By Luke Tweedy
There’s an old joke about how being a musician means bringing $5,000 worth of gear in a $500 car to a $50 gig.
Recently, I was at a show when a kid passed me a handbill to his $5 three-band show. I made a comment about him undervaluing himself to his response, “Maybe you don’t understand DIY culture …”
For more than 15 years I have owned and operated Flat Black Studios and recorded hundreds and hundreds of albums. We’re located in a repurposed 2000-plus square foot barn that I built 90 percent of myself. I started and run Grey Area festival, co-own Long Play Records, play in the band Sinner Frenz and co-own White Rabbit, a store started around the idea of promoting local DIY makers’ work. I’ve devoted my entire life to the idea of DIY culture, honor and ethics in all that I try to promote and accomplish professionally. To say, “Maybe you don’t understand DIY culture” is laughable (and I did). The oddest part was this musician was trying to argue why he was worth less than I valued him at.
I was already thinking about the $5 show, but after our conversation, it was lodged right in the front of my brain. I had conversations with Katy from Trumpet Blossom, Pete from Gabe’s and Yacht Club and Chris from Mission Creek, Witching Hour and Feed Me Weird Things and all agreed: It is past time to kill the $5 show, for the artist’s sake.
When talking to musicians, though, some would argue, “Fugazi played for $5.” To those who are not familiar, Fugazi are DIY legends. They did it right, with ethics, and are the historical standard all others are held to within that community. Thing is, they played for $5 in 1987. Minimum wage was $3.35/hour. Now, in Johnson County, we have a recommended minimum wage of $10.27. By this calculation, the standard show should be $14.50.
The left love saying we need a $15 minimum wage, and they support the arts and music. The right loves saying the free market can dictate value, and they don’t need a law or regulation to tell them how to act properly. To both groups I say, prove it: Act properly, and support the arts. I am suggesting, right here and now, that our community step up and become a leader in how we treat our musicians and their shows. We already have some of the best venues and bands in the state, now let’s have the most supportive show-goers. Let’s show the love, care and respect music and the arts deserve.
I think it is time for every venue in the area and every band to revalue themselves. Do what you want, certainly — I sure don’t want people telling me what to do. That said, I do take advice. Is a goal of $10 shows by 2020 too lofty? Would suggesting that all shows from here on out charge a $7 base price seem ridiculous? If so, ask yourself, do you really support music and the arts? Certainly some do not, but they were not coming out at any price.
We can do better than $5. Venues, please help those who help you sell all that beer and liquor. Musicians, stop undervaluing yourselves, wasting your time and talent. Stand up for what you want and deserve, and place value in what you do. If you don’t, nobody else will, ever.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 250.