I saw a share on Nicki Thurgar’s timeline today from a musician who was super-pissed-off with a company that had asked for permission to use a piece of his music for free. He sent them a ranting email basically telling them to “get stuffed” and rightly so in my opinion.
Something broadly similar happened to me not once, but twice recently. I went to see a band with my sister about six years ago – Any Trouble. I posted the photos on pbase and shared the url with the band who declared how pleased they were with the images. I’m pretty sure that there was no-one else there shooting pics with anything other than mobile phones, despite an ex-band-member who either does or did make a living from photography being in the audience.
Years earlier I’d traipsed around the country watching them play what must have been hundreds of times. A handful of times, my sister and I were put on the guest list for the gigs but we’d always bought tickets already so generally just used our guest list status to show off with! Since then I’ve seen singer Clive Gregson on many occasions, not least when he played in my garden on my 40th birthday. On that day, he happened to be in the country (he now lives in the USA) because I knew he was playing a couple of days earlier at the Cambridge Folk Festival and a couple of days later somewhere else so I asked him if he’d consider playing for me. I paid him the going rate for the gig, with a proper signed contract and all.
A few weeks after the gig at the Jazz Café, the band’s guitarist got in touch with me to ask for a photo to use for a gig review in the German edition of Rolling Stone magazine. I think he was hoping that the gig would be a springboard for a new wave of success for the band. I said that in principle I had no problem with selling them an image to use to promote the gig and he came back to me with a sob story about how the band were broke and they couldn’t afford to pay me. I think they thought I’d be so wowed by the thought of my pic ending up in such a prestigious journal that I’d just roll over and give it up for free. I’m glad that I thought to “sign” the images on pbase and to have only posted them at low res. I had a flurry of email exchanges with him and in the end I didn’t bother replying because he simply refused to consider any kind of payment.
A couple of months ago, I had several emails from a bloke who was acting for the band to promote a new retrospective album they were releasing. It was to contain all of the material they recorded for their first record label, including, as I understand it, previously unreleased stuff. In order to promote the album they were doing a gig and they wanted a photo from my Jazz Café shoot to use in the promotional materials. The bloke who contacted me left me in no doubt that he was not prepared to pay for use of the photo. I wrote back to him politely pointing out that over the years I had invested a great deal of time and lots of money supporting the band and that I’d paid the going rate when Clive played at my house. I explained that I was not prepared to let the image be used for free but that I’d happily barter a couple of tickets for the gig or a copy of the CD in exchange for use. I'm well aware that these options would cost the band very little - they must have pressed promo copies of the album and a couple of guest list tickets would also have only a tiny associated cost. He was so rude that he didn’t even bother to reply. He clearly felt that my images had no value and that I should feel grateful for the attention. I did not share his view.
He said to me something along the lines that the band hadn’t made a bean in the last six years so they had no money to spend on promotion. That’s an interesting concept – I wonder if he was working for them for free then? I doubt it. The point of releasing the retrospective was to generate income, I assume so the phrase “speculate to accumulate” only applied to his salary and to the costs that they didn’t think they could screw out of the little guy supplier (me) without payment for. What was most annoying was the total lack of consideration for my situation. I shot those pictures only weeks before my breakdown and have not worked since so I’m not exactly rolling in money either. In fact, I make a very small supplement to my student loan from my photos but it’s a really tiny amount and my only other income is my student loan. So, if they want to play the “we can’t afford it” card, I can trump them with one of my own. I was also a bit pissed off that no-one in the band contacted me – that strikes me as a bit gutless really. Maybe they thought that this manager bloke could bully me more effectively if they kept out of it.
I was, therefore, cheering at the musician NJ White’s response to a similar request from a production company that Nicki posted a link to. He’s right to say that his music has a value and to expect proper payment for it. Good for him, I say. So I joined in the ding dong and added a short version of this blog post to her comments.