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Andrew Keese: Why The Music Industry Is Corrupt

Is instability, financial ruin and having your dignity gradually stripped away part and parcel of being a musician? It shouldn’t be, writes ANDREW KEESE. Photo by KRISTY MILLIKEN.



It was very easy to misread Kim Salmon’s recent opinion piece in The National Times. A superficial skim gives the impression that here is nothing more than a disgruntled old rocker who thinks things were better back in the day. But a closer read reveals more.

Salmon is talking about our perceptions of professions and how these perceptions affect working conditions within those professions. And contrary to popular belief, even a struggling musician with a small audience can still be classed as a professional musician.

Littered throughout the comments praising Salmon for his article were quite a few decrying it as nothing more than a selfish rant which was all about Salmon bemoaning his own self-wrought lot in life. Salmon, they suggested, should keep his irrelevant mouth shut. He is old, he is out of touch, he has not had a serious release in years, he does not draw crowds, he is in no position to make demands, he is not personally entitled to anything, his position in life is his own responsibility and so on and so forth.

What was interesting about all of this was that much of the scorn directed at Salmon – and in some cases, at musicians as a group – served only to inadvertently prove his point: by and large, musicians are not understood or respected.

Scrolling through the article’s public comments – some of them surprisingly vitriolic in their tone – what, I wondered, would have been the reaction if the same article had been penned by Nick Cave? Or Bernard Fanning? Or Jimmy Barnes? And why was it, I wondered, that in order to attack Salmon’s opinion, people felt it necessary to attack his lack of commercial success, his low audience draw, his album release schedule, his age?

I’m not saying that Salmon has never put a foot wrong in his career or that his article is without flaws or that he walks the streets with the scent of spring roses trailing about his person. What I am saying is that his opinion is as valid as anybody else’s and it deserves to be heard. And as far as I am concerned, Salmon is, in the main, correct.

It is the attitude towards the profession which is at the heart of the industry’s woes and Salmon’s voice makes a welcome change from the usual misguided bleating that emanates from the music industry about how technology is killing music and ruining everything for everyone. Certainly, Salmon is angry personally. But in his tone, I detect a wider, less personal grievance. He’s angry with the machinery and the attitudes that make people in the music industry behave the way they do.

What Salmon is talking about is the institution of the music industry, an institution which has – and continues – to generate vast streams of private and sometimes public revenue ($501 million, in this case) yet manages to achieve this feat by exploiting the very people responsible for its existence in the first place: musicians.

“The music industry is almost exclusively concerned with the exploitation of music and musicians.”

And make no mistake about this. The music industry is almost exclusively concerned with the exploitation of music and musicians. And as Salmon points out, this behaviour runs right through it, at every level, from labels to publishers to booking agencies to touring companies to venues. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Of course not everyone working in the industry is wicked or greedy or ignorant. But historically and actually, the truth about the industry is that it is corrupt.

Let’s take touring as an example. A local support band that is asked to open for a medium draw international act will usually be paid around $400 per show. All other expenses will be their responsibility, including the sound engineer, whose minimum rate is $100 for a mid-sized venue.

Do the maths.

The average band has four members. They are opening for a good draw act. The tickets are priced between $40 – $50 and there are 400 – 500 people in the room each night. And the support act with four members is getting $400. Minus $100 for their sound engineer.

Don’t tell me there are expenses to be paid. Don’t tell me that no more money is available. Don’t tell me that the support act should be grateful for the chance to even display their sorry faces on a stage at all. The support act is being screwed in broad daylight and everybody involved knows it.

The worst thing about this – and something Salmon points out – is that at the end of it all, as a musician, you will be told in no uncertain terms: this is normal, this is what you signed up for, this is what the life of a musician is all about. Says who? The only reason it is this way is because people continue to insist that it should be and act in ways that reinforce it.

The stories of ill treatment and inequality, however, extend past touring and mid-sized venues and sometimes find their way into smaller venues – which are the breeding ground for new talent – as well. I’ve witnessed and heard things that would make any reasonable person’s blood boil. But you won’t be reading those stories in The National Times or The Age, or anywhere else. And this is the crux of the issue. This, to me, is what Salmon is railing against.

“Salmon’s voice makes a welcome change from the usual misguided bleating that emanates from the music industry about how technology is killing music and ruining everything for everyone.”

For all the marches in the street and the well-meaning panels and various government initiatives and political cant, nothing actually changes. Because instability, financial ruin and having your dignity gradually stripped away is apparently all part and parcel of being a musician.

