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I've already written a piece on local advertisers and their role in the scene here, focusing on Vice/Virtue and it's an issue close to my heart. But then something coincidental happened. After reblogging a point made by Twin Horizon and using Jlangmead's cartoon (pictured), my band received an offer to participate in exactly the same kind of thing.
Recap: a disturbing new trend around the world is the use of design competitions to not pay artists. The cartoon sums it up perfectly. The world of advertising and PR is a rabbit hole of denial and insular thinking and the whole concept has started to be applied even without dressing it up. Local designer Kaine Lv, also singer in my band, recently started work on a project that was attained after presenting her professional portfolio and going through stringent background checks. She was then told mid-way into the work, that the boss wanted to check new designers so he had more than one person working on the same project - and would choose the best one (and only pay that one.)
On Saturday, my band Astrofuck played our first long set. I organised a night at Yuyintang and we had an hour of material to choose from, we played forty-five minutes (plus banter etc). It all went great, we had a fun time and I felt we successfully showed we could plan and perform a longer set. This was, it seemed, immediately borne out. As soon as we got off stage, we were approached to play the Xi An Festival (Shanghai). They have permanent grounds down by the new Xu Hui river park and Cui Jian will headline this year. This will be the second year and they have sponsors and everything. Now, actually, I'm not a big festival person and there are many issues ... but I admit to being a bit excited, and it felt like validation of the step up we were trying to make.
And then ...
We went out back to discuss the details and exchange contacts but another story unfolded. The guy explained that the festival had a sponsored Weibo account and that we should use our own Weibo account to make posts there and show our vids and blogs etc. Then, they would 'see who was most popular with the fans' out of the invited bands and choose winners who would then get to play on the bill with Cui Jian. He looked at me and Elsa with an expression that said, 'that's so exciting for you, right?' I asked him to tell me what the deal would then be if you played, but he avoided the question. Finally I said that we'd have to discuss it as a band so could he e-mail me the whole thing in writing, including the dates and pay for if we ended up playing etc. of course, the e-mail hasn't arrived. He left reassuring us that we should first get involved in the Weibo event and go from there.
Where to start? This festival is holding an online event to market itself and its sponsors and is asking bands to put all their stuff there for free, to attract interest to their site and event, to bring in the bands' fan base, and then maybe you will be selected to play and get paid for it. It's basically the same thing as the art comp issue. Also, the really sick thing was wrapping it up in the implication that we should be happy to do that because we get to play on the same bill as 'X big headliner'. Like we are good enough to be on their site and play the festival, but not enough to deserve professional respect.
Let's be clear: the free stuff posted at their Weibo is being used by them for a professional, big-money-making, fully sponsored event. It is being used to make money. Also, local bands spend one or two years on average to get good, all on their own dollar and part-time. Their original material is their work. At our show there were four acts and everyone killed. I would say that HIMDONG blew the stage up. But the festival rep only approached us so here's what I'm assuming: he saw our set and thought we were good enough to play the Xi An Festival - or at least cool enough to be in their online event ... so, if we are good enough to play your for-profit high profile event THEN BOOK US and pay us fairly.
I suppose what really makes this behavior sting is how it's always wrapped up in the language of respect. I mean the whole industry. They talk of cool bands, 'creatives' and supporting local talent etc. But they in fact treat bands and artists poorly. At best they pay a poor percentage of the project's overall profits or budget and expect to be praised for providing the opportunity to work for a big name, or for paying over
slave wages local rates. Not paying at all is the new low, how could you go lower? As long as people participate in all this BS, the longer it will go on. We should at least be vocal about it and not let these a-holes feel comfortable about what they are doing.