Comedian supports charity, but says artists need to make a living, too
Lately I’ve had a bit of a writer’s block for this blog. My point of view as a motorcycling entertainer should have a myriad of topics but lately I’ve been stumped.
No need for me to go on and on about road safety, as that has been preached ad nauseum, although it’s a topic I feel strongly about. Still there is something about being lost in your own thoughts inside a helmet, free from commercial radio. Here’s this week’s:
I’d like to talk about charity events, particularly those guilty of exploiting the arts needlessly. Recently I got into a debate with a promoter of a show who was raising funds for a cause. Nothing wrong with that as I think everyone should have a philanthropic side even if it’s just to do a good deed and pay it forward.
The event in question was a high profile event for a charitable cause to raise money for something that happened in a city far away. Again, I have no problem with that. I will not mention the exact details of the event or promoter because that is unfair and sadly, many do exactly what I am about to describe.
The performing artists were asked to donate time to perform their art (in this case music) and on a night that is usually a paid gig night. For many of you, who have the 9 to 5 style job, you may not appreciate how precious a weekend can be to a performer. The weekend is payday for us. Payday is most people’s favourite day and I am no exception.
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My issue was there were many who did make money off the event as well as the charity itself. The venue got the liquor sales; their staff got paid. The promoter was compensated for setting it up. Yet the artists were not monetarily compensated for their time despite the fact they had all trained for years to hone their craft and it was their performance that gave the event a show to sell tickets to. To me this is ethically wrong.
“But it’s for charity, its for a good cause” I heard back.
That’s great. Will that sentence replace the gas in the tank to get there? Will that sentence buy the artist groceries or pay their rent? Will it help them buy new equipment or instruments needed to keep their artful employment going?
All that sentence does is recreate wetting your pants in a dark suit. You get a warm feeling all over but no one will notice.
“You will get good exposure by being a part of this” is another carrot on a stick often used to convince the artist to wave all fees. Please, I can get a trench coat and strip to my birthday suit and get all the exposure I want.
In my nearly two decades of live performances the number of paid gigs that have resulted from “But it’s for charity, its for a good cause. You will get good exposure …” would leave five unused fingers on any hand used to count them.
Sure, we see millionaire stars donating their time for causes but they can afford to do so and have a PR team to spin it into profit at some point. An artist yet to be discovered, living month to month, is gambling that by spending their own money/time that miraculously they may see financial gain but they rarely do.
The larger the charity the bigger this divide can become. Any large, well-known charity group has administrative staff to keep things in order. Do they donate their time? No, of course not. Their time is valuable so they are on salary. Its their job.
So why should a performer be expected to do their portion for free or at a loss? The danger is, if you do it for free once you have set your market value.
The turning point that inspired me to write this, was when the show promoter said “An artist donating an hour of his time for our fundraiser is no different than me heading down to a local soup kitchen for an hour…” Really? Years of practice, to create a great live performance, are the same as walking in and ladling some soup? A chimp can be taught to ladle soup.
This was the most insulting statement of the whole conversation and buzzed angrily in my head like a hornet stuck in my helmet. In short it showed a lack of respect for the hard work the performing artists had put in over the years.
“Hey you’re really good on guitar, I can ladle soup. We should jam sometime!”
I was reminded of a similar dense thinker on one attempt to book a show, at a regular venue, years ago. It was for pay, with no charity involved, but the mindset was similar. The booking venue and I could not agree on a price and they offered such a low-ball figure that it was laughable, not to mention unprofitable, as it would require me to brave winter roads for 3 hours, perform, stay over night, and drive 3 hours back the next day (Only a fool would attempt to drive late at night after being up all day and performing in winter).
His answer was “But you’re only up there for an hour.” Yes, but that is not what you are paying for. You are paying for my time, the equivalent of almost a full working day travelling, plus living expenses while away from home, but mostly you pay for my years of honed performing skills that will ensure your clients are entertained. He did not see it that way.
Our conversation ended, when I suggested, perhaps he should go up and entertain the crowd himself for the night in question. “I can’t do that, I don’t know how to go on stage and perform.” He blathered back, to which I replied “Exactly” and hung up.
Even if he had raised the rate I could sense the show promotion and production would be such low quality it was best to stay home. I had learned to say “NO” and it felt good.
I am not suggesting charity events be boycotted, that would be counter productive to society. What I do wish, is to make people aware how often performers may be asked to do shows for free, without even a honorarium to help cover some of their costs of travel and time at the event.
Yes, it is the choice of the artist to donate their time but I wish show organizers would stop this practice of asking artists to work for free. We do that at open mics where we hone are craft, to make our show more sellable. There is no reason to waste that effort, for no gain, just because an event promoter wishes to use guilt but still expects a professional show.
Should you find yourself at a fundraiser where performers are donating their show, please support them. Without them the event would just be people in a room staring at each other. Sign up to their fan mail list (if they have one); “Like” their Facebook page, purchase their merchandise (if they have albums or T-shirts for sale) buy them a drink or, better yet, tip them.
If one of the acts really entertained you why not walk up to them, toss them a couple of 20’s and say, “Thanks for doing this, I really enjoyed your show, here, have a lunch on me.”
You have no idea how much that can mean to a performer trying to make it in the crazy business we call Show.