Artists Are Being Robbed by Venue Owners

Venue owners are laughing their way to the bank while artists continue to work for ‘exposure.’

Artists and venue owners fight over crumbs in New York City. Painters. Rappers. Singers. Stand up comedians. Poets. Musical theatre performers. The over saturation of desperate artists rushing to New York City opens a huge market of victims just waiting to exploited. Event organizers recruit artists to perform shows for free in the name of ‘getting exposure.’ And if they have a good turnout, they promise to book them again… for more free shows.

And that’s how the incessant cycle of doing free work usually is.

You think, well I love what I do anyway so I don’t mind doing it for free. Eventually it’ll pay the more popular I become. 

But, no. You don’t. Petty bourgeois capitalists like organizers hustling free labor will pay you as little as they can get away with. And as long as you are willing to work for free (since you don’t see doing something you love as work) they will exploit your ambitions. I’ve seen entire $50 ticketed, for-profit shows where rappers perform and the organizers take all the profit.

Here’s an example formula:

  • Venue owners charge organizers a rental fee up front.
  • Instead of hiring promoters to sell tickets, organizers recruit performers and even the DJ to perform for free and tell them to get their friends/family to support their show. The family/friends of the performers think their dollars are supporting the artists. But of course the organizers are paying their artists in ‘exposure.’ Oftentimes these events have no one important in the industry besides the friends and family of the artists
  • Organizers sometimes incentivize the performers to invite more people to the show by giving them a referral bonus.
    – Example: You get 4 dollars for every 20 dollar ticket you sell(a 20% commission). This word-of-mouth marketing pretty much does all the work for them. Organizers don’t even have to pour money into marketing besides a digital flyer performers can harass their friends with in their DMs. Now the performers are doing the job of a promoter.
  • Some events are even pay to perform. Not just cheap open mics trying to pool money for venue costs. But big price tags y0u’d see in beauty pageants–without the prizes– like charging artists $400 dollars just because some radio show execs will be watching you.
  • The show happens. Maybe some friends forgot to use the promo code and now the organizers don’t even have to pay for unaccounted referrals.

It makes sense that the artist gets a royalty  of the profits if they refer many people. However, this referral commission shouldn’t replace up-front payment for the time & skill it takes to perform. They’re performers. It’s their job to perform and entertain. Not to sell tickets.

Give me my damn money.

Scarlett Johannson’s popularity encourages casting agents to book her. However, they still have to pay for her on-screen performance up front. Not get her to do the job of desperately telling her fans to buy tickets while her pay is held ransom.

In the case of hip hop, organizers are responsible for recruiting performers they know are popular in the venue location and gauge what the turnout will be.

If an event organizer doesn’t even invest money and take risks ahead of time, what does that say about their faith in their event? They have no faith in their own value. They want the success of the event to rest solely on the backs of the performers. If the event flops, it’s okay because they didn’t pay the performers anyway. If plenty of people come, they walk away with most of the money. Or all of the money. Plenty of artists perform even without a commission bonus 100% pro bono. The work of the artist in this petty bourgeois capitalist scheme is reduced to a mere popularity contest.

And I’d be damned if I paid for an Uber to take all my DJ equipment to some guy’s crappy venue without an advanced payment for my labor.

What about the poor little ol’ venue owner that pays for everything?

Sure venue owners pay large costs in overhead, rent, inventory, etc. Boo hoo. That’s the risk of a business. Even McDonald’s pays workers for their time and labor(even if they steal the profits). McDonald’s sure doesn’t tell their workers to go beg their friends to buy a McDouble in order to be paid. Why are practices like these given a pass in the entertainment industry? Because it’s okay to exploit free labor as long as the worker likes their job? Artistry is work.Talent honed into skill. If you can’t afford to pay your workers and make a profit, you shouldn’t be in business. Period.

Artists. Get your sh*t together and stop putting up with this nonsense. Hustlers are gonna hustle. It’s up to the disenfranchised to liberate themselves of their chains. Don’t let yourself be a cash cow. Learn the game. Negotiate your rates with assertion. Collaborate with other honest artists. Make your own show. Whatever you do… please don’t think you have to ‘pay your dues’ by making these venue owners richer.
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