Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Heartfelt thanks to the very wonderful musician, blogger and all-round socio-political authority AffieJam BSc (Hons) Psychology for sharing her incisive thoughts on the trials and tribulations of the aspiring independent artist with King City Online.
Disclaimers: This title is just to reiterate that whilst I try not to douse my posts in opinion, I can only ever speak with the utmost confidence from my perspective (and through supplementary research), with the further idea that there might be others that are similar. I am black, I am a woman and I am going to explore my experiences as a solo independent artist upon the foundation of those two premises. This doesn’t mean that some of the points aren’t relatable to other people.
I will also admit that a few of these points overlap, but there is no way to talk about them without that overlap. There are these weird stigmas attached to being a female solo independent artist – that you’re either a diva who no one wants to “work” with or can’t really handle life/stand up for yourself without a team behind you and as a result, people are more likely to prejudge you or simply take the pxss. I should also disclaim that this is a post about artists that are somewhat established; if you are newly navigating the scene, or someone who is actively seeking slots, I doubt a lot of this applies.
Photography by Libi Pedder ©
1. THE MOST OBVIOUS: PAYMENTS IN OPPORTUNITIES AND EXPOSURE
Does it make sense? I am being serious, has it ever made sense? It makes me laugh when people counteract this argument with: You can’t be expecting payments when you are not worth being paid for, blah, build up your expertise and then blah blah. However this is usually based on the implications of you not being ‘signed’, or lacking some blue tick somewhere, or a famous magazine feature. HA! I guess in hindsight, you could still say it’s true to a certain extent e.g. A nurse on placement won’t get paid until they are qualified but then in the same breath, a teacher in training is paid a subsidised salary until they are qualified. So, if in an objective world there are tiers, how do we quantify the subjectivity of an artistry? You can’t! But alas! It’s still super simple: if you have approached someone to book them, it’s likely that you appreciate who they are and what they do. What they do requires time and energy regardless of the way you view them, or even the task at hand. Barring fundraising events to an extent – artists are not asking for you to pay them hourly for all their ‘training’ or even a salary, but rather out of principle and general common sense, as you are asking them for their time and skill, pay them for their time and skill, so that in turn they can use it to aid further development and maybe pay a bill or two. The cheeky part is when these guys are charging £10+ for entry to their events but still… My other favourite counter argument is: you should be lucky that you’re even on that line up/able to work with these people etc. Again, if someone has approached you to book you then they appreciate you and secondly, these organisations essentially make their money from having you, not solely from their name and logo. Realise and exercise your worth wherever and whenever you can.
2. CORPORATE SUPPLY AND DEMAND: OUR RESPONSIBILITY
When you do a gig for free, you’re making it harder for the next artist that’s trying to make something for themselves. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting no payment because it wasn’t offered, or because the organisation’s name is “lit”. They fundamentally make their capital from you and so it is your responsibility to ask when things are unsaid. Whenever being booked for a gig or feature my general set of questions always ends with: travel expenses covered and fee? Getting this outlined in a standardised manner from the beginning allows you to weigh up the pros and cons and work out if you’ll be left in deficit and if so – is it really worth it? If you find yourself booking rehearsal spaces, travelling like no tomorrow, doing all these unpaid ventures and are therefore constantly left out-of-pocket, those organisers may assume that they can leave others out-of-pocket, and if that next person does, the next person that comes along who mentions payment will be deemed as difficult. I have worked with extremely well-known organisations (that I will not name and shame) but in a lot of cases I have had to fight, and in some I am still waiting for payment – years later. “Well so and so did it for free, so we didn’t really factor it in and are not really in the position to pay”. Is my name so and so? No. But so and so is essentially (and sadly) partly responsible for that organisation’s view when booking the next similar artist. This industry will relentlessly cut corners for as long as you allow it to.
3. MULTIFACETED? KILLING TWO BIRDS WITH ONE PAYMENT
Don’t let these people finesse you. If Larry produces the gig and Marvin plays the gig, there are two separate payments. So why, if Marvin is able to do both (after asking him of course), do you combine the price as if he comes as a packaged deal? That’s more work and therefore more money – regardless of the recipient(s). Today, I am a workshop facilitator and tomorrow I am a solo singer, both days I should be paid for the work I produce as oppose to a little pot of money labelled “Alima’s Efforts”. In many cases, as someone who is a multi-disciplined creative, I am often asked to do more jobs than one: more work = more money and I repeat, regardless of who is doing it or how the work is assigned – pay accordingly.
4. MULTIPLE “MANAGERS”
Everyone seems to know what’s best for you:
“Have you ever tried working with [X]?” You do medicine at uni right? Have you ever tried just being a doctor today?
“Have you ever thought about sending your music to [BBCintroducing 1000 times]?” Have you ever thought about sending your CV to the BBC?
“So you haven’t got a manager, ah, it would be benific-?” Have you ever wondered about what I might want?
“You should ask for more gigs because you don’t seem to do that many gigs?” Wait for it: people approach me and ask me to play! The best bit is that, I might say yes but, I could also say no. Ah mi control it!
“You should put out an album soon – why aren’t you in the studio?” Here are my bank details.
“People are getting a bit tired of waiting” Airbnb have some great deals if you haven’t a bed.
“X factor, BGT, The Voice ETC ETC ETC” Can I even answer?
“You know what you should do?” Yeah, walk away.
“Maybe if you did more covers, more people would respond?” Maybe if [insert the most offensive par you know]
“You need to get your following up that’s all” Okay. I’ll just forget about the whole reason why I’m here then yeah?
“You should move to London, they’ve got better opportunities” Here are my bank details.
5. PATCHWORK GREMLINS Literally, everyone wants to be an event organiser but no one really seems to know what it truly entails (or are just ignorant, who knows?). Like, you’ve got the lovely flyer, fantastic marketing and hefty profit-worthy ticket sales but when it comes to the running of it all, it often goes to pot. Massive delays in emails, lazy venue choices, trash PA systems complete with clueless sound engineers, general lateness complete with lack of communication, chocolates as refreshments for the singers, sloppy sound checking times (like I could genuinely say I have spent half of my gigging life, waiting to sound check, to then be told that because it’s just me, I’ll get a line check before my set), inability to factor in travel expenses, slow processing of invoices, the inability to be truly apologetic for the string of blunders… the list could go on. Think big, but start small: Stop trying to take on the whole world, promising greatness without the means. At the end of the day, it doesn’t just reflect badly on you, but also the artist, especially when the faux pas are prominent on stage. It is best to have a small intimate gig with two or three acts, where they’re quality and well looked after, also factoring in the feasibility of the venue with the act “types”. Once you can pull off the little things (with a solid team) and can gain the trust of those you’re intending to impact, then you can start booking out Symphony Hall.
6. USING THOSE “MISREPRESENTED X” VENTURES TO COLLECT DIVERSITY POINTS BUT ULTIMATELY CAPITALISE I see you with your: “This will be a great opportunity for you to boost your network and CV”. But, I can assure you, Mr. Tracey on top with his £50k salary just found the most cost-effective way to produce a well needed BAME** event in the city without having to actually work with BAME members. Create a focus group in the hood with your token BAME, label it as a development programme, collect all the ideas and then rake in all the monies. Whilst this might seem a little out of place, this is specifically on the list because as someone who has made somewhat of a name for herself, but still rolls independently, I am often a target for things like this. They feed off the underlying (assumed) desperation that so many of us have, just to make it somewhere lucrative and that we will grab at anything that looks shiny. But it’s live, I have that 20/20 vision and I really do see you. Make us the events’ producers or even co-producers, or even assistants and reward us rightfully. Do not take our experiences and ideas, then wash them off before placing into some display cabinet with a skewed plaque. It’s easy to get in the BAME performers and throw them a few hundred, but the Arts Council* pump thousands into BAME events and the distribution of money has just never added up. * The use of the word “diverse” kinda makes me sick, ask. Also if you want to know what makes my claims credible here, ask.
7. INDUSTRY PREDATORS
I wanted to end on this one because it’s probably the one that has stunted my growth as an artist the most. And by stunt, I mean, it stopped me (for a while) from ever wanting to work with anyone. Those: “My team and I would love to work with you”, but then you find yourself sitting in their studio, with just you and them, feeling on edge because they’ve been staring at your face that second longer than they should. “We’ll get to the music later, I want to know more about you” and then you feel how they progressively lean in whilst you’re talking, trying your hardest not to mirror their vibe. You get through maybe a 5th of the song, spliced with unnecessary compliments, and your nerves are darting all over the place because of the discomfort. You eventually bid a farewell and then a message pops up on your phone, wondering if you’d like to have dinner sometime. Other times, it isn’t so polite… Because when you decline, your little career with them gets declined too. Note, this is not a dig at every person in the industry, I haven’t the experience track record to paint everyone with the same brush. However, it has happened a few too many times for me to ever feel comfortable working with someone who I don’t know – regardless of their credibility. There are certain attitudes amongst the industry that mean inappropriate things are not disclosed – please don’t argue with me on that one. It’s almost like a dirty fraternity with a code that’s only broken if you somehow manage to lose respect. Nevertheless, it happens and it is happening and I guess if I was signed to a label, complete with a team and manager, I wouldn’t really have to worry because there would be a certain level of protection that I am “entitled” to. But, when you only have to answer to yourself, it’s being strong enough to make those decisions, sacrificing your craft just for respect. It shouldn’t have to be like this, but it is and whilst I don’t have all the answers, the more people know, the less they can consciously ignore.
AFTERTHOUGHT: One thing I forgot to mention was that, once you know exactly what you want and are confident in saying no as well as yes, people are going to look at you funny or think that you have an elevated sense of self. But we all know, that if people are allowed to get away with something long enough, the moment you put your foot down, it becomes a disproportionate problem. But don’t stop, keep going, keep making those decisions, walk within your worth in all its glory, demand that respect, own yourself because there is nothing wrong in getting what you deserve – and that starts with the basics. Affie ** BAME: Slightly used as an umbrella term here as most projects involving subsets such as the youth/disadvantaged/LGBT communities are usually built upon inner city involvement which is heavily varied in terms of culture, resulting in a lot of intersectionality within the arts – definitely worth it’s own post.
This and other examples of AffieJam's beauitifully-written biographies are available below
Website - www.affiejam.wordpress.com
Twitter - @Affiejam
Soundcloud - https://m.soundcloud.com/affiejam