As creatives, the term ‘we’ll pay you in exposure’ is one of the most frustrating realities we have to face in every facet of the creative industries – musicians, artists, writers and many others working in these industries are often expected to work for little next to nothing, with creative work being undervalued and the promise of ‘exposure’ being seen as a fair justification for overworked and underpaid artists while employers hold onto the majority of profit. Musicians have all faced this problem at one point or another, and unfortunately this continues to be a reality for many struggling creatives trying to breakthrough into the music industry.
Live music event company Sofar Sounds has been under scrutiny for this type of practice for an extended period of time; back in 2017, KQED elaborated that artists who perform at Sofar Sounds live events are not paid at all, despite the company being for-profit. For first time artists, they were previously offered compensation in the form of a high-quality video recording of their set – and if the musician is considered a regular, are offered a $50 stipend (which has reportedly been increased to $100 per concert as of writing this).
The idea Sofar Sounds put forth of intimate DIY shows in non-traditional venues is one many of us can get behind, but with attendees required to pay an entry fee while the artists compensation comes as an afterthought has imbued the company name with serious criticism. In August 2019, The New York State Department of Labour launched an investigation into the company’s labour practices, as the practice of using unpaid volunteers called ‘ambassadors’ to organise events along with little compensation for artists isn’t exactly ethical.
Now, following this investigation, in a settlement with the New York State Department of Labour, Sofar Sounds will be forking out $460,000 to 654 previously unpaid ‘ambassadors’ in a bid to improve labour practices. In a statement to Variety, a Sofar spokesperson has stated:
“…the New York State Department of Labour stipulates no admission of guilt or wrongdoing and confirms our operating model is fully compliant with New York State law” with a further excerpt reading “We are excited about resolving these issues and moving forward in 2020, with a continued focus on connecting local and independent musicians with passionate music fans.”
In December 2019, a blog post on the company’s site stated:
“Starting February 2020, we’re doing two things:
- 1. Increasing artist compensation for larger shows while still guaranteeing each artist $100 for the smaller ones.
- 2. Creating an artist advisory group to help make sure we’re focused on the right features and improvements. We’re discussing a few different approaches for the compensation increase at our standard shows with that group now and will share those details by February when we roll out the changes.”
Image: Sofar Sounds