But what makes me most angry is the opinion, so readily and easily expressed, that musicians are people who expect charity. Every single musician I know works for an employer to fund their endeavours. Many work full time. I know of no musician who is resting happily on the dole. They all work, they all pay their taxes and they all contribute to society financially, physically and socially.

And all they ask in return is that when it comes time for them to cart their gear to a venue, set up, play and pack down, they are treated with a modicum of decency and respect. Too often, they are not. And the only reason this happens is because the social attitudes that exist about their profession are so entrenched and so widely accepted as to be considered completely normal.

These attitudes run right through the music industry at every level of the game and the shame of it all is that it messes with people’s hearts and souls. It makes them feel miserable and worthless and marginalised. Sometimes it even makes them want to give up the pursuit of music entirely. And all of those things impact society in other less visible ways. There is a price to be paid for everything. That they do not give it all away is a credit to their tenacity and their self-belief.

Things can change. Situations always have the potential to get better. But it does require a wide and deep cultural shift in attitudes and a corresponding change in values. Musicians are not looking for charity or pity or sympathy. We are not looking to be deified or lauded or admired. All we are looking for is to be treated as anybody else in this society would want to be treated: with dignity, fairness and respect.

And I for one am thankful that at least one person has had the guts and the nerves to stand up and point it out.

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Andrew Keese is a member of Melbourne-based independent band Andrew Keese & The Associates and co-founder of indie label Departed Sounds.

  -   Published on Tuesday, August 16 2011 by Darren Levin.
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Your Comments

bignothing  said about 3 years ago:

Great writing from a great dude.


Sunnyboyz  said about 3 years ago:

So who are we blaming? Promoters? Venues? Punters?


mule  said about 3 years ago:

it's not a matter of blaming anyone, there has been a shift over time. The only way to go forward is to forget how it happened and focus on how it can change.


untold/animals  said about 3 years ago:

Great guy.


dazmurray  said about 3 years ago:

Interesting. On a related note, seems the Americna music industry wants to stop artists from owning their music FOR ALL TIME.


Sunnyboyz  said about 3 years ago:

How much of the music industry is made up of former or even current musicians?


Sunnyboyz  said about 3 years ago:

How much of the music industry is made up of former or even current musicians?

In that I mean the heads of record companies, venue managers, promoters.


bignothing  said about 3 years ago:

How much of the music industry is made up of former or even current musicians?

Probably most of it, but when you're on the other side of the fence things don't seem so bad.

Also, 'back then' you could live on the dole and be a musician. It's an impossibility now, or for the very stupid, or stupidly talented.


Ash-showoff  said about 3 years ago:

Wowzers - now that's a headline!


jbiz  said about 3 years ago:

Who are we blaming? I can't help but think a venue charging $10 per pint of beer in anyone's interests but its own. And if that $10 is because of high taxes then I think there should be no problem with a governmental 'artists wage'. $100 ticket prices, $50 t-shirts - sure, people are paying but someone is having a laugh.


chimpassgimp666  said about 3 years ago:

I agree with the living on the dole comment. Back in the day it was pretty easy paying $50 a week rent, pissing on all week, eating a little here and there, playing the odd gig and being pretty comfortable in general. Try doing that now FFS


jbiz  said about 3 years ago:

I can't help but think a venue charging $10 per pint of beer is acting in anyone's interests but its own.


flukazoid  said about 3 years ago:

The thing I haven't got my head around, though, is what's the alternative?

Much has been made of music's contribution to (Victoria's) economy, but where would that be without alcohol sales? That's our primary subsidy - if you doubled the price of a show with no other purpose besides increasing the income for musicians, everyone would cry foul. So do punters even value musicians?


chimpassgimp666  said about 3 years ago:

Bands to receive a percentage of the bar I'd say would be pretty fair.


mule  said about 3 years ago:

Ha yeah i'm on the dole at the moment, not too fun, booze is more expensive in melbourne mind you but yeah, after rent/utilities/groceries/booze/cigarettes you've spent your payment 5 days in, would still argue it's better than working in a call centre mind you.


Dick_Wadd  said about 3 years ago:

A friend at work is in a sharehouse in East Brunswick and the rent is $180 per week for the ROOM!!!

FFS!!

I reckon all the musos living in Brunswick are secretly really, really rich!


flukazoid  said about 3 years ago:

But why do we need to tack the value of music onto the value of alcohol? That's just reinforcing a lack of perceived value in the musicians themselves, isn't it?


Goal attack  said about 3 years ago:

He'll never work in this town again!


jbiz  said about 3 years ago:

I wonder how much tax is raised from the tax on the alcohol sold at shows.


flukazoid  said about 3 years ago:

That was an x-post, in reply to chimpass


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dnzr  said about 3 years ago:

Here's a scenario for you.

