I am a Liverpool-based professional singer-songwriter and performer. I am trying to make a living like anyone else but I am regularly faced with venues, promoters and individuals who expect me to play for free. Part of the problem is that there are just as many amateur musicians out there who will play ‘for the love of it’ as there are professionals and, unfortunately, we live in a material-driven world that would rather get something for nothing. One example of this prevailing attitude towards musicians was when I was asked to play for a retail clothing chain shop’s work function. They told me that the staff had voted and chosen me, which would’ve been as a result of a busking event I’d played at in their store a couple of months previously (also unpaid). The function would be in a well-attended/popular tea-drinking cafe/restaurant/music venue that I really wanted to get into. They informed me that they couldn’t pay me but they would speak to the venue’s music/entertainment organiser on my behalf. Against my better judgement, I agreed to perform despite having fuel expenses that would not be recoupable. Of course, it soon became clear that they weren’t really serious about helping me secure work and, as expected, the function did nothing to further my career. In a word, I was exploited.
When I try to secure paid work myself, many so-called music venues I approach cannot offer even free drinks or expenses let alone fees, and fill their diaries with music nights run by promoters and open mic nights – neither of which is paid. The few venues that do pay often stick to a select group of tried-and-tested musicians and openings for new acts rarely come up. In fact, it has got so bad that I have been forced to busk in order to help pay the bills.
When will this stop? What do I have to do to get the pay I deserve?