The band Garbage have found themselves in a middle of a sh*t storm with a photographer Pat Pope over some rights to use photographs the band paid him to take twenty years ago. You can read all about it HERE. We get these clashing art form cases popping up once in a while, so I am not going to try to tell you who is right here and who is wrong, as the details of the original contract has not been provided, if there even was one…
But this got me thinking about how us musicians should conduct our business, when it comes to hiring a photographer. Everyone seems to make the point that musicians expect to get paid every time their music is being used. Let me shed some light on this one. We hope we will get paid, but the truth is, often most internet radio station airplay, which by the way we are extremely happy to get, only pays very minimal amounts, and by the time all the hands between take their cut, we are left with nominal fee that the collection agencies wont even distribute until the figures add up to something that is worth distributing.
Also many songwriters do sell parts of songs, or even full songs to labels handing over the rights completely. Yep, there are many of your famous artists who claim they wrote a song, but in fact they did not! You might say this is silly on musicians part, but you got to pick your battles. If selling off a song will pay a chunk of getting your own album finished, then why not? And if the song becomes a hit, then you have no claim, as you sold the rights!
Live music is where we make our money these days. Unfortunately to get paid for your show, you need to be good at it. Sometimes it can take years of performing for nothing, before you see any money from it. So no, we don’t always get paid, and we don’t always expect to get paid.
This leads to my real point. If I was to hire a photographer, pay him a fee, when I don’t actually have any guarantee ever making it back, I would only do this if the photographer allowed me exclusive rights to use the photos. Anything less I would consider as a risk at a later date. Now not every photographer agrees to this, and that’s fine. You have the right to refuse to work with me, but I am an independent artist and every penny I spend is a risk for me. All I am saying is these are the conditions I work with, and the conditions I would recommend independent artists to work.
I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but the reason I pay you is so I can use your photo and not to include your name on every poster or Facebook post I use it on. This is not out of disrespect, but just practicality in the digital age we live in. Sure by writing this blog post I will alienate few photographers and they will never work with me. But I come from the DIY punk rock background where we do as much as we can our selves, and the rest is very much share and care.
I understand we all want to be rewarded accordingly for our art. It is a tough game no matter what your chosen form of art is. But if we artists start to fight against each others, I believe we are feeding to the system that has been making more out of the artists than the artists themselves. If I hire you to take some photographs for me, and you do a good job for a fair price, you can be sure I will promote and recommend you for years to come. I don’t do this as “a part of our contract”, I do this because I believe in my heart it is the right thing to do.
The author J.P. Kallio is a singer songwriter
To get EIGHT of his songs for free go HERE