Musicians: It's worth paying artists - Chris Culgin CD - album art by Brendon Mroz
Articles,  Band Advice

Musicians: It’s worth paying artists.

Musicians: It's worth paying artists - Chris Culgin CD - album  art by Brendon MrozYou’re a musician; you work hard to hone your craft, you practice, you rehearse, you write and re-write, you book your own gigs and manage your website and do your own promo, and when you make some money you plough it back into your work, upgrading your gear, fixing the car, paying rent on your rehearsal space.

You’ll fiercely defend a musician’s right to get paid, making jokes – sometimes bitter – about driving $5000 in gear in a $500 car to a gig where you’re paid $50. You lament the culture of free music – people so used to downloading Kanye illegally that they forget that most musicians do not have their own clothing line, and need people to buy their music or else they don’t get paid.

But when you need a poster designed, a band photo taken, a video shot and edited, do you pay an artist to do it?

I know a lot of you do; I’ve seen the beautiful work that those professional artists have done for bands. ((Some of it featured in this article.))

I know a lot of you don’t; I’ve seen the mediocre work that’s been done for bands by friends, fans, your uncle, your mom, your boyfriend.

Musicians: It's worth paying artists - Quique Escamilla - poster artwork by A Man Called WrycraftI know, too – because I know a lot of artists in all kinds of mediums – that a lot of musicians are dismissive of photographers, graphic designers, videographers, writers. Some people see those artists’ work as ancillary to their own; they’re not in a band, they’re just taking pictures of a band.  That’s not really art. They should be happy for the exposure. It doesn’t look like a lot of work, and anyway, aren’t they doing it for the love of it?

It’s as shitty an argument when it’s applied to a graphic designer as it is applied to a musician; the gear costs a lot, ((Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop ain’t free, and even if they somehow are, the computer you access them with is not.)) the skill takes time and dedication to develop, the work, when it’s good, is really good. Yes, when they were starting out, just like you, they did some free or crappy gigs to get established, to get experience.  But once they’ve got the skills and experience, then just like you, they deserve to be paid.

More to the point, cheaping out on essential tools like band photos, graphics, bios, and other promotional materials makes you look bad. Your photos, posters, and bio are often the first thing I see, as a booker or a consumer, before I pay to go to your gig or press play on your music samples. ((If your music starts playing automatically, I kind-of (totally) hate you, so in an ideal world, I get to press play.))  They’re your first chance to say ‘We’re a professional band who have got our shit together’ to someone who sees – literally – hundreds of artists’ websites, posters, and promo materials.

I mean, I know – sometimes you’re just keeping body and soul together, and when someone offers to make you a free website, hey – it’s better than nothing, right? And maybe that’s true.  Maybe you let your uncle design your first poster, and now, five years later, he’s designed all of your posters, and you’re afraid of how he’ll react if you decide to hire a pro to do it instead.  Shit’s complicated, I know.

Musicians : It's worth paying for art - Miranda Mulholland photo, photographer unknownBut it’s hard for me to make a case for hiring you if you don’t look professional, and part of looking professional is hiring professionals to make you look that way.  It’s like that for everyone – writers have to hire photographers, photographers have to hire graphic designers, graphic designers have to hire videographers, videographers have to hire musicians.  Most of us aren’t lucky enough to be good at all of the things we need.

And take it from me, it’s a real pleasure to pay an artist for good work.  There’s nothing quite like handing an artist a cheque for their art – whether it be a band or a graphic designer, I’ve generally found it to be the best part of the booker’s job.

As artists, we have to support one another; not just in our own genre or medium, but across the board.  It’s hard to argue for respect and pay if you don’t reciprocate.

Musicians, It’s worth paying artists.


The inestimable Bob LeDrew has pointed out that the attributions for the images aren’t coming through, ((I did add them, I promise – and if you click on the images, they take you to the artist site!))so the images top to bottom are:

Chris Culgin‘s album It’s only time, cover art by Brendon Mroz.
Quique Escamilla‘s poster/promo art for his most recent release/tour, artwork by A Man Called Wrycraft.
Miranda Mulholland photo, by a mystery photographer. ((Seriously, I imaged-search and all, but no one wants to claim that they took this beautiful shot.))

He also notes that, where possible, artists should be given attribution for their work – especially if you’re not paying them, or you’re paying them less than you probably should.



  • Geoff Macdonald

    It is a great sentiment….we would love to use pro photographers and graphic artists to create out posters but those guys want to be paid a professional fee… when our 6 piece band gets paid a professional fee we will definitely use them…. until then thanks to friends and family for the freebies…and I will continue making the posters….

    • Candace

      Hi Geoff,
      I guess what I’m saying is ‘what goes around, comes around.’ Hiring professionals to create your marketing materials helps you become the sort of band that gets paid professional fees.

      • Bob LeDrew

        It’s one of the great ironies, isn’t it? The plumber, the guy who installed the taps, the electrician… none of the people who worked on the bar musicians are playing did it for free because of the “exposure” they’d get. But musicians do it, and are in a subordinate power position because hey, if the bar doesn’t want to pay musicians, they can just hire a DJ, or put an iPod on shuffle, or whatever.

        And when the musicians don’t get paid fairly, then the graphic designers, the photographers, etc. etc., don’t get paid fairly. Perplexing and disappointing.

  • Bruce Madole


    I am a songwriter and writer, married to a visual artist — we’ve both seen what you are writing about here. But perhaps it would be worth suggesting that the musical community consider including these other essential creative supporters when they are defining their fundraising/crowdfunding goals. A failure to plan comprehensively may be one reason why so many of these essential supports are left to be treated as an afterthought.

    • Candace

      I agree, Bruce – sometimes the promotional elements, as essential as they are, end up being thrown together in a rush when they’re suddenly (predictably) needed.

      Grant processes often force artists to consider these element (one of the reasons that I think grant-writing is a really useful thing to do to help focus an artist on what their work is and what they really need), but Kickstarter/etc. haven’t got that guidance – for good and ill – and it’s easy to forget, in the work of creation, that at some point you’re going to need to enlist professionals to get your creation out into the world.

  • Mike Bourgeault

    I love this article. I struggle with what to do with the live photos I take, and what to do when someone offers to pay for me to take them, or pay for pics I have already taken. There’s always this fear that If I charge too much (or anything) It’ll reflect badly on me and I won’t be welcome next time I show up camera in hand. that thought is terrifying.

    Jim Marshall is by far my idol when it comes to music photography (Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Allman Brothers, Beatles etc etc etc), I want a body of work like his at the end, more than I want money. But I also like money. Somehow he managed to instill the trust in his subjects to allow him access to amazing places, and yet still had a reputation of being rabidly protective of his work and IP rights. To the point that, a few years after his death I wrote a small article about him on my now out of date site, and I linked and attributed the crap out of the photos I used. A couple days later I got an email form his estate saying “thanks for the article, but get permission next time”.

    Someday I’ll figure it out. Love your writing. See ya in a few weeks!.

  • Richard Flohil

    The music industry, as we all know, has drastically changed. A CD, today, is either a souvenir of a successful gig at which an artist has impressed his or her listeners. And it’s a calling card that has to look every bit as good as you think it sounds. Rule of thumb for indie artists: Spend one third (or a quarter) of what you spent making the record on the artwork and the presentation. Then you’ll have a calling card…

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