Why pay bands when you can have them for free?

Apparently musicians aren’t worthwhile.

At least, that’s what the Super Bowl seems to think. Time Business released an article noting that Bruno Mars has been added to the list of musicians that have played Super Bowl half time. For FREE.

“We’re putting someone up there for 12 and a half minutes in front of the largest audience that any television program garners in the United States,” NFL Director of Programming Lawrence Randall, told TIME last year. “It’s a pretty good deal. It’s the famous win-win for both parties.” (TIME)

On the surface: Sure. Playing the Super Bowl can lead to an increase in an artist’s sales and add to exposure.

But this whole situation is indicative of a bigger problem.

First of all–if you’re a musician/band that has been selected to play a gig like the Super Bowl then you’re probably pretty well known. And if you’re a musician/band that is already well known, the chances are that you’ve spent most of your life honing your talents, and working your way up centimeter by centimeter, inch by inch

The road to making a living off of art is not an easy path, and it’s fraught with people who Don’t Get It.

Bands just getting started deal with the free gigs more often than they get paid ones. Writers freelance for little to no money and hope that maybe, just maybe, this submission will get them somewhere. Artists find themselves in gallery receptions where they hear the double edged sword of compliments, “Wow, this is so beautiful, but why is it so expensive?”  It’s like somewhere in between the idea of a piece and the final product, the work of creating gets lost on the larger public. Creating is work. It involves time. It involves tools. Just like any other job.

The music industry has made it a priority to stamp out pirating. Buy the albums! Support the artists! Don’t steal music! But then you’ve got moments like these, where musicians are basically being robbed. The NFL argues that the show is only 12 and a half minutes and they’ll grant great exposure. Okay. Fine. So does that mean that if I’m a super famous celebrity and I suddenly have a health issue,  I can go into a hospital and demand the doctor to treat me but not get paid? “Oh it’ll only be an hour of your time, and you’ll have the honor of working on me. Oh and I’ll tell all of my friends.”

Ummm….Not so great. Just like doctors have spent years of their lives studying and working to get to their professional level, so have musicians. For the NFL to discount that fact is abhorrent. Let’s not forget that the musicians that play the Super Bowl put in way more than 12 minutes. They’re going to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse some more. They’re going to make sure that they have everything in place and ready to go. There’s travel. They need to make sure they’ve got the equipment they need and they need to get them from point A to point B. This is time. This is energy. This is travel. And they deserve to be compensated like any other professional field.

The attitude of the NFL and their continued practice of this policy is dangerous because it affects far more than Bruno Mars, Madonna, and other big name musicians. This attitude can easily be translated on a local level where popular venues or festivals can use similar logic to damn aspiring musicians. In some cases, it can be taken so far that the venue/promoter demands musicians to pay for the honor of playing their venue. This is a thing. And this is problematic.

I unfortunately don’t have the ins and outs to help fix this problem. But what I can encourage everyone to do–including myself–is to remember to really appreciate art. Appreciate the work and energy that went into the art/music/writings that you enjoy. Remember that the work of creating is difficult and time consuming. And  support the art that matters to you. Buy their albums. Go to shows. Buy their sweaters and posters and stickers. If you’re an artist of any medium, do your best work and make sure you’re getting recognized for it.

On that note, I’m going to stop talking and share the internet meme that has gone around. It’s more eloquent and succinct than I am, and should be shared.

So please share it.





One thought on “Why pay bands when you can have them for free?

  1. Conventional Wisdom February 5, 2014 / 9:20 am

    You should have done more research. The NFL paid all expenses related to putting on the event. That meant transportation, stage, lighting, sound and wages of crew and backing band all were covered by the NFL. The only person who didn’t get paid was Bruno Mars, who gave a free 12.5 minute performance and in return he gets to market himself to 111 million people. If Bruno Mars (or the Red Hot Chili Peppers for that matter) thought it was such a bad deal, he (they) would have turned it down flat and they would have booked someone else that was willing to meet their terms. And therein is the business rub that you don’t get: there are plenty of artists willing to accept the NFL’s terms, but only one Super Bowl halftime show.

    I pay a doctor, because he saves my life. I pay a plumber because he keeps shit from from overflowing onto the floor. I pay an electrician because I want my power tools to work when I plug them in. Each one provides a tangible asset in exchange for money. To put it bluntly, a musician’s trade is ephemeral, doesn’t provide much in terms of tangible assets (an album is tangible, but what is it’s value comparitively speaking?) and has a large number of people willing to provide art, but a small number of avenues where someone is willing to pay.

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