A new Facebook group, Musicians Against Playing For Free At The Olympics, has been created to draw attention to the growing outrage among some musicians at what they believe to be unfair treatment at this summer’s London 2012 Olympic Games.
Created by player Ashley Slater, the group’s description reads: “Musicians are being asked to play at peripheral Olympic events for free ‘for the exposure’. This is simply unacceptable and I feel we should withdraw our participation.”
Group members have called for musicians to stage walk outs at non-paying events, sign petitions and contact their MPs over the situation.
An online petition has been set up at change.org, which the group are encouraging musicians to sign.
Some users have also uploaded correspondence received from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) over their complaints. The email below from Rob Clarke, Head of Reward, Policy & OD was copied to the group by musician Keith McNicoll, and states LOCOG’s position on matters:
“Within LOCOG our Policy has been established for some time and remains unchanged. Our agreement with the Musicians Union is that whilst we will not be paying volunteers, amateur musicians, or headline acts, all other professional musicians will be paid.
“We stand by that commitment, and are not aware of any official authorised approaches made to professional musicians asking them to perform for free.
“However, given the rapid pace, growth and complexity of our organisation and the many partners we work with, we know that we won’t always get it right.
“We have consistently said that if any instances of professional musicians being asked to perform for free are brought to our attention, and they are genuine approaches from LOCOG, then we will make sure they are in line with our commitments.”
The email was later followed by examples of approaches received by some group members to play at LOCOG events for no payment other than the “chance to showcase [their] talents to the worlds press.”
The Musicroom blog reported on this controversial issue in April in an article entitled To pay or not to pay? Should musicians be paid for Olympic celebrations?
Comments left on the article summed up feelings on both sides of the debate:
“The plumbers, builders etc are being paid – there’s no reason why the musicians shouldn’t be too.”
“Free publicity? I can just see a record label talent agent sitting there going: “WOW listen to that third horn player from the right in the seventeenth row! I’ve got to get that guy on my label!” Aren’t the caterers getting free publicity? The airlines? The security? They should all work for free as well, then.”
Other comments were more supportive for LOCOG’s stance.
“Most of the musicians I know actually have brains of their own with which to do their OWN thinking. If they want to perform for free that is up to them. I am a musician, and I have chosen to play for free on the odd occasion – usually if I get paid for it in other ways – such as getting exposure that I may not get the chance to get any other way. I don’t want or need some collective telling me how I can and cannot spend my time. I say negotiate your own contract.”
On the Musicroom Facebook, one poster argued that event headliners, such as Duran Duran and Snow Patrol, could well see their income from music and ticket sales increase after performing at Olympic events.
Although true, the point perhaps overlooks the heart of the debate which revolves around professional musicians who make their living away from the profits and glamour of the music industry’s extremely narrow summit.
In fact, as part of their agreement with the Musician’s Union, referenced in Rob Clarke’s email above, LOCOG are not obliged to pay their headliners, presumably due to the established success of such acts and their ability to fully exploit the commercial potential of their appearances during the games.
Would a professional steel pan group really gain exposure through Olympic events equal to what they would normally be paid to perform elsewhere?
The Jazz Breakfast blog has been posting about the Facebook group too, suggesting that, if successful, it “could be the start of something really big – and it doesn’t need to stop after the Games are over – musicians get a raw deal whether there is this sporting brouhaha going on or not.”
They also highlighted comments by jazz guitarist Phil Robson who actually believes the Olympics have harmed musicians in the UK.
He has said: “I don’t think any of this can be compared to ‘sitting in’ in a pub for free when you are 15 to gain experience. Yeah sure, we all did that. This is the Olympic games! Half the venues in the country fell apart over the last couple of years due to all their funding being pulled in order to subsidise this.
“Forgot to mention that the Olympics has put me & most of my colleagues out of work anyway for it’s duration as pretty much everything will ground to a halt for it in London & I prob can’t get in or out of town anyway from where I live in Kent.”
The Incorporated Society Of Musicians (ISM) is also running a poll to gauge the opinions of musicians.
Just last week photographers rallied against exploitative contracts issued by The Stone Roses, a situation that bears similarities to the Olympic controversy.
What do you think of the Olympic pay issue for musicians? Do players deserve to be paid just as the builders, caterers and other London 2012 staff will be for their labour?
Join the debate and leave your thoughts in a comment below.