Fair payment for musicians?


Is there a fair payment, if you work in the music business? How do you define ‘fair pay’? Usually people talk about the invested hours and how much they get paid per hour. But in the music business it works differently.

How much you get paid as a musician for a live show is very much depending on how big your audience is and what they are willing to pay for a ticket. The income of an independent manager, agent or promoter is dependent on the income of the musician. It is not about how good you are or how much effort you put into your work. In that sense, we work in a very neo-liberal business. Every group of musicians fights for their own fee. If you make mainstream music that many people like and are willing to pay for it, you can make tons of euros per show. If you work with the same effort and talent and make experimental music, you are happy if you get paid to cover your direct costs, like travel costs, dinner etc.

The current situation in the music business is that of a huge gap in payment, that is among artists and also among promoters, agents etc. At festivals there is a huge workforce of volunteers who don’t get paid at all for their work. Many promoters say that volunteers are a vital part of their festival. On the other hand, Michael Rapino, the CEO of Live Nation, who organizes hundreds of festivals with thousands of volunteers, was in the top 3 of most earning CEO’s in the United States last year.

In January I was asked in two panels to talk about the mental health of musicians. The first panel was at ESNS in Groningen, the annual gathering of the European music business, a combined conference and festival. The second panel was at a work group at Werkconferentie Arbeidsmarktagenda, about working in the cultural sector in the Netherlands. Even the minister of culture van Engelshoven was visiting the work group I was speaking in.

Both panels were about the Fair Practice Code in the Netherlands. It’s a code for the whole cultural sector in the Netherlands, voluntarily, to work with the five core values: solidarity, sustainability, diversity, trust and transparency.

Some countries, like France, offer minimum fees for musicians. In the Netherlands, Germany or the UK I don’t know of any similar regulations.

Looking at the first value of the Fair Practice Code, do you think that the current system is fair?
If not, how do you think we could get some solidarity in the live music business to close the big gap?

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