Bands A, B and C are playing the Old Bar one Thursday after the new minimum rate you suggested is implemented, minimum door rate of $15 plus the venue covering any shortfall under the laws so bands get their minimum wage - let's say $400 per band.

Band A are a newish band that have done a few gigs now and bust their ass to promote the show. Unfortunately for tonight, they'r played twice in the last week so only a handful of friends show up. They put in a workman like set, it's ok but they'll be better after a few more months of gigging. Still apprentices you might say but lucky them, they're getting fully qualified tradie rates under the new law.

Band B thought band A have bit of a buzz on plus they assumed band A would do most of the promo, so they don't bother. No point really, they're still guaranteed a set wage anyways. The only people there to see them are their friends on the guestlist.

Band Cs bass player couldn't make the show tonight but rather than get a replacement band they decide to get wasted and do an improv noise set, funny cos they are drunk as fuck and even funnier cos they're getting paid at least $400 for this! What few people are there after paying the minimum $15 door bail pretty quickly.

End of the night there was 22 payers, so Liam forks out an extra $840 to cover the minimum plus the wages of 2 security dude and bar staff. He sold about $130 worth of booze that night. He'll get the $840 back in 4 months, minus the fee for the accountant to process the paperwork and it should just about cover his increased live music rebate license that was introduced to cover the cost of all the extra public servants hired to run the scheme.

A few months later the old bar closes and is soon replaced by another tapas bar.

Outraged, musos head to mess and noise shrieking about how awful this is, another venue shutting down and just after it had been made possible for them to make money from gigging as well...


sting-bono  said about 3 years ago:

They wouldnt prosper by doing nothing if they actually booked bands. Look, the equation i mentioned i came up with as i was typing. it's just an indication that something's possible, but sure, anything can be rorted. i think it should probably only apply to band rooms not dining/band rooms. i don't work for any govt body so it's just a suggestion.


Hellzapoppin  said about 3 years ago:

minus the fee for the accountant to process the paperwork

N/A


sting-bono  said about 3 years ago:

my post was to hellzapoppin


Hellzapoppin  said about 3 years ago:

it's just an indication that something's possible, but sure, anything can be rorted

No, it will be rorted, I could rort that system week in, week out and never work again, sweet.


sting-bono  said about 3 years ago:

OK fellas, i'm not a muss anymore so it doesn't affect me, but here's you're problem straight up... i'm hearing lots of tyre kickers and arse scratchers coupled with the general bitter bitchiness that goes with the music industry. Not much talk of solutions. If you be a little more pragmatic and talk about it there will be an answer. It's all up to you.


sting-bono  said about 3 years ago:

muso - predictive text on m&n...


dnzr  said about 3 years ago:

I don't think I could have been any more pragmatic.


funtimes  said about 3 years ago:

Here's a scenario for you.

Bands A, B and C are playing the Old Bar one Thursday after the new minimum rate you suggested is implemented, minimum door rate of $15 plus the venue covering any shortfall under the laws so bands get their minimum wage - let's say $400 per band.

Band A are a newish band that have done a few gigs now and bust their ass to promote the show. Unfortunately for tonight, they'r played twice in the last week so only a handful of friends show up. They put in a workman like set, it's ok but they'll be better after a few more months of gigging. Still apprentices you might say but lucky them, they're getting fully qualified tradie rates under the new law.

Band B thought band A have bit of a buzz on plus they assumed band A would do most of the promo, so they don't bother. No point really, they're still guaranteed a set wage anyways. The only people there to see them are their friends on the guestlist.

Band Cs bass player couldn't make the show tonight but rather than get a replacement band they decide to get wasted and do an improv noise set, funny cos they are drunk as fuck and even funnier cos they're getting paid at least $400 for this! What few people are there after paying the minimum $15 door bail pretty quickly.

End of the night there was 22 payers, so Liam forks out an extra $840 to cover the minimum plus the wages of 2 security dude and bar staff. He sold about $130 worth of booze that night. He'll get the $840 back in 4 months, minus the fee for the accountant to process the paperwork and it should just about cover his increased live music rebate license that was introduced to cover the cost of all the extra public servants hired to run the scheme.

A few months later the old bar closes and is soon replaced by another tapas bar.

Outraged, musos head to mess and noise shrieking about how awful this is, another venue shutting down and just after it had been made possible for them to make money from gigging as well...

Spot on - The simple economics is that there is a MASSIVE over supply of bands, Which means more competition, bringing the cost of something down. That's why we are paying $14 a kilo for Bananas. Bands = bananas


funtimes  said about 3 years ago:

fucking formatting


verticalslum  said about 3 years ago:

Would I be right in saying that some music venues have no cover charge when there is no live band, and on those occasions, they sometimes pay a DJ a flat rate to spin some tunes for a few hours and provide them with free drinks?


babosorecordingco.  said about 3 years ago:

musicians touring France get holiday pay!


