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Sell Out - Artwork by Jade Thompson
Sell Out - Artwork by Jade Thompson

It’s 7.17 Sunday morning. I should be having a second cup of tea and trying to explain one more time to the Dogz why we couldn’t have a long walk this morning because it was raining and you don’t like rain, remember, so it was you that cut us short not me. I’d have happily stayed out in the rain, but no, you had to come home, doing the 100m dash as we turned the last corner and the wind picked up, your second least favourite thing in the whole world. And, then, the minute we got in the door and we were all warm and dry again, you both turned and looked at me and said, ‘How’s about a walk, then?’

At the same time as I was being offered a substantial fee for moderating a one-hour panel session at WAMCon, local musicians were applying to play at WAMFest, WAM’s annual showcase of the best of WA music. When we look at the two things side by side, the differences that emerge are stark and indefensible. I was invited to work at WAMCon and offered up front a fee equivalent to a little over $2,000 per day. Meanwhile, musicians were having to make applications to play at WAMFest and, as part of the application process, were asked to nominate a ‘small’ fee for their performances.

That’s what I should be doing right now, but instead I’m sitting at my desk doing this. Why? Good question. The answer is because I love music. It’s been a lifelong affliction, quite a common one, yes, but I’ve got it real bad. As a consequence, I also love musicians. This one is for all my friends, colleagues, frenemies, enemies and haters who are called to the vocation of Local Musician.

Let’s start by establishing the core logic on which rests the argument I’m about to put forward:

  1. without musicians there is no music industry
  2. as a consequence of (1) musicians should be the primary consideration in every aspect of the structures and arrangement of the music industry
  3. everyone else involved in the music industry is secondary to musicians.

Without wanting to get too philosophy 101, what I’ve just done there in ontological (look it up, it’ll help cure your hangover) terms is declare my world view, or bias. Everything you’re about to read reflects that world view. Your agreement, disagreement or otherwise should be based on your analysis of that world view. Any comments or rejoinders that come from a place of, ‘You’re an idiot for dreaming of a better deal for musicians because I’ve been around the traps for ever and nothing’s ever changed so, based on (faulty, read Popper and Lakatos) inductive logic, you’re wrong,’ or ‘You’re that person who was nasty to Robbie Williams a little while ago, so I don’t like you, ergo everything you think and say is shit,’ or other similar idiotic drivel will be treated with the respect it deserves. You have been warned.

Anyway, onto the actual story. I think I’ve finished clearing my throat now. Ahem!

A little while ago, I received an email inviting me to moderate a panel on music exports and showcasing at this year’s WAMCon, the WA Music Industry Association’s (WAM) annual showcase on all things to do with the music biz. Given my very public position on WAM and their entirely inept approach to providing leadership and support for the WA music industry, I was surprised to receive the email to the extent that I replied asking if WAM were aware of the offer. Once I had established that WAM were aware, I gladly agreed to take up the opportunity.

Why would I consort with the WA contemporary music industry’s biggest enemy? Good question. I did it so that I could write this article highlighting the essence of the problem and threat that WAM poses to WA musicians.

At the same time as I was being offered a substantial fee for moderating a one-hour panel session at WAMCon, local musicians were applying to play at WAMFest, WAM’s annual showcase of the best of WA music. When we look at the two things side by side, the differences that emerge are stark and indefensible. I was invited to work at WAMCon and offered up front a fee equivalent to a little over $2,000 per day. Meanwhile, musicians were having to make applications to play at WAMFest and, as part of the application process, were asked to nominate a ‘small’ fee for their performances. Note the word ‘small’. WAM were certainly wanting to hose down expectations that bands and artists would get paid anything close to their actual value; a wholly coercive move on WAM’s part.

I started speaking to musicians about their applications and cheekily asking how much they were getting paid. It was a completely unscientific survey, but sufficient to make my point. Responses ranged from $0 to $150 for four- to six-piece bands. So that we’re comparing apples with apples, based on bands/artists playing 30-minute sets, WAM paid individual musicians who played the annual showcase for WA contemporary music the equivalent of between $0 per day to $400 per day. This is outrageous given that they paid a talentless hack like myself up to five times that rate. There is no way me or any of my colleagues who appeared at WAMCon are worth five times any musician that played at WAMFest.

Given the lack of science behind my polling and for the sake accuracy, I call on WAM to publish information on all payments made to those who appeared at WAMCon and who played at WAMFest. Deidentified information will suffice, but it needs to at least show the gender of each person who received payment. This will enable analysis of any difference in payments to people who are male identifying, female identifying and non-binary. This is important because, by forcing artists to pitch for a ‘small’ fee when applying to play at WAMFest, WAM are likely to have contributed to the gender pay gap. This may not be the case, but for the sake of transparency and so that WAM can be accountable for their actions, they should publish all data on payments made.

When I did my bit at WAMCon, I wore a t-shirt designed and made by local artist, Jade Thompson (no relation). I paid them for their work and artistry and wore their creation with pride. The t-shirt featured the trans flag as a reminder to WAM to quit with the casual transphobia and scrawled across the flag were the words ‘$ell Out!’ because that’s what I did by accepting the gig to appear at WAMCon. I’m donating my appearance fee to Support Act, the charity that did more to support local musicians during COVID than WAM and their complete silence and inaction ever did.

I am now calling on the WAM Board members to resign their positions, because they are sell outs, too, albeit metaphorically. I understand that your intentions are to support musicians, but your actions achieve the opposite. I spoke to several of you during the course of WAMCon and WAMFest this year, as I have over many years now. Your tune is always the same, you have good intentions, but change is difficult, blah, blah, blah. Even worse, some of you claim you are unaware of the details of WAM’s operations. As Board members, you have a strategic responsibility, but you also should be across the details of what the organisation does, because WAM’s actions and outcomes are your responsibility. In my analysis, I would characterise you as interested amateurs. Not good enough. The music industry is a serious business and artists deserve a far better deal than you are capable of giving them. Resign now and give other people the opportunity to steward our local music industry. Do it for the sake of the musicians who I know you love and respect just as much as I do.

To my musician friends and colleagues, those who are willing to heartily agree that they deserve a better deal in private but still accept being used and abused by WAM, an organisation that you own through your membership, now is the time to speak up. The next WAM annual general meeting will be held on Wednesday 21 December and nominations for the WAM Board are now open here. I have to say, 21 December, being so close to Christmas is a curious date to hold an AGM, almost like it’s been selected to ensure minimum attendance by members. Nevertheless, musicians, I exhort you to show up, speak up and, if you’re so inclined, nominate for the Board. I might even put in a nomination myself.

In other controversial news, I’m coming around to the belief that Second Coming may be a better album than The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut. Mani and Reni punch it in the face with their work in the rhythm section. Brown’s voice hits all the notes, and Squire sounds like a modern-day Jimmy Page on every single track. If you’ve read this far, have a crack, I dare you.

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