When will we be paid for the work we've done?

Issue section: 
(388)

A band leader reveals how musicians are exploited and kept down by capitalism and the celebrity system.

I have been a professional musician for 20 years, running bands in Perth, Sidney, Liverpool, Manchester and London. The "inner city scene" is basically the same everywhere in the UK. Musicians on the "original showcase circuit" don't get paid. The carrot is "exposure" as sold by "promoters".

I have been running a nine-piece band since 2010. As I was studying for a music degree, I could ask student musicians to rehearse and perform on the cheap, as most had not had much experience and they enjoyed the opportunity to play in a big band. Local promoters like the idea of nine people in a band as they think they will bring more of a crowd.

The deal with the "promoter" is usually something like after 20 people you get the the door money. Sometimes I was able to pay my band 5 pounds each. Usually it costs me money. Then you would see the pub or club afterwards rammed with people buying 4 pound pints. I have asked these venues to subsidise the big band with 100 pounds plus what we make on the door. "Absolutely no chance! We'll just get someone else!"

This leaves full-time musicians really struggling. The new social media music model sold to every musician currently means you have to do everything obsessively yourself, and to "make it" is the only way you're going to make a living.

Most don't make it that far. Many give it up for financial reasons. You can't justify being a musician if you don't "make it" by the time you are 30. The Musicians Union (MU) seems unable to do anything about this. They usually have showcase/networking evenings where, after the "this is what you need to do to make it" seminar, everyone crowds around the successful guest, trying to catch a break. If the MU called a general strike for a weekend, it would be as if they never called it. Musicians are completely divided due to the capitalist celebrity system, and pitted against each other.

The internet is saturated with music. This has its pluses, but we still need "the machine" to endorse it and tell us what is good, for us to buy it. And that is still the "old model". Forget about selling albums nowadays. We don't need to pay for it, so we don't. A few smart and talented people are doing it all themselves and getting some return.

As with the overall capitalist system, the music industry needs rearranging and some kind of revolution. It seems even more top heavy, where the 1 percent make everything and the rest have to pay to play.