Are Singer Songwriters Valued? by Katharina Turner
My name is Katharina Turner and I am a singer-songwriter. I’ve been many things in my 32 years, and creating and delivering songs I’ve made is by far both my most challenging and most enjoyed pursuit. I approached Ragged University about the possibility of assisting me with my music and now I’m writing this essay to detail my experiences of the struggle to be paid.
I have as a singer songwriter encountered a lot of difficulty in being paid. I feel this is both about transcending through the system which has been in place as much as me myself, where I stand in my beliefs about the way the world interacts with me and things. And I am going to explore both these elements in this piece.
My experience is limited to about 2 and half years at the time of writing this. I started out as a freshly dropped out law student with the sudden remembrance of music being my most important joy in life, my forgotten purpose. In the past 1 and a half years I have been increasing my understanding of reality and increasing my self awareness. As if I didn’t realise in the beginning that that is a necessary step for me, because I intend to be an artist of a calibre the world has not seen before. Maybe that comes off as big headed but without going too deeply into it I am all about substance free total responsibility authenticity.
That means I recognise and accept everything as a reflection of aspects of myself, I bring those aspects into a state of healed, to being me myself and not the beliefs and perceptions provided by elements of enslavement, as soon as I realise and take account of what I have perceived in my experiences.
It also means I am careful with my language as much as I am able to be – for instance I do not perform, as that has a feel of fakeness to it, I instead consider myself as delivering my creations to those who listen. I do not have fans, as fanaticism is very extreme and I don’t fancy inflicting sense of extremism upon my friends and supporters. And that also means I can’t say the system is the problem. Because as soon as I change the beliefs that limited my expectations and perceptions, I found progress happening with me.
When I started out, I was really clueless. My life used to be very isolated and I was more naïve. I feel like the whole world is changing, but for all I know it’s just because I have been. I know I am talented, I know I could have been a child prodigy had I chosen different parents to take on, and things. But I didn’t go for the child prodigy route, I instead forgot music altogether in my teens when I and my parents in mirroring me increased the levels of attack and restricting my attempts to follow this love of expression. And I forgot for half of my 32 years, that music for me is as important as water. And I feel grateful because back then I probably would have been perfect for sexualised puppetry that had occurred so much in the music industry.
In 2012, I suddenly remembered and impulsively bought a guitar. I created my first ever song over a weekend and dropped out of law school on the Monday following that, qualified to act as a para-legal but too in love with the journey to free my expression to play with law any more. At that time I struggled to talk to people one to one…
When 6 months later I played 3 songs at an informal unplugged open mic, I was actually shaking. But people supported me despite the fact that my creations were then quite childish and my deliverance was so very shaky and not stage worthy.
At first it didn’t cross my mind to seek pay. In fact the next best thing – a bucket for tips – I clean forgot to remind the people around to gift me tips if they felt so inclined. That was during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, my first ever time playing a whole hour of songs for 8 days in a row. Not a penny was mine. That was my own doing. I could have asked! And I could have utilised the tips bucket if I didn’t have the attitude “but that feels like begging”.
I did in a sense get paid in that, in the gaining of experience and awareness around stage presence and self presentation and things around sound engineering (it’s importance, and the necessity for independent artists to back themselves up with a little knowledge of it that if needs be they can set the channels for themselves).
The majority of my experience is in playing open mics. And being amateur. I am currently stepping into being more professional and less amateur than I had been before. It has sort of become customary for artists to be given “free drinks” for playing at open mics, and at paying gigs. I will go into my perspectives of alcohol and music and this custom later.
In seeking paid gigs my experiences have shown me that people assumed me more naïve than I was and played me through desperation I had been feeling stuck in. while others were willing to give me a hand up with “insider info”, contacts, and also forms of collaboration – such as what is happening right here in my writing this for Ragged Music.
In terms of playing desperations I have had several such experiences. One was that someone assumed I didn’t know that most artists expect to receive at least £50 for playing a 45 minute gig. I was offered 120 mins with 2 15 min breaks, at £50. And to be paid, I also would have had to carry 45 mins unpaid in “audition” which was a live gig earlier in the same week. The way I saw that was that to accept would have totally devalued myself, plus it would have given that place the option to not follow through with the underpaid gig in the end – working for free isn’t something I wanted to pursue any more
Another experience I had was of outright exploitations. While busking, I was approached by someone who told me “You’re amazing contact xxxxx about gigs! Here’s his number! Tell him xxxx gave you his number.” So I contacted this person, and they informed me that they were my “Handler”. I received an email, about when I was playing and what was expected of me. Things like “bring at least 4 fans for guest list”… It felt very professional, at least it did to me at that time. And so I thought wow, levelling up! And so I prepared with increased practising and momentum, made sure I was on time, managed to gain names for guest list however only 1 person actually turned up for my portion of guest list – I wish I had had the sense of humour to bring 4 airblowing fans… Cause that’s the kind of sense of humour I have when I’ve not been oh so serious!