Hellzapoppin  said about 3 years ago:

I personally don't want an answer though, my argument is that anyone who expects reimbursement from their hobby is a fucking idiot, because that's all music is, a hobby.

If you want to treat it as a business, and your business plan is too play at the Old Bar once a week then you're obviously retarded and perhaps you can use that to obtain a mental illness pension.

Like any hobby, you save up, work or sit on the dole rolling dumpers and suckling on cask wine, buy better gear for yourself... yes, for you.. if anyone else happens to enjoy it along the way then bonza.

If you don't like the fact that door bitches, bouncers and toilet cleaners are getting paid and not you, then simply don't play there and play house shows instead.

If you want to make a living, practice Wonderwall really hard and I can score you a gig three night a week at a bar in Kensington that pays about $500pn.


eucalyptus  said about 3 years ago:

dnzr said 4 hours ago: would the band be expected to rebate the venue?
of course not.

ahem


Hellzapoppin  said about 3 years ago:

There's still pay to play venues around?

Anyway, I'm off to the Old Bar to watch some fucking bands. Enjoy.


betamale  said about 3 years ago:

I think this is why your parents nagged you to learn a trade, try teaching or get a qualification as a fallback.

The entertainment industry has always been based on significant economic risks vs the occasional ''jackpot''. Whether it's vaudeville, the circus, freakshows or travelling minstrels the historical context is that the entertainment industry is not a ''steady'' job. It is fickle, fashion-driven and has to market heavily and go where the demand is. This is the reason audiences are called ''punters''.

It is simply unrealistic to have a guaranteed steady income from the music industry unless you have a level of success as a songwriter/player which gives you a strong position of negotiation - very difficult in Australia, but possible if there is a large market for your work.

As others have pointed out, the sad reality of Australia is that small local live music venues are one greedy landlord away from the tapas/pizza bar/pokies venue fate.

People who really love what they are doing play and work day jobs to subsidise it are what keeps the small venue live music culture afloat. The danger of creating an internal conflict between ''pro'' musos and ''amateur'' musos is running the risk of losing what little there is left.

Maybe Kim should spend some time seeing what unpleasant things other people in the world have to do to earn a living and feed their families before considering himself too hard-done-by.

If you want a steady income out of music but are not getting it you are either in the wrong field, have bad management and/or business decisions (copyright/royalties wise) or there simply isn't enough of a market for your work.


zombo  said about 3 years ago:

to any artist here who wants/demands/expects some kind of subsidy/handout/payback for their losses, i recommend this. get the band an ABN, get band to enter a legal partnership, and write off the portion of the band's annual losses you footed against your personal tax return. your tax return gets significantly bigger than a normal tax return. also file a BAS every quarter, and get a full GST refund from everything from gear to any item/service you could describe as research or stage attire or something. the paperwork isn't as intimidating as it sounds, not much harder than doing your APRA returns. of course you won't be making a living from it, but hey... free money, all above board, may as well, etc.


dub3000  said about 3 years ago:

That tax refund is only legit if the band income is above a certain amount, like 10000. Otherwise the govt says you are just a hobby and you can't claim losses against other income.


zombo  said about 3 years ago:

hmm. i dunno. when we set it up our ''income'' was around the negative 7000 mark. i wonder how long until jail.


jumpjump  said about 3 years ago:

jail nothing. you can claim losses as long your personal income (real job) is under $40,000. even if it's not, you can carry it forward to when it is under 40 k or your assets over $200,000 (roughly)


anok  said about 3 years ago:

i've claimed losses and got handy amounts back, until this year anyway, when the loss was ''deferred''. not sure why that has taken effect this year.


clearsprings  said about 3 years ago:

But the reality is Frankie that if say at The Old Bar we started doing this then we would cut our audience in half by 50%. I totally agree with you and i think the fact that door entry prices have not changed in 15 years is criminal. It would have to be something that every venue in Melbourne agreed to and began doing at the same time or you would just have one or two places reaping the rewards.

Also the punters would have to accept it and not stand at the fucking door for half an hour saying ''i think im on the door'' or ''my friends are out the back'' or ''im not here for the bands, i just want a quiet beer in the courtyard''. Its all bullshit as i always find these people watching the bands anyway.>

Agreed, they will find any way to not pay the door charge but then spend $40 bucks on the bar and more,

and certain venues you can't charge a huge door charge or nobody will come in.


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