What is fair pay?

So you go to the salon and pay somewhere between £7 and £20 for a haircut (women, don’t get involved, I know you pay more blah blah, I’m sorry). We feel this is fair, we feel like we’ve paid for the ‘expertise’ of the hairdresser and the ‘experience’ of being in a salon (we’d expect to pay less if we were having our hair cut in someone’s kitchen right?).

We trust that the salon manager has appointed hairdressers worthy of the price per cut they are charging? If not, then the salon faces a reputational risk with an increased coverage of consumer power through internet reviews and social media (the same as any business would face who did not meet our minimum expectation #PowerToThePeople).

So we pay £10 for 20 minutes of ‘treatment’ (excluding any waiting time) and we imagine the hairdresser has taken around a third –if they manage to cut 3 people’s hair in an hour then £10 for them seems about right, fair. They’ve taken £10, the salon has taken £20. Someone feel free to correct me but this is likely right?
Now I’m not in any way suggesting that the hairdresser is earning too much, or that the salon is taking too big a cut (#SpotThePun), I’m just getting us all to a place of agreement that we feel as though we are getting what we pay for (if we weren’t there would be fewer salons right?). We need our hair cut, we want to have it cut by someone who knows their way around a scalp (no one wants to look like this kid:);

we want to go somewhere that specialises in providing this service in an environment we enjoy. Everyone goes home happy – the salon manager has paid their outgoings, we look awesome and the hairdresser has been fairly compensated.

Me with crap / awesome hair!

This same model could be applied to a few businesses where people are remunerated fairly based on their skills / experience, the business, and the service offered.

We pay (or our taxes contribute to) £140ph for a solicitor, £100ph for a GP, £60ph for a computer programmer, £30ph for a teacher, £20ph for a builder – and we imagine that the individual’s gross take home (after their company has taken their slice of the pie) is somewhere between 30-50%. All of these have been balanced out over time and we know the score long before we enter into the profession (what future teacher doesn’t know their expected starting salary before they’ve even picked up their A level results?).

But what about if you’re in a band?

You and 99 other people go to a gig and pay £6 entry, which seems fair for 45 minutes (plus half an hour each of 2-3 other bands) live music entertainment. All in all your night started at 8pm and you’re getting into a taxi home around 11pm. As with the hairdresser, you’d expect to pay less if you were going to a gig in someone’s kitchen than at a venue with pedigree ala Camden Underworld, Proud, 100 Club or Scala.

Of that £6, it’s fair to say that there are a lot of people it needs to be split between. £1.40 has gone to the venue manager, £1.20 to the event organiser, 70p has gone to each of the 2 doormen, £1 to the sound guy and the last £1 has been split evenly between the 3 bands (12-16 musicians) oh and the bar staff have been paid from the profits of the take.

Everyone goes home happy, the venue manager has £140, the event organiser has £120, the sound guy has £100, the doormen have £70 each, the bar staff have around £40 each and each band member has somewhere between £6 and £10.

There’s obviously an in balance in the pay structure when you consider everyone’s contributions to the night (that may have started weeks before). The venue manager has had to make sure there’s a venue that’s well marketed, well stocked and provides a good experience for customers and clients (the event organisers); the event organiser has had to plan a date with the venue, market themselves and liaise with bands, organise a soundman for the night... and made the Facebook event; the security guards have had to make sure they are suitably wedged, suitably tanked on energy drinks and suitably obnoxious to everyone; the sound guy has had to invest in years of higher and further education qualifications and is there to apply his skill and experience as well as set up and pack up the stage; the bar people need to be able to count money and have arms to serve drinks; and the band members have had to invest years in learning their instruments, weeks in writing and rehearsing music, a few hours speaking to the event organiser and marketing the gig to their fans, friends and family, and then perform to the fans / customers.

If this was china we’d all get £6 and so the event would never happen. So communism (this time!?) isn’t the answer at addressing this inbalance.
I recently looked into becoming a member of the Musicians Union but have yet to pull the trigger, number one reason being, I wouldn’t be able to play music publicly anymore. The minimum I would have to earn from a gig is £125 + £36 every hour over the first 3. This is what is recognised by legal boffins, unionists and the government as a ‘fair remuneration’ for a professional musician; of which I consider myself to be one based on my skills and experience (skills comes certified by my Music BA (hons) which I graduated with a first, and my experience comes from performing the 500+ concerts, gigs, shows that I have played in my life in a variety of occasions and settings including weddings, funerals, festivals, theatres, lounges, bars, pubs, venues, basements, boats, towers, and The Royal Albert Hall). So you see my predicament? Join the union and get paid ‘fairly’ but sacrifice playing gigs that could potentially further the opportunities for my band. So what else can be done about it?

Become an event organiser? Yeah those guys nearly always started out in bands and ‘love supporting the live music scene’ – nah, soulless, lonely, uncreative, fake (rarely do they actually do it to ‘support the live music scene’); become a sound engineer? I’ve already put my time in at university, and I’m not grumpy enough to be a sound engineer (a few notable exclusions include Jamie taylor, the guy who did our sound for our ONE EP launch party at The Hat Factory and anyone under 25 years old, who are still ‘living the dream’); become a doorman? Not tall enough, not hard enough, not mindless enough, too cool; become a venue manager? Does anyone dream of that? How do you get into it? Are they barmen turned good? It’s nothing to do with music. So that leaves either becoming a barman or just carrying on making £6 a show for the ‘sake of my art’.

Imagine what the world would be like if people wrote legal documents, diagnosed illnesses, made computer software, taught our children, built our houses or cut our hair for the ‘sake of their art’. Everyone would be contractually obliged to be involved in legal conspiracy, no one would receive the right medicine or healthcare, the most advanced computer programs would look like teletext, no one would know anything, all of our walls would fall down and our hair would look crap.
So maybe this is the problem with going to see live music? There is very limited quality assurance when you part with £6 to go and see your mates band – have the other bands been vetted? Or have they simply been chosen to play based on how many fans they have on Facebook and Twitter? Is their art any good? Is the experience even worth £6?

I think what it comes down to is that the government’s and the general public’s hourly valuation of a skilled musician is so contrasting because the general public have been exposed to too many bands that would give you a hair cut in the dark using garden sheers they picked up for the first time last week.

What I and The Wondersmiths will continue to do is, play every gig we can, whatever the wage we earn from it, because we believe in our art, a belief that is routed in skill, qualification, experience and determination and if that leads to a slight restoration in the general public’s perception of an increase in quality of live music, then I’m happy that we’ve ‘supported the live music scene’. Seriously though, we’re going to ‘make it’ and when we’re at the top, our voice will be louder, and a campaign for fair payment of grassroots musicians chasing a dream, a lot stronger. Before then though, we could use all the cash we can get to reinvest in our dream: more recordings, more videos, more tours, more promotion, more equipment and more time to be creative – so please visit our shop and buy something!

Thanks for reading,

We love that you are on this journey with us!