Final post of the year

Might as well go out with a bang for 2010. Just read a blog post that pretty much encapsulated almost everything that is wrong with the music business in one post!!

It was posted on December 8th on the Jazz Journalists of America website, titled Horror for freelancers? Written by my old friend Howard Mandel, a legendary jazz journalist.

The post started out by describing an email sent out to journalists concerning a Wayne Shorter concert at Town Hall in New York City. The concert was being described as a “No comp” event, meaning that everyone covering the event, writers and photographers alike, would have to buy a ticket (for $76.00).

Problem #1: Why should a concert by a legendary, but not very famous jazz musician, have tickets priced at $76.00? Has greed taken over the marketplace? Almost every blog in the music business is blaming the demise of the music business on high ticket prices. Yesterday at lunch I was explaining to three friends of mine why this sometimes happens. One of my friends is a famous catered, having done tour catering for the Rolling Stones, Dixie Chicks, etc. She was wondering why there seemed to be about 100 people working on every major tour. My explanation was this:

The promoter sets the ticket price as the band is preparing the production. They agree that the price has to cover the cost of production and leave something for each party and their representatives. The artist has to have a production commensurate with the ticket price, and the whole thing keeps on growing, until no one can afford a ticket. I remember road managing a tour in 1999. We were in rehearsal and did an inventory and figured that we needed one truck to haul all the stuff. By the end of the second day of rehearsal, the production had grown to the point that we needed a second truck, raising the cost of the tour a considerable amount (second truck, driver, fuel and lodging). At that point, raise the ticket prices or lose money.

Problem #2: The post went on to explain the pay scale for journalists:

“Considering that payment for concert reviews ranges from as little as nothing (online and in a significant number of music publications) to $50 (for print editions of some international jazz magazines) to a top of an estimated $250 (from major international newspapers — which typically assign salaried staffers and cover ticket costs), a “no comp” policy could significantly deter coverage of major performance presentations.”

This didn’t go into the pay scale for photographers. In last weeks post, I talked about the fact that over this last year, my average licensing fee was $18.10 per image. What I didn’t mention was that only about 2% of my licensed images went for more that $50.00 in fees. So, where does the $76.00 come from? The publications paying 0 to $50.00 per review certainly won’t cover the cost. So, at some point, it is better to just stay home.

Problem #3: The post goes on to quote the promoter:

“The truth is, as a presenter, I don’t really care so much about concert reviews. I need previews, which are less and less possible nowadays. I remember when I started out at FPI [Festival Productions, Inc.] 20 years ago, we used to get preview articles in the NYT. Now that is virtually unheard of. . .”

Several questions arise from this. First, is this the artist’s wish? I would thing most artists would love to have great reviews of the event- it would drive record sales, at the least and provide material to help the artist sell shows in other cities. I wonder if Wayne Shorter’s people agreed to this? If I were his manager, I would not be happy about journalists having to pay for seats. Second point, going back to problem #1- maybe if he was charging a reasonable price for tickets, he would fill the house and would be able to comp some journalists. Also, if I were Wayne’s manager, I would ask my record company (If there is one) to do a ticket buy for journalists.

Problem #4: From the blog post:

From a journalist- “Funny, my rent was only $650 back when everything was free. Now that my rent has exactly doubled, mags start wanting free content and promoters cut out press tickets. This can’t go on too much longer, at least not for me.”

For photographers, our work has been devalued to the point that the only way we can get any work is if we agree to work for free or next to free. True we are building up a stock library, but when licensing fees are dropping at an alarming rate (I licensed one image this year for 72 cents- my share was 36 cents!!!!, are stock libraries worth anything?

Then come the comments to the post.

First was a comment from David Whiteis, a very well respected Chicago journalist:

“Part of the problem, although no one wants to admit it, is that the definition of “journalist” has been seriously dumbed-down by technology in recent years. I’m pretty close to the folks who put on the Chicago Blues Festival, and I know for a fact that in recent years they’ve been utterly inundated with comp requests from self-described “journalists” and “critics” whose “assignments” are nothing more than their own desire to get their opinions aired on their own personal websites, blogs, etc. (Then there are all the fly-by-night “blues societies,” each with its own newsletter or online “publication,” and many of which seem to exist only to get their members free passes and backstage access at festivals.) In light of this, Chicago’s Mayor’s Office of Special events have seriously tightened up their procedures for getting press access — you need to jump throiugh several hoops to PROVE to them that (1) you’re on a real assignment, and (2) the “publication” you’re writing for actually exists somewhere outside of your own imagination or your own Facebook account.”

I agree almost completely with David, except for one point- restrictions have gotten so tight in the photo business that sometimes the only way that you can get any kind of access is if you invent your own publication. Is this any different than 25 years ago when we would lie to publicists, telling them that we had assignments, when the assigning magazine did not give out assignments. (Second step was to call the magazine’s photo editor and have him or her lie for us when they were asked if we were on assignment). Worked every time! Seems like today, the only way to get a start in the business is to invent your own publication. (I actually published 50,000 copies of a 32 page newspaper on three different occasions, sold advertising to pay for it and gave it away for free – much easier now to start a webzine!

Next was the best comment of the bunch, from legendary photographer Enid Farber:

“Photographers whose cost are usually pretty high because of 1.) transportation expenses to schlepp our equipment to gigs such as a Carnegie Hall concert where you need a 300mm lens and for those of us who are not as young as we used to be or have suffered bodily injuries so that we can’t carry heavy bags up and down flights of subway stairs and need to take cabs and 2.) equipment maintenance and replenishing costs and 3.) processing costs (now even with digital-the time it takes for post processing is costly); point being, if we then have to absorb the costs of the ticket to cover a performance and then do all of this for free, who is going to be left to document the music? Well it seems that there are the doctors and lawyers and other highly paid professionals with the best equipment that money can buy and are passionate about the music and don’t need the income from it, that are able to afford to keep shooting and perhaps that is the wake up call for those of us who have devoted our lives to the craft of music photography but did not prepare for the new world where we are expected to contribute our work for free and where everyone has a digital camera and fancies themselves a photographer. I hate to sound bitter but that’s what it has come to and I for one can not continue to document the music I have spent over 30 years loving if the industry makes it too difficult to work with and having my work published just to keep my name alive is not good for my health.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself! She went on to echo what I have been saying for the past year. Who is going to be there to document what is going on in music today? I earn a great part of my living contributing photos to greatest hits and best of box sets. Right now we are in the golden age where most of the great bands of the 80’s are having 20 and 25 year anniversaries and there work is being re-released with deluxe packaging. There is tons of great material out there to add value to the product. What is going to happen in 2030 when Taylor Swift and Beyonce are having their 25 anniversaries (sorry almost fell out of my chair laughing). When the art directors of that period ask for photos from 2010, everyone in America will send them the same picture!

To read the whole post:

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