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Thread: On the Exploitation of Classical Musicians

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Default On the Exploitation of Classical Musicians

    By Catherine Manoukian

    A few of days ago, Valentina Lisitsa posted an explanation on her Facebook page of why she had withdrawn from a scheduled appearance at a music festival in Sicily. Here’s the short version: the festival in question is apparently a couple of seasons behind in paying the musicians who have performed for them, and, upon discovering this, Ms. Lisitsa informed this festival that, unless her colleagues were compensated immediately for their work, she would cancel her own appearance there in protest. Her condition was evidently not met, with excuses of “strained finances” being offered instead, and the event was cancelled. The festival then attributed the cancellation to “difficulties in arranging travel” (attempting to present her as a frivolous canceller), so, in order to bring this fiasco to the public attention it deserves, Ms. Lisitsa provided a copy of the full exchange between herself and the organizers of the festival.

    A brief look through the comments on the original post and many of the shares reveals that, apparently, this sort of thing happens somewhat commonly in the world of Classical Music. The tragedy is that, while everyone is shocked, not all that many are surprised. And yet, were I to post a comparable story about dentists or chefs or tax accountants or truck drivers or receptionists or gardeners or doctors or plumbers or theoretical physicists or pretty much anyone other than sweatshop employees not being paid for their services for two years (and possibly never), everyone would be surprised. I think it’s time to have a conversation about why that may be the case.

    Article continues here.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    The talent couldn't have been represented. "Where's my f_____ 10%?"

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    There are more competent, and fine, younger musicians than there are positions available -- I would guess even more so for those hoping to establish soloist careers -- than there ever have been, are, or will be slots for them to fill.

    Many a musician, especially without a good agent, will accept such jobs in good faith, very much like the British Olypmics was more honestly asking musicians to come forward and play for free, that hype being "it is good exposure." Well, those who are both able, and eager, are all too willing to go ahead and accept such a booking, only to find the promoter's cupboards, due to complete lack of realism or bad management or straight ahead thievery, are bare.

    Lisista was quite right to make a noise. She was certain of the likelihood she would not be paid, therefore making it rather easy (and less than 'noble') to go ahead and make the facts known. She did exhibit a professional collegiality and solidarity with those who had not been paid, which is quite honorable.

    There are other factors less than desirable, re: the biz vs. the biz to really be a venue for real art, as salient even if those artists who play the rounds of these festivals are paid. These were very well addressed by Gidon Kremer when he wrote to the director of the Verbier music festival, that letter giving his reasons why he elected to cancel his engagement with that venue.
    Gidon Kremer ~ "Why I quite the celebrity rat-race."
    http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddi...y-ratrace.html

    At the beginning of career level (even more so later) it is near impossible to be both a highly specialized performer and your own agent, It is more than tempting to take that festival job because you get to play, because of any caché the festival might lend to your CV and reputation, and for the general "exposure."

    But this is exactly where agents step in to the picture, and believe me, their ten percent at that point can not only be worth it, but a worthwhile insurance policy against such nonsense as having delivered excellent work on the schedule of demand and then not getting paid, and still waiting to be paid, two years later.
    Last edited by PetrB; Sep-12-2013 at 09:23.

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    Quite agree with both the previous posts. This sort of thing happens in the folk world as well and I heard an agent, who is also both an excellent musician in his own right and a record producer, say that when he started to represent a well known band he found that they were being ripped off by a music festival. The band knew they were being ripped off, but as the festival in question had given them their big break, they weren't making waves. The agent gave the festival in question a thorough reaming and the band got an excellent deal.

    (Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    Quite agree with both the previous posts. This sort of thing happens in the folk world as well and I heard an agent, who is also both an excellent musician in his own right and a record producer, say that when he started to represent a well known band he found that they were being ripped off by a music festival. The band knew they were being ripped off, but as the festival in question had given them their big break, they weren't making waves. The agent gave the festival in question a thorough reaming and the band got an excellent deal.

    (Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
    One cannot live on "exposure," and it is "exposure" a lot of so called promoters would most often like to "pay" the musicians with :-) Any other profession and that sort of promoter would be rightly called a con man.

    I hereby offer a retort I hope any musician faced with the offer of exposure would have ready at hand.

    "Thank you, I'm perfectly capable of exposing myself. but I don't want to get arrested."
    Last edited by PetrB; Sep-12-2013 at 09:30.

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    Let’s all agree that no musician is “easily replaceable”. No musician is “individually expendable”. No musician should be expected to grovel and beg for the “great honour” or the “opportunity” to work for free or for a pittance.
    Hear hear!

    I hesitate to even mention "Pay for play" venue promoters, who exploit the desperate and uninformed, and therefore are deemed by me to be the Scum of the Earth. Mostly not applicable to the classical realm, but still horrible.

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    I really respect her solidarity with the other performers--she didn't need to do that.
    Forgive a naïve question from a local working musician who doesn't tour... but wouldn't performers have contracts to play at shows like that? And if the contract terms are not filled, can't the festival be taken to court? It must be illegal, not just immoral, to refuse to uphold a contract.
    Here in western Mass., USA, I am under contract for everything I do, unless I am donating my services (even then tax paperwork is required) or unless it is a wedding or something... and there have been weddings where I WISHED I'd had a contract... When the schedule of a contract job changes even slightly, I have to sign new copies of the contract, usually in duplicate or triplicate!
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Local law from country to country, the cost of lawsuits, TRAVEL COSTS, hiring the local lawyer who knows the local law and will pursue the case, are all too much together, which is why those who have not been paid do not sue, the time, money, to possibly recover what is owed (with interest of course) is usually not worth it, and there, as here, all a company has to do is file for bankruptcy, the persons behind it keeping any and all of their personal funds and belongings.

    And you have not yet dealt with the myriad of more than fly-by-night European classical music festivals which seem to crop up as readily as mushrooms in a dark and damp environment:-)
    Last edited by PetrB; Sep-13-2013 at 22:02.

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