Last month I touched on a subject that I feel very strongly about. Money. Or rather, payment.
Music is like an ex I can’t get over. I still have the odd nightmare of being on stage and not knowing how to play any of my songs. It’s a common thing, apparently.
My relationship with music ended, as most relationships do – badly.
In 2006, as my band were imploding and everything was a mess of anxiety caused by drugs and drugs taken to keep the anxiety at bay, we were fortunate enough to be asked to support The Glitter Band. Old Gary was banged up in Vietnam for being a scumbag, but the rest of the band were, allegedly, “Okay guys.” I wonder. Still, I do love the double-drum Glitterbeat sound, so we agreed to play the show.
Soundcheck at 5pm. We turned up on time. I have many faults, but tardiness is not one of them. The promoter and his beer gut greeted us. He said: ‘Doors at seven. You’re on seven fifteen. No guest list. Eight quid entry. How many people you bringing? You plugged it on MySpace, yeah? We can’t pay you, but how often is it you get to play with The Glitter Band?’
How often, indeed.
So I went outside for a cigarette and was confronted by an elderly man carrying a bass amp. He introduced himself as ‘Pete from The Glitter Band.’ I shook his hand and then he asked me to carry his amp downstairs to the venue.
Now I was an unpaid roadie as well as an unpaid musician. I thought ‘Fuck this.’ I gathered my comrades and we got on the 277, went home and got drunk in the privacy of our own, dilapidated Hackney hovels.
The promoter spent the next two hours trying to call. I didn’t pick up. What’s the point?
I was 26 then. I’d been playing trumpet since I was 9 and guitar since I was 14. I had toured Europe and played to thousands of people at nice big venues and festivals. I was classically trained, for fuck’s sake. Still am, for that matter.
But here’s this dickhead of a promoter who wants to use my skills to make a quick buck.
Soon after, the band broke up and I signed some sort of solo deal with a French record label. I’m still waiting for them to pay me my royalties. Perhaps they’re on strike.
As the years progressed, the thought of being in a band made me throw up in my mouth and swallow it back down again. Music had been killed by illegal downloading, crap DJ nights and the fucking Libertines. What once were buzzing venues were now city boy-infested All Bar Ones. The only musicians I ever met from then on were trust fund kids wearing flat caps with pretend smack habits, talking in faux-cockney accents. I’ve got nothing against being rich or coming from wealth, but I do have a problem with twats.
Where can I go now? Music’s like an itch I can’t scratch. So I started making soundtracks. And goddam it, I was good at that. Got a website, got a portfolio. Did some shit for free to get a bit of experience, but then I reached the point where I thought I deserved payment.
I remember one particular ‘job’ – a guy approached me from a media company. He wanted me to compose some music for a computer game. My knowledge of computer games starts and ends with Speedball 2, but I heard him out. ‘Yeah, what I want is something like Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight score. You know, huge. Strings and horns. Epic, mate. It has to be totally fucking epic. I’ve got a few other composers I’m speaking to right now, but if you could just write something – 4 or 5 minutes should do it – then we’d see who liked the best and use them for the game. I mean, we’ve got no budget, so even if we chose you, we couldn’t pay you, but it would look great on your showreel.’
I asked him if he was doing it for free, to which he replied ‘No,’ and then I told him to get fucked. After several similar incidents, I quit pursuing that career.
By this time I was in my thirties. That’s twenty years of musical experience. You don’t get a builder over to renovate your kitchen, but ask him to do the bathroom gratis first to see if he’s a ‘good fit.’
You don’t walk into The Apple Shop and say, ‘Yeah, I’m just gonna take this MacBook Air for free – sorry, I’ve got no budget because I spent it on strippers and rack.’
So why is art not valued? It’s a skill like any other.
If you’re a writer and someone asks you to write something for free when they’re getting paid themselves, tell them to shove it. Please. For me.
By giving away services for free, artists are perpetuating the idea that what they’re creating is worthless.
Art isn’t worthless, it’s incredible. A good song or a good book or a good painting, to the right person, is worth a thousand therapists, a hundred new pairs of shoes. It makes us richer and smarter. Art connects people, gives them identity and soul. Without it, the world would be an endless nightmare of lawyers and estate agents. And nobody wants that.