In a concert-booking business that can seem as predatory as modern-day journalism is for writers, Fair Trade Music D.C. is pushing for better treatment.
Since September, the organization has surveyed local musicians about their experiences at D.C.-area venues in the hopes of shedding some light on which venues treat their artists right and which don’t.
“This is an information campaign,” says Christopher Naoum, co-founder of Listen Local First, an initiative that’s part of the Fair Trade Music D.C. coalition along with Metro Music Source, Innovation Station Music, and Fair Trade Music (which is distinct from Fair Trade Music D.C.). “It’s for the businesses to learn what’s appropriate, for the musicians to know which businesses are doing the right thing, and also for fans to know that these are the places treating musicians for what they’re worth.”
Over the summer, Naoum tasked an intern with interviewing representatives from D.C. venues to glean information about how they pay artist wages. Many places declