Apr 1, 2017
I’m just gonna say it:
The music industry is as messed up as it gets.
As you can see, I’m a little more than mad. I don’t normally like writing posts that are negative in nature, but I just couldn’t let this one go. Let me dive straight into the reason why I am writing this post…
I was offered an incredible opportunity to open for two famous folk musicians on their July 2017 summer tour. I have been a fan of both of their music since the 2006. That’s a loooong time! So as you can imagine, I was super star struck and honoured that they even asked me. (BTW For legal reasons, I am keeping their names undisclosed).
The details of the tour were minimal in the first few emails, but finally I got the dates and locations, and the notion that I would be the opener for 26 dates. Epic. Alright – I got this! I was sooo excited to hear about this and start seeing the venues and tour schedule.
And then I got the next email….There’s only one catch… Drum roll please:
Surprise surprise. Yet ANOTHER opportunity where I am supposed to accept payment as “exposure”…. Even though, exposure doesn’t pay my grocery bill.
So, my first thought after hearing this was, well ok…No matter what, I have to make this work. There’s no way I could turn this down!! <— As you can see, my feelings were involved and invested at this point. As long as my tour expenses are covered, at least I will have a full month of an incredible learning experience about touring professionally, meet industry contacts, get ‘exposure’ and meet some new fans.
And then the next email came:
Oh and by the way, if you want a spot on the tour bus, it will cost you $1500 per week.
I beg your pardon???
You heard me.
It seems that the people involved in organizing the event had decided that since I don’t have starpoll numbers or much touring history, that I do not deserve compensation…. And not only that, but I would have to PAY my own way too. After running some quick calculations, I would have to pay $7500 USD in tour bus, hotel room and gas expenses, additionally I would have to cover my flight to and from the first and end city, and then SOMEHOW at the end of all that, I’d have to find a way to feed myself for 5 weeks. Basically, the tour would cost me over $9000 in expenses, I would have to perform 26 shows and… not…get…paid.
Doesn’t it seem like everyone else would be getting paid on this tour except myself?!… The bus driver. The merch seller. Light crew, manager, booking agent. Would anyone ever ask a booking agent to work 5 weeks for free without pay for ‘exposure’? Absolutely not, because nobody in their right mind would do that unless there was certainty in the investment! Same goes for Doctors, Lawyers, Dentists, Teachers, the list goes on. How is this OK!?
My heart hurts.
Something is very wrong here
Why is this art form so undervalued? Why is there so many unethical things that happen behind the scenes that we don’t hear about? I realize (and hope to God) that the artists headlining the tour aren’t the ones making this decision. Likely it is the team behind them. Regardless of whoever the heck is behind the financials of the tour, this is incredibly sad to me and it actually feels like a fish slap in the face.
This happens all the time because it can. There’s always going to be an artist who is perhaps just starting out, who gets an opportunity like this that they cannot turn down. So they fork out the cash for this “exposure”, even though they likely get minimal support/advertising on the actual tour itself since a lot of people only go to see the headliner anyway.
The reason why I am writing this is to bring awareness about the issue. This can’t happen… For goodness sake, we can’t let it!!! I know that I bring a lot of value to the world through my music and I am so thankful every single day for my amazing community of supporters who DO value my work. It’s the fans who WILL pay for my albums and financially support me when I need it the most. It’s the ones that truly allow me to live out my life calling, without having to be a “Starving Artist”. Why should I go hungry, when my work is just as important as anyone else’s?
I know some people will say, well you’re doing something fun. You get to play around on the guitar all day. That’s hardly work…. Well, I lovingly do an incredible amount of work on top of playing guitar and singing. Playing around on the guitar and writing songs accounts for less than 10% of what I actually do as an artist. The rest of the time I am doing promotion, booking, social media, videos, art work, accounting, emails, shows, the list goes on and on! It’s endless, and I love it. That’s why I haven’t given up and why I will not give up.
It’s been a long few crazy weeks full of disappointment, anger and frustration. Just another drop in the bucket of the many things we independent artists have to go through, to stand up for our life’s work and convince the world that we deserve better.
Thanks for listening to my rant.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
PS. If my writing, music & stories have helped you in any way, please consider showing financial support right here by joining my patreon community and giving $1 a month (it’s my goal to get 2000 people supporting so I am able to be a fully self-sustaining artist!) Signing up comes with exclusive patron-only updates and rewards. Patreon has been a life saver for me because this is the only source of regular income that I receive on a monthly basis. This is incredibly helpful & beneficial to keep my sanity at bay, rather than being stressed in not knowing when my next gig or paycheque will come through.
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I absolutely love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my very own website and would like to find out where you got this from or what the theme is named. Cheers
Hello! I used the Showit platform and then designed it myself, yes. Showit is a great drag and drop builder, highly reccommend!
