You’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.1
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.
I 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,2 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.3 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.
But 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.
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.5
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.
- Some of it featured in this article. [↩]
- Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop ain’t free, and even if they somehow are, the computer you access them with is not. [↩]
- If your music starts playing automatically, I kind-of (totally) hate you, so in an ideal world, I get to press play. [↩]
- I did add them, I promise – and if you click on the images, they take you to the artist site! [↩]
- Seriously, I imaged-search and all, but no one wants to claim that they took this beautiful shot. [↩]