Going Skint For A Living: Pay to Play, to Pay for Paying… to Play 1

Going Skint For A Living: Pay to Play, to Pay for Paying… to Play


Continuing our strand about the shifting nature of music production and consumption and its ramifications for artists and consumers alike, Brighton odd-pop artist Matt Finucane has published his thoughts:

sour grapes or the cold, sharp wine of truth? You decide. But it’ll cost ya… well, nothing actually

There’s a debate – which can only get more heated – about whether music should be free. About the dynamic created for makers and consumers of music by the Free Culture – or Freecult, as I prefer to call them because it sounds stoopider (of course, they’re too numerous to be an actual cult, and are in most cases motivated by the prevalent tech-enabled custom of lax, myopic greed rather than any coherent ideology). To clarify, these are the people who collect music like stamps – and never listen to 90% 0f it – rather than downloaders who then buy the product, or some of it anyway. Yes: Product.

Of course money should be involved in music. It’s been inextricably entwined with art since art existed; without patronage, no Iliad, no Odyssey, no Velvet Underground, no sustainable dance/electro music *ever* beyond the first amyl nitrate whiff of excitement, no X Factor (okay, baaad joke at the end there). True, the major labels are getting what they deserve. Unfortunately, the artists aren’t; while many I know or know of haven’t any problem in principle with giving stuff away – and this includes me – to ”donate” the whole lot is, in essence, shutting out loads of artists who can’t afford to do that and sustain themselves or their work. As well as carrying a stigma of bargain-basement loserdom. This stuff tends to get downplayed in the current atmosphere of Future Boomer righteousness – or it did until recently. Strange that it’s taken so long to be examined at a grass-roots level: and what it took was a common enough, albeit unthinking, admission from a National Public Radio DJ (hardly the big bad Music Biz Man).

So yeah, £££. Obviously, it’s all in who the gelt comes from… corporate sponsorship, crowd-sourcing, arms deals… and who it goes to. On any lower echelon than superstar, it’s a vexed question (and I’m sick of labouring it, so will stop biting the hand that… sort-of… feeds now). Besides which, you can chop logic about the moral pros & cons all day, but personally? On a selfish level, I don’t really give a shit.

Perseverance for pennies: gotta be done, innit? Well, up to a point. Beyond that, it’s just slaughtering the golden goose.

If I could think of a viable strategy to get round this impasse, as hopefully someone will sooner or later, I’d be a fucking entrepreneur rather than a musician. Or possibly a writer for sites like Gizmodo.com who “refuted” David Lowery with a barrage of meaningless stats. But my point about sustainability – affordability – stands. In effect, it’s like a new form of something I’d hear horror stories about from the bad old days: Pay to Play. Who in their right mind wants that? (And uh, don’t quit the day job btw – assuming you’re lucky enough to have one.)

A Footnote: speaking of Pay to Play…

Putting together a tour without the cradle of logistic and booking support, I’ve noticed something interesting. I’m sure a lot of musicians in my kind of semi-legit position have run into something similar.

The era of literal Pay to Play (in London): a lot of venues demanded an upfront fee for the privilege of gigging to six uninterested alcoholics, the scarcely-more-animate sound engineer, and maybe two mates who were just there because they wanted into the keyboard player’s pants. A promoter with a great deal of sense and integrity (and taste, obviously, as an ally of mine) urged me on several occasions: Never, ever, ever, pay to play. It just encourages the practise, which must be stamped out. It’s clearly a self-defeating way to go, and I won’t insult your intelligence by hashing over why this individual was quite right. But a lot of venues – feeling the bite, so I fling no blame – are now getting into the habit of asking for a hire fee rather than actually promote a gig. Often, in context, this is fair enough; but the implications are uncomfortable.

This may seem rather off the point of the rant above. (God, I’m starting to moan as much as that St Saviour woman…) But it’s a symptom of the same fucked economic model. One alternative is free no-frills gigs, which in theory sounds nice but in practice means variable quality-control: there, see? Free stuff sucks. Can I buy some soil off you, please?

Matt Finucane releases his new album ‘Glow in the Dark’ through the Light Crude label on 13th of August. Matt Finucane had a live session broadcast on 24th June on BBC Introducing: South, featuring his backing band, and is touring with them in Summer.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.