PCAM on the need for demo fees for composers

Augusta Quiney, Chair of The Society for Producers and Composers of Applied Music, shares with Work Not Play the importance of demo fees for composers:

“I meet a lot of young people entering the music and advertising industries and if there is one overarching piece of advice I seek to impart, it is a plea never to collude with the notion that music has no value. Musicians cannot sustain themselves creating art purely for the love of it and there is no music fairy that will pay their electricity bills or put food on their table. To be defined as a professional, a composer must be paid for his or her work.

As Chair of PCAM, I feel an immense responsibility to shout this message loud and clear, particularly when I see salaried clients so readily exploiting a shortfall of genuine opportunities for composers with reckless ‘no demo fee’ commissioning. Inexperienced composers have been too easily fooled into thinking that working for nothing is a credible way in to the business. Worse, a small handful of music companies have apparently seized an opportunity to predicate their business models on free labour.

Whilst the statistical likelihood of getting a track on air, composed to a given client brief, has diminished in recent years, smaller budgets also mean the rewards are less seductive. On these terms, working for days on end for nothing can hardly be the move of a clear-headed professional and I would challenge any composer to sustain a career on this basis. Not that demo fees pay the rent, of course, but as well as being a point of principle, they do a respectable job of sorting the genuine briefs from the time-wasters.

We have to confront the message that is communicated to our clients every time a composer forgoes payment or a music company submits 10, 15 or 20 ‘original’ tracks per brief. The implication is that our exquisite craft has no value, that our art and our time are unworthy of a living wage and that our ranks are brimming with hobbyists. Like lemmings, we’ll leap willingly from a cliff to feed our clients’ hunger for limitless options rather than embolden their inherent powers of creative direction and decision-making. Where we find dysfunction in the music commissioning practices of advertising agencies, we must recognise that composers and music companies have been in part the enablers.

Ironically, TV Departments often grumble about inboxes flooded with unsolicited offers of free music demos. And a reasonable, well-argued pushback from a music professional always garners respect. PCAM is therefore seeking to emphasise its position on this issue with a core statement (below) that we invite you to support and share. Our intention is to distil the case for paid demos into three or four sentences behind which we might all stand, and to provide a tool with which to engage clients who, under pressure themselves, may fail to appreciate the gravity of their demands. Here is the statement:

As a PCAM member, I am a committed advocate of demo fees. I believe in the principle that music has a value and it is only fair and reasonable to be paid for professional services that require training, experience, equipment, facilities and an accountable investment of time.

Not paying for demos excludes composers from the industry who cannot afford to work for nothing. Engaging services on this basis is out of step with good business ethics, basic principles of corporate social responsibility and the fair treatment of freelance workers.

We warmly invite your comments and feedback and shall be seeking further opportunities to openly debate and poll on this and other challenging issues.

We’re also throwing out a comparatively light-hearted invitation to condense these principles into a tagline. Serious, humorous, caustic or wry, we’d love to hear your take on how a copywriter might choose to advertise the function of paid demos. Tweet @PCAMusic #demofees.”