There's no budget to pay you - Prove it!

Go on… I dare you!


So I have a couple of blogs on the subject and artist/musician/band pay at public events where we're told 'there's no budget'. It's a plight that many musicians are faced with everyday, either directly or indirectly; musicians being asked to play for free at events that we're told are on a tight budget. Sometimes, these events are charging large amounts of money for single day and weekend tickets.

My question today is: do we actually believe them, and should we take it on face value?

On the most part, I'm urging on the side of "no, I don't" and I'll explain why.

To start off with, let's explore the mentalities behind being both a performer and an organiser - as I AM both.

Performers will be expected to play for free because the perception is that they're desperate to play in front of people. They need a public platform to demonstrate and sell their product and any opportunity that musicians can get to play in front of people is a good one. Musicians also want to 'live the dream' of playing in front of thousands of people. And actually - I can totally relate that.

However, are you prepared to do it while other people are getting rich off of your desires?

If any of you have ever organised a festival or public show, you'll know how damn frustrating it is. It takes HOURS and DAYS and probably MONTHS of planning; organising promotion, venue or ground, stages, sound guys, toilets, security, insurances, logistics... it's a pain in the arse. And my point - do you think that the organisers are doing all of this work, and putting themselves through all of the stress involved for the benefit of the bands??? I don't think so! They're likely doing it so that they can derive a profit.

I spoke recently to a performer booked in to play a well known music festival in Hampshire. It's well advertised, it's been going for a long time now, it's got a couple of big name headliners of the past and it's regularly well attended.

He's not being paid to perform.

However, the tickets are £40 per day or just over £100 for 3. Typical ticket prices for music festivals. It's not on the scale of IOW, Bestival or Glastonbury... in comparison, it's a small affair, but it's expecting a good attendance across the one night and 2 days.

But let's examine the numbers for a moment:

£40 per day
Let's assume that 300 people attend each day on average.
£40 x 300 = £12,000 per day of gross income for the festival
£12,000 x 3 days = £36,000 gross income taken by the festival organiser.

So, that's £36,000 of theoretical money that the organiser has to play with. At the beginning of the planning stage - the first thing that they should have done was to have a figure in mind of what they'd achieve. If you plan for an average of 300 a day, that's the target to work towards and this should inform the budget to work to.

So that's the budget 'available' (if they're working to target). Let's also explore just quickly all of the other business that will be operating at said festival; burger vans, ice cream sellers, mobile licensed bars, hot dog vendors, candy floss, chinese food, hog roast..... do you think these guys will be giving their shit away? Do you even think that they'll keep the price down? Jeez no! They'll charge you £3.50 for a simple burger and £1.20 for a regular can of 7up! and up the price as the product becomes more interesting. They're there to get paid, bitch! They won't be doing it for 'exposure'!!

Now let's explore the costs and see where our £36k we can fritter away!

Show ground. Will the council or owner be letting this go for free? No way! They might have electricity to pay for, clean up after the hoards of untidy humans have left, possibly the care of the land if we're talking an outdoor event. This work will cost someone money somewhere. Will they be paying for someone to do all of this work for exposure? No!

A random search for a 
field to hire is £1500 per day, so for 3 days, let's assume £4500.

Security. Any public event requires site security staff. The Ratio of expected guests to staff is currently 75:1, so let's suggest 4 SIA staff with a senior Safety staff member possibly.

Let's assume 12 hours per day x 5 staff @ ave £20 p/h = £

Portable Toilet hire: All events much provide toilets. If there isn't a nearby toilet that can be dedicated to the event, they need to be hired in. The ratio is 85:1 for women and 425:1 for men. That's 4 toilets minimum.

A quick search reveals £550 per day = 
£1650 for 3 days.

Stages. For a mainstage, a quick search shows £2000 per day = £6000
Smaller stages can be hired for around £100 and some 'stages' will be in marquees. Let's add another £500 for shits and giggles to cover this. 

So far, I'm at £16,200. If I'm confident of 300 people per day (then the stage is wayyyyyyyy too big!), I've still got over £19,000 left!

PA and Sound. Let's go with £1000 per day. £3000

At this point, I'm not sure what's left and I've got £16000 theoretical left to spend. So Marketing costs will come out of it. Sadly, stewarding will be on a volunteer basis. That's not too cool, but if it was a toss up between paying the bands or paying stewards, I'm going with the bands....

...who are the focus of the music festival!!

So, knowing that there might well be £16000 of profit.... would you accept 'we don't have the budget to pay you.'?

Let's postulate 25 bands/acts performing over 3 days and let's suggest that they're paid £300 each for attending. 
£7500 cost of acts. And that's a fairly high fee. I'd probably go with £200 would still be cool, but it obviously goes down if the band gets bigger.

There's still 
£8500 left in profit for the organisers. Granted, that's not a lot for probably 4 months of planning. But we've demonstrated that there may be room and the £8500 wouldn't have been earned if the bands weren't there anyway.

At this point, as an organiser, I might look at it all and go "I need to charge more for the tickets"… and then do a forecast based on a new ticket price.

So when an organiser tells you 'there's no budget'.... should you ask to see that budget, both the projections and the actuals? Besides, you - as the acts - were probably the most integral part of the event's success!


Now, I'm not against music festivals. In fact, there should be more. Some are great. Some need some serious quality control. I think the main issue that needs to be addressed is that someone, somewhere along the line, is going to make a profit... and it's unlikely to be the artists - the catalyst at the events!

Does this mean that they shouldn't go ahead? No - of course not. Does it mean that those who do all of the organisation don't deserve some income? Of course they do. It's really very hard work… but everyone involved in the project has to benefit and, as I said above, I'm sure that organisers aren't doing it purely for altruistic reasons. There's too much work and stress involved to make it a 'hobby' for someone.

But money can be made for everyone if it's done well and properly thought through.

Now, bands and artists do need an outlet to play and showcase their product to attract new followers who might eventually buy their music - there's no dispute there. But there are certainly enough people out there who are prepared to take advantage and see the desire to play as enough of a carrot to entice performers to work for them for the purposes of encouraging spend on their products.

The point of these blogs on 'playing for free' to purely just to make artists think before instantly accepting an offer of playing at something where someone will be benefitting financially. If we're asked to play for nothing, for the benefit of someone else, under the pre-tense that the business involved can't afford to pay, are we entitled to see projections and profit/loss accounts to support the claim - and subsequently negotiate fair fees should it be proven that the artist's fee 
could have been supported.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Should we just accept that the way it's been for the last god knows how many years is the right way? Should we not rock the boat? What other ways could artists and venue owners/promotors work together ensure that everyone involved in a business endeavour gets their due?

It's always going to be a touchy subject, so be nice!

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