Should bands be paid every time they play? Journalist and musician Tom Gillespie thinks so.
Should bands be paid every time they play? Journalist and musician Tom Gillespie thinks so. Matthew Newton

OUR SAY: Why musicians should be called 'tradies'

AS BOTH a musician and a journalist, let me be very clear about something - bands have to be paid.

No doubt plenty have read about Sydney band Black Bird Hum responding via Facebook to an offer from Fairfax to play at a community event for free.

This sarcastic open letter, pointing out how ridiculous it was an ASX200-listed company couldn't pay artists, was countered by a Fairfax journalist's scathing editorial, calling the musicians 'ungrateful' and 'entitled' for turning down free gigs.

As I sit on both sides of this debate, I find myself in a unique position.

During the day, I'm an employee of APN News and Media in south-west Queensland; at night, I smash it out in a three-piece rock band, playing originals and covers at local pubs across the state.

While pubs and bars are happy to pay (if you play covers), I've been asked to play shows for free, usually by not-for-profits and people who simply can't afford it.

Plenty of promotion companies also offer 'exposure' gigs, mostly in metropolitan areas. The idea is you boost your band's image and music through these shows.

In these cases, the only way to make money is to sell merchandise at the show. Not all artists can afford that.

So it's an absolutely imperative that if a promoter or organiser can pay an artist, that they actually do it.

Along with being a musician who has had to play for free, I started out my journalism career writing music articles in magazines for no payment.

This is a similarly destructive and unhelpful trend that only further oppresses aspiring writers who have to live on more than exposure.

If you went up to a series of journalism graduates, I guarantee you every one of them would either be writing or offered to write for publications that offer nothing by 'exposure'.

So the journalist in question hardly has an leg to stand on, considering the practice of producing creative works for no monetary gain is still widely practised in our industry.

Unfortunately, musicians and the creative industries are not respected for what they create and the value it brings to our communities.

Yet, on the other hand, society interacts with music on a variety of different levels and in different ways.

Whether it's a wedding, nightclub or special occasion, people call on musicians to entertain guests and provide the right atmosphere.

You wouldn't not pay a plumber for fixing your toilet or a roofer for plugging the hole in your roof - yet a musician is often expected to play for nothing, despite their job description being that of a trades-person.

We as a society need to change how we think about music - it is not a lifestyle, it is a trade. You offer your skills to people who need them to suit a purpose, and you are paid in return for providing those skills.

If we called music a trade, culturally speaking, I feel this debate would disappear pretty quickly and companies like Fairfax would not even have to think twice before paying musicians.