My “handler” turned up late, started drinking and kept calling everybody “cunts”. This gig, was basically an open mic, but in the way it was set up it was smaller than an open mic, the way it was advertised repelled customers instead of inviting them, and basically the promotion was a weight given to the artists themselves. Personally this is not acceptable – I create I deliver I can not guarantee people will turn up and I don’t have any interest in promotion and very little know how and time to devote to that aspect as well.
The pretence as well – fair enough what ever play at being wannabe… I did gain something from this though, I gained insight and experience. I also upped my game, and so I came a step closer to professionalism than I had been before that.
Asking to be paid ended my relationship with my “handler” after becoming entitled a “cunt” and a torrent of words “if you want paid go on x factor, you’ll have a ball and make fucking millions” – If I’d bothered replying I’d have said “no I wouldn’t, factor exploits artists out of ownership of their royalties, and only puppets gain xfactor-success… I have a dream I know my vision and my record deal, management etc. are a partnership, not an enslavement in order to attain fame and riches. And thank you for showing me how little I respected and valued my presence, talent, effort and time!” I later found out that Mr “Handler” did get paid and could have paid myself and the other artists…
The most idiotic experience I had of struggle to be paid was in approaching a pub local to where I lived. I suggested that as everyone who drank their sort of knew me in passing due to my locality, and that pub’s future possibility of a claim to fame, would they be willing to host me a paid gig so I could raise funds for myself to travel. I was met with an attack about stealing from charity simply because of the term “raise some funds”.
Bluntly put “covers” feels like a dirty word to me these days! People told me over and over and over “you gotta do covers to entice the crowd!” Well, if I didn’t know I have something to give maybe I’d believe that. And if I wasn’t so afraid of failing, and indeed of increasing my success and prestige, maybe, I’ll stop being told that. If you want to do covers, do covers, there’s plenty people love covers.
The point is I DON’T WANT TO. So I don’t. The point is maybe it would be good if there were places devoted to one or the other – places for cover artists and places for artists who have brought new creations to deliver.
I’ve also experienced venues demanding of me I’d have to put some covers in among my own stuff. I’ve turned down such job offers because it doesn’t appeal to me. I want to be clear though, being a cover artist is fine, it’s what some people enjoy hearing and it’s what some people enjoy doing and at times spoofing… I also want to be clear that personally I find it inappropriate for a venue to tell an artist what material to play.
And I further want to be clear that as someone who meets life from a total responsibility perspective I know this cover business will stop as soon as I stop the worries I allowed to play out in my head that I wasn’t good enough to reach achieving my dream.
Paid In Alcohol
Offering the artists who play alcohol has become customary. And is even seen as a form of pay. I personally choose to not drink. I don’t remember the last time I had a drink but I think it was about mid way 2013. My reasons for not drinking are not wholly irrelevant So I will share: I committed myself to being myself, all of myself, authentically Katharina Turner. As soon as I drink alcohol I have broken that commitment and I’m not prepared to do that. It was an easy commitment for me to make because drinking in the past had been about peer pressure, about being hidden in plain sight, so doing as others did. I don’t enjoy not being able to remember, in fact in what I am healing myself from as a person, inability to remember what happened to me is probably the most scary thing for me to realise. And being clumsy is not something I had ever enjoyed.
Also in observation of society, the prevalence and social acceptance and reliance on alcohol is like an unawareness of wide spread alcohol addiction, I feel unwilling to support and promote this, and so I choose not to and turn down jobs that involved agreement to promote xxxxx drink because xxxxx drink was sponsoring that event.
And further, while some find it awesome, don’t need responsibility like you do in child caring or brain surgery so drink while you work boys, I find this so unprofessional. Artists like every bpdy else may think they improved with a drink but the truth is they become just as clumsy and loutish as the rest of the drunk folk were.
I once took part in a hired practice space, with a bunch of friends and their friends. And to audition some folk in a possibility that was subsequently abandoned. Among the people there were 2 who chose to get drunk, and if I was employing them they’d have been sacked as soon as they produced a can… Why hire space with expensive high quality equipment and get drunk?!
While I’ve always seemed to have drinking pals around who accepted the beers offered in exchange for my time, I haven’t ever been offered even a soft drink instead, except once from a sound engineer I consider a friend… And personally paying with drinks, is a very poor show, it doesn’t help me increase my progress, it doesn’t give me anything to invest in myself or my music with to give me a drink rather than some cash. Where as in being present in the venue sharing of myself and my creations invested in that venue, and all the people who were there – that was imbalanced.
They say charity starts at home. So start by committing to and giving to you yourself. How do I as an artist give myself support? How do I invest in my art and the tools that help me achieve my art? How can I improve my self support and self investment. And become clear about role, worth, value etc. What is my time worth? How do I value my time and my self and my art? How can I increase my self worth and self valuing?
My role as an artist does not involve being a promoter, ticket salesman, sound engineer. My opinion now is that any organiser, venue or event that is not prepared to promote it’s events, does not value it’s entertainment and therefore the people delivering entertainment – I avoid bothering with such people places and events.