Jessica – Thanks for sharing your “no-compensation” experience. I made a living as a drummer back in the 70’s, and while our down-side stories were no where near as bad as that, it is good to know that things like this can happen. I am retired, and my hobby is being a singer – songwriter. Just released my first digital album – Balance In Life, thru CDbaby. Listen at this link – richardlepinsky.hearnow.com . I now find that I need to walk in your shoes of learning how to promote music. I’ll follow your work. Best regards from a fellow Canadian in BC. Richard
I’m happy to shed a light on something that many people are probably not aware of. Sometimes this business is ruthless! And unfair. I hope my blog helps you in some way!! Good luck on your own album!
Well said, brave Jessica! Love to you, dear!
Jessica, reading this kinda broke our hearts a bit, because we get it…as musicians ourselves, not only have we been in similar positions, we have seen so many of our ridiculously talented fellow musicians and friends get “taken” like this, leading to them eventually giving up on the thing they love most. We’re so happy that this isn’t the case for you…
It is an amazing contradiction that our society as a whole does seem to value music so much, but that it doesn’t put proper value on what we all do. I think that part of the reason for this is that so many people never have the courage to pursue their musical dreams, so they can never see it as more than a “hobby”…the idea that someone might actually want to make a living doing what they love most is completely foreign to them. We have so much respect for you for pursuing your passion the way you do…we’re behind you 100%!
Btw…we were at U of Guelph this weekend…walked into the building and “I’ll Let You Go” was playing…very cool! 🙂
It’s soo nice to be related to. I had some artists lash out and send hate mail – saying I was completely undeserving opportunity if I couldn’t have buckled down and make the finances work by surviving off of dog food. Heartbreaking that one of our ‘kind’ would say that!! –Hey btw that’s awesome you heard my song in U of guelph!!! Omg!!! Was it playing on the coffeehouse station?
Hi Jess, it’s one thing to do a free show for a good cause, charity, etc., but to be expected to do a whole tour for nothing and on top of that pay them for transportation among other expenses. I have a brother in the music industry and seeing him selling his CD’s “out the trunk” and people “offering” gigs for free, I know all to well how unfair it is. Artist spend their time, blood sweat and tears for their art and I’m so glad you said no to those vultures. Ok I’m done with rant. Keep your head up, keep doing what your doing it. As you know, I love your music that’s why I support, I wish I could do more. Much blessings and love to you!
David, you are such a beautiful soul. I am SO glad we connect with Patreon, and now here on the blog posts!!! You’re lasting support really keeps me going. Thank you
It’s good that you had that rant, Jessica–no good keeping too much negativity bottled up.
It is shameful that they tried to do that to you but I’m happy and impressed to read how you stuck to your guns!
Keep up the hard work and I’m looking forward to the new album ????
Thank you so so much. This blog post was definitely not an easy one to write… I feel very vulnerable at this stage, but I know getting the word out there is worth it. Trying to *stay strong!* Thank you for the support.
Even John Lennon once said ‘Sorry we need the money first’ so another big opportunity will knock on your door soon, before you know it. Cheer up!
Thank you jose – I also have a good feeling I will have many opportunities to come knocking in the future!
I absolutely agree with you that it’s not fair to be expected to work without pay. Unfortunately it happens all too often across multiple fields. You mentioned several other professions that would never stand for this, but I want you to know, you’re not alone. As a doctor I can say that I had to spend a ton of money and work a ton of hours for free. I was in school for 8 years, my last two years of optometry school I was expected to work in clinics from 8am to 6pm 6 days a week, plus study, take exams, and do assignments on top of that, all while paying $45,000 a year in tuition alone to do it. There are also many times when I have patients that need extra testing but can’t afford it if it’s not covered by OHIP. I provide those services for free because I know it’s the best care for my patients. Unfortunately for many millennials, we have to spend a lot of time and money before we can get fair compensation. I’m told the investment will pay off, and I love what I do, so I wouldn’t change it for the world. Keep making your beautiful music, it will pay off,even if it’s more so in happiness of getting to do what you love.
I had no idea that people in the medical field have to go through a similar thing! I am very aware of the term “internship” and while I understand that it’s important to get real-world experience, working for free still doesn’t sit well at all. I want to send you so many blessings for helping patients who are not covered by OHIP — this truly shows that you chose this profession because it is your calling, and I applaud you for that!! I’ve performed many free shows in the past 9 years as well — and I did it for the love, for the exposure and for the experience… But now, 9 years later as I try to cover my own bills as a full time independent artist, paying-to-play is a non-option. I am sooo thankful for your (and everyone else’s) support here. Sometimes this life can be so wrenchingly hard, but you are absolutely right – we do it for the love of our calling. So I have to just remember that.
As the saying goes, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That doesn’t mean you still don’t have to pay the bills. Sucks when doing the right thing feels so wrong. Chin up.
