Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summerfest's Local Stage Does Not Pay Its Bands. Is That Alright?

By Evan Rytlewski
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In all my years of covering the local music scene, I've never seen anything divide Milwaukee musicians as reliably as the local music stage at Summerfest. As in year's past, this year the stage, now titled the K-Nation/Cascio Interstate Music Stage, will not be paying its performers. Instead, each band will receive a $200 gift card to Cascio. The stage promoters frame this as the best they can do.

I'll lay my cards on the table: I'm inclined to believe them. From the little I know about the stage—which has never been a top priority for Summerfest and came closer to not returning this year than many might realize—it would not be financially tenable if the organizers had to pay bands at this point. They had the choice of hosting a local music stage where bands do not get paid, or scrapping the stage altogether. I think they made the right decision.

That's my take, at least, and one shared by many of the acts playing the stage. Other local musicians, however, make a very fair and convincing argument that by not paying artists, the stage is undermining the local music economy, and playing into the very biases against local music that the promoters of the stage are purporting to fix. "How about actually championing for Summerfest to PAY the artists that play the stage," one musician wrote on Facebook yesterday. "Can't 'make a living' if there is no money."

This is a perennial debate, and one that's unlikely to ever be completely resolved. A few readers rightly called me out for not addressing the K-Nation stage's compensation plans in my short profile of the stage in this week's issue of the Shepherd, including guitarist Misha Siegfried. He sent me an email which nicely captures the frustrations of any working musician who has been asked to play "for exposure," and has graciously allowed me to reprint it below because, in his words, "we're all tired of getting screwed."
Glad to see the Shepherd covering the Cascio/K-Nation stage at Summerfest. However, I would be remiss as a local musician if I didn't point out that they are NOT PAYING THEIR TALENT. Compensation is a gift certificate to Cascio.

Speaking as a local musician, this is an insult. These people are talking about supporting the local scene, but God forbid they should pay us like any other service. We have just as much right to earn a living as the cover bands and the headliners. Most of the local musicians all have day jobs. Most of us have to take time off of work to do a Summerfest gig. And now, we're not even getting paid to do it.

Summerfest hails itself as the largest music festival in the country. That means it hires a lot people, from grounds-crew to office workers. All of those people get a paycheck for their time and services. Why are we excluded from that?

Shame on them! Especially because most of these people are musicians in their own right. How dare they say they're helping us, only to turn around and slit our throats.
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