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The Price of Free vs The Price of Fame

image from recent furor over Amanda Palmer's decision to request non-paid musicians to join her on tour, hits home the unique situation musicians are faced with in the quest for success.

The conundrum is how to be self-sustaining, yet available to offer up their musical wares for nada should the chance of exposure present itself. The self-sustaining part of this equation has become obtainable far less readily through music, and much more so by being a busboy than a bluesboy, or alternatively funded by rich or over dedicated parents.

Music has bizarrely become a unique commodity in which its worth in the majority is practically pittance, yet its reach is blanketed across every retail outlet, cafe, car stereo and now cell phone.

The reason for the cheapening of this once magisterial art form is so readily bestowed upon the birth of file sharing and mp3’s, whereas the musician’s part in the devaluing of music is often overlooked.

But here surely lies the root of the problem. The musician, to their credit, is rarely in it for the money. This is why any artist, with even just a limited amount of experience, has already birthed their share of tales of being stiffed by managers, record labels and publishing companies. 

Mistakenly the artist thinks that monetary reward comes hand in hand with fame, so they will readily enter into situations, which promise to expose them to world, though in hindsight often come at a hefty price, rather than a hefty reward. There is no doubt that today’s plethora of readily available outlets to flaunt ones freely available musical output, has meant that fame is further away from equaling wealth than ever before.

These outlets exist because artists will, in virtually all situations, put their need for fame before their need to pay the rent. The musician is notoriously the worst businessman or woman in there world and as a result often seen as a joke. Pushed into the dark corners of bars for the amusement of drinkers. Trotted out week after week in bad smelling toilets/venues that book 6 bands a night - because they know that at the very least, all the band members will come and drink their woes away when nobody comes and see’s them play. The band is not only willingly play for free, but also keep the venue afloat with their drinking habits.

And while Amanda Palmer offers legitimate exposure and dare we even contemplate, a fun experience for those willing to take part, the misers continually try to cut down others with success far out reaching their own. Of course, they attack Amanda Palmer for being a skinflint, when the reality is that their own musical output never allowed them to enjoy the possibility of coming up with such a daring way to involve her fans, who also just happen to be musicians.

Perhaps when musicians attack others for thinking outside the box, their energies would be better-spent launching campaigns against websites offering "opportunities" in return for money, or venues scamming bands with pay-to-play policies.

Of course they won't do this, because although they may mask their intentions as being for the good of all musicians, they are in truth entirely self-centered and bitter at the failing of their own ability to get paid.

In the meantime musicians will continue to say yes to the show, and then ask what's the pay later, because like it or not, the chance of fame and the opportunity to play will far outweigh their quest for money.

Yes it’s messed up, yes it does not create a healthy standard for the well being of musicians. But that is because musicians have never set a healthy standard for themselves.

Robin Davey is the Director of Live From Daryls House, Head of Music and Film Development at GROWvision Studios, and a member of the band Well Hung Heart. Follow him on twitter @mr_robin_davey