I’ll get my chinny-chin-chin up! 🙂 Thank you Mike, music has never felt like work in the last 9 years and I don’t think it ever will!
Jessica, nice to read you every time.
Try not to worry much about this episode. By making a stand like that, you are giving a clear message to the universe on the kind of opportunities that you chose and those you don´t.
You inspire me. I´m just starting a similar path than yours (www.soyelpoeta.com… it´s in spanish).
If you ever come to Barcelona, I show you around 🙂
Best regards, and keep shining.
I’m so glad that I’ve inspired you to continue living your dreams as an artist Camilo!! Wonderful to meet you as well, and I do hope to go to Spain some day!
Jessica – I agree with your decision wholeheartedly. You have a lot of value that you offer your fans. Most importantly, you believe in yourself and your artistic talents in music. I love your personalized approach. Thank you for. Making your talents unique. Tom.
Tom, your support on this means so much. Thank you for the feedback. Wow, I’m so thankful I have many people cheering me on to keep on going 🙂
You refer to this post as a rant. Not so. You are just speaking the truth. Furthermore, you spoke truth with the dignity and grace that we all know defines you as much as your music does. You shined a light in a dark corner. Good for you. Keep going. Someday you will find the right path. You don’t need the leeches to show you the way. Your own intuition will suffice.
Thank you Dave!! And NO this was not an April Fools joke, although I wish it was!! Your support and encouragement means the world. I still question my decision as I know it’s a wonderful opportunity that I am missing, but I have to stay true to my value and worth as an artist, and carry on my own path.
The community of aspiring performers established the music-cultural norm in the 1990s in the L.A. and Nashville areas by offering to play for free, for “exposure”. Club owners seized the opportunity. It has devolved in many cases into performers even paying to perform at venues, and major festivals.
Of course, gradually, since Youtube’s growth in popularity, artist exposure is no longer the obstacle it once was. But semi-professional performers continue undermining, justify their decimation of fair wages for all performers with cavalier smugness: “ We don’t do it for the money” This snide absolute disregard and disrespect for professional music performing also manifests in destruction to auxiliary businesses and workers whose incomes satellite pro performing e.g. luthiers, small and medium-sized recording facilities, audio software manufacturers, technicians,… -invariably the venues, themselves, because by replacing pros with semi-pros, the overall audience interest diminishes.
An Open Letter to Oprah, Whose ‘The Life You Want’ Tour Asked Me to Work for Free…
Hi Tony! I TOTALLY get that… The people in charge of the tour were also trying to place some guilt on me as they said “not every tour is about making money”. I was like :O !!!! Of course not every tour is about making money! In fact, I don’t make music for the money at all.. But then, if this tour isn’t about making money, why would anyone be getting paid at all? Why do the fans have to pay for tickets then? It makes no sense.:)
I think you are right to be angry and even righter (if that’s a word) to stand firm. Its a cruel business but the economics of touring should not result in one member of a tour having to pay their own way. Crazy. I hope another opportunity comes your way soon. In the meantime you know who and where your friends are. And as I’ve said before, just keep doing what you do. Music is the best.
Although this was very unjust, I know it’s only the beginning and I will have MANY more touring opportunities to ocme in the future!! But for now, I will keep my focus on what’s important, my own summer house concert tour in the USA and building small connections in a big way. Thank you for your support!
Well, that situation that was “offered” to you sure wasn’t a sweet deal. I would hope you would have gotten some compensation for your work. It sounds like musicians have to do many things now to make it work. Much more than in the past.
Would you hire an agent? That’s probably expensive too. All I can say is that we love you here and will help in any way we can to bring you here and spread love and peace to our world. We look forward to seeing you in June!
I couldn’t agree more Todd. Thank you for being on my side, it means so much! And I am SO excited to be kicking off the 2017 USA House Concert Tour in your home in Rochester!!
Jessica… That was a great thing that you did standing up for yourself and your work. Not only are you respecting yourself and your music but you are also setting a precedent for other up and coming or independent musicians.
I have to say Wendy, it wasn’t easy turning it down and saying no. But, I have found a lot more respect for myself after making this decision and actually a big weight was lifted. Thank you for your support!!!
Like you, I am appalled that this is the practice of booking agents or tour managers for ANY artist who commits to a 26 date tour or ANY appearance for that matter, even if its around the block from their house! I have been working with my band, writing songs, making records and CD’s, doing TV and live appearances, happily playing my guitar and still I struggle along with my bandmates (since 1980) because for some reason, people in our industry do not value what we do and refuse to acknowledge that it is work.
More power to you and I have pledged my $1/month to you.
Oh Doug, it really gets me right in the feels when another musician pledges to my own work, despite the trials you too are going through!! Thank you so so much for your support!!!