Yours For Free
A few weeks back I had some correspondence regarding a cool new project. The client wanted original music and was unhappy about the licensing fees on the piece they had planned to use (are the warning bells ringing for you yet?). Creating “sound-alike” music can be ethically dodgy, but I felt that in this instance […]
A few weeks back I had some correspondence regarding a cool new project. The client wanted original music and was unhappy about the licensing fees on the piece they had planned to use (are the warning bells ringing for you yet?).
Creating “sound-alike” music can be ethically dodgy, but I felt that in this instance it was possible to create something better and more original than the music they had been negotiating to obtain.
Moreover, this project had the potential to generate some decent turnover, so they could afford to be professional. I sharpened my pencil and gave them the best quote possible and the quickest timeframe I could realistically deliver within. I offered to compose, programme, record, perform, mix and master an original piece of music (all on my high-end gear, of course) and also throw in a couple of derivative pieces as well.
Naturally, there are all sorts of ethical considerations when you offer a quote for original music. You want to be fair to yourself (for the time involved, equipment being used and the years it’s taken you to become a musician). Also, you want to be fair to your prospective clients (especially if their budget is tight). You also have to be fair to your other clients (who have paid already for similar work). And, perhaps most importantly of all, you have to be fair to your own industry (assuming there will be a music industry in the future).
Realistically the project was going to take me three days, but I only quoted for two. If my studio was well set up I could do it in two, but working in a new space is always slow. I also used the lowest studio rate I ever quote on, offered some extra pieces as mentioned and gave the best hint I could that I’d be willing to negotiate further (or maybe accept payment in kind).
You can probably guess where this story is going. I didn’t get the job.
They decided to go with some music they secured for free.
To add insult to, well maybe not injury, they didn’t even bother to reply to my quote, or follow up to see if I could make a better offer.
And, of course, fool that I am, I had already spent a few hours writing a riff for them once the original quote went out.
To be honest, I was bitter for a while. It was hard not to lump this together with other types of hypocrisy from “creatives” who expect to be well compensated for their work, yet at the same time expect to not pay for the music they use in their productions (not to mention the music in their iPods).
I’ve always been open to “marketplacing” my work; trading a creative service in exchange for something else. That’s where most of us started – trading guitar lessons for screen-printing and so on. In these times there’s a lot to be said for being willing to trade music for graphic design or photos, for example.
But, increasingly, it seems that “creatives” expect the musician to work for free.
Am I being harsh? Perhaps. In the past few years I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked to work for free. Sure, there is always “exposure,” “a good cause,” or some other payoff being suggested. But, the equation is the same – and heavily skewed against the musician.
The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.
There are lessons for me in this experience. I could do a better job of responding to emails in a timely fashion. I could also spend a little more time explaining to people why I didn’t go with their quote in bid situations. When we feel slighted in a situation it’s always good to examine if, maybe, we could treat others better when they are in a similar situation.
But, there’s another lesson here as well. As musicians, maybe we need to do a better job of explaining to people why it’s worth paying us. Maybe some folks have forgotten how much better a production can be with real background music, rather than just generic loops or remixes?
Or, maybe music is just finished?
I don’t really have any answers right now. This experience hit me for six and, given that I fell pretty ill soon afterward, I’m not in the cheeriest frame of mind right now.
Part of me is tempted to finish that track and offer it here as a free download to this blog’s readers. If I do that, it will be the first publicly offered recording from my studio here in Singapore. I’m not sure if that would be a good omen or not. Like so many things in the music world right now, it just seems so uncertain.