I was watching this video report by Razor TV about local hip hop band Sixx, and the unfortunate cancellation of their performance at Singfest last week. What happened was that the band was suddenly dropped as the second day’s opening act, apparently because the sound checks earlier took too long. You can also read more about it here.
Honestly, I hadn’t heard of Sixx until the incident – ironically, they did get some publicity out of it! But that’s besides the point. I really was quite impressed with how well they took the disappointing news. Yes, Singfest was a big deal, and I would feel devastated, had I been in that position. Instead, they are taking it in their stride and looking forward to other gigs and their upcoming EP launch. Kudos guys! Hope to catch you live soon!
Anyway, this incident, of course, led to some online buzz about how, just like that, the poor band was kicked off the show. I’ve experienced disappointments myself, from cancelled events to places that expect you to play for free “for exposure”, so I felt really bad for Sixx.
A few days later, Today music writer Chris Toh wrote an interesting post on the Poparazzi blog, urging bands to say “NO” to free gigs. I must say I agree with him, and I just wanted to weigh in on this topic of local bands and how they are treated as “second class citizens”, as Chris so aptly wrote.
I think the crux of the matter lies in the fact that local musicians are pretty much powerless when it comes to negotiating with the people or companies that hire them. Let’s talk about, say, a talented Top 40s band made up of a few friends, which is trying to make a living playing cover music, and hopefully write some original tunes in the near future. They will probably start off playing for free, and then if their passion for music is strong enough, press on and find some gigs that actually pay.
Yes, there’s always the argument that unknown bands have to start small, and perform anywhere that will have them. That’s fair enough. But at what point do you start asking for money? When you’re good enough? When you have been playing long enough?
The point is that the ball is always in the court of the people hiring the bands. To my knowledge, there isn’t some kind of association or union of Singapore bands that says that unless we are paid such-and-such a minimum fee, we will not perform. Trouble is, local bands are independent entities doing their own thing, and there’s always going to be a band who will be willing to play for free.
In the case of Sixx, wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of musicians’ body to press the organisers for compensation for the band? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the international acts in Singfest were protected by contracts, so if something screwed up, there was recourse for them. I’m not so sure if Sixx signed some kind of contract, though. Even though they are not yet as big as say, Kanye West, don’t our local acts have rights too?
The thing is, who’s going to step forward and get Singapore bands together to talk about these issues – and make a stand? Probably nobody. So, I believe it’s really up to bands to fight for their own rights. If you think you’re worth your salt, and deserve to be paid for performing, then demand for it. If you’ve worked hard for your music, why let yourself be exploited?
For my own band Raised On Radio, we do ask for a minimum fee, based on the “market rate” for cover bands, which is really based on how much other bands we know get paid for playing at a similar place – which is basically hearsay. Yes, we do lose some gigs because of that, but I’m proud to say that for the majority of the performances we have done, we were paid at that “market rate”.
Well, these are just my own observations on this issue, so please feel free to disagree with me. Comments are welcome!