and even less intelligent discourse. “Feeding the trolls” — as the popular mantra goes — leaves less substance for all.
Let’s just say the article is rubbing the creative community in ways no groupie ever would and has managed to slice wounds deeper into the relationship between big media and local artists. As a whole, we can see some of the author’s points and even agree to a few with reluctance, but claiming someone shouldn’t get paid for time, or talent, is reckless — even if it is for the sole purpose of garnering clicks to report to advertisers.
Local musician Josh Lee — who has been in, has been featured in and is currently in more bands than even he can probably count — is one of the many creatives in town put-off by the article’s stance. He says he knows it in his heart talent is worth something to the listener, even if it isn’t always rendered in silver and gold.
“Does that one Green Day song take you back to the first day of middle school?” he asks. “Has that John Legend album help you get through your last breakup? How much does art influence your life and how much would you pay for it?”
He says there are “irreplaceable values to art,” which supersede any kind of monetary compensation people often forget about.
“Art is incredibly valuable as an instrument in documenting human history,” he says. “Can you imagine trying to study the renaissance era without any documentation of art from its period? Art is used to document what words and pictures and statistics can't. Art is the ultimate qualitative observation of our emotional history and the voice of our generation.”
Of course artists deserve to be paid if that’s the value we place on his/her creation — it’s balance.
We showcased our own opinion on a similar issue before, when the Spotify vs. Artist drama was filling every social feed last year. Just because somebody picks up a guitar, a paintbrush, a microphone, a pencil or a keyboard, doesn’t give them absolute security to receive payment for the venture. Allowing that type of superfluous handout to flourish would be incredibly damaging to art, and the notion of it could easily be argued to why we’re in a creative funk as a generation.
But in the business atmosphere surrounding the arts, one has to build the value before it’s worth anything to anyone. For some this takes years of playing shows to one, recording awful demos, failing, failing harder and failing consistently. It’s the journey to the end product in which creates necessary value, not just the self-proclaimed title of childhood dreams.
Coming out on the other side of the development is where value lies. It’s meaningful. It’s not only meaningful to the creator, but to others who have connected to a piece with emotion and curiosity. It’s at this point artists deserve compensation for creation; when it’s built into culture with worth. If something is valuable to someone else, it’s due fees, period.
The article — which is the journalistic equivalent of a large man tripping over his own shoelaces — comes at an interesting time. The publication in questions is, at this very moment, compiling a list of artist/band names deserving to perform at its annual showcase. It’s an event which brings tens of thousands of paying revelers to one area of the city to celebrate the state’s culture with great food, cold drinks and the best music Colorado has to offer … all played by musicians who barely see a dime for their effort.
Was it a tongue-in-cheek campaign to inform every musician signing up for the event they wouldn’t be paid? Would they be so crass as to rub it in like this, throwing satire at an unfunded wound?
We’re hardly naïve to the rules of the game, though, and understand a company’s dilemma with budgeting and profit stretching. It’s a business like anything else and falls into the same confines as any other. Everyone in the industry knows the appearances are without compensation; there isn’t any secrecy there. It follows the general habits of most festivals in this state: Pay big bucks for headliners to draw crowds and fill in holes with local talent who are to be expected to be grateful about exposure and a few drink tickets.
But can it afford to ostracize the very industry it claims to support? What would the implications be for the publication if every working musician in the state decided it would be best if they didn’t show up to their set time this year, not until the worth of their art was justified with compensation? Is it even possible, to get like-minded individuals on the same page enough to embark on that kind of protest against profiteering behemoths?
“Talent buyers will always try to buy their talent for as cheap as possible and musicians will undoubtedly complain about their shitty pay,” says Lee. “But I don't believe that ‘shutting out’ or taking any radical measures to sabotage what should be a day full of what we all collectively love, music. That would just be sad.
“But the truth is that it is good exposure. And what you lose in your payout, you might make up in merch sales. And most importantly, YOU LOVE DOING THIS SHIT. This is your Kryptonite. It always has been. Always will be.”
As for Lee, he says he plans on recording him some fiddle, releasing a new album and possibly throwing out a few new videos. He’ll continue to build on his respected reputation and value as a musician around town, like any great artist does. It's then, he says, “I will ask for what I consider to be fair compensation. And hopefully, we'll have a happy freakin' ending.”
Time will tell, we suppose. And until we read something intelligent to the contrary, that time and effort should undoubtedly be worth fair trade. Music is, after all, a product we all love and connect to — if that becomes worthless, then we’ve all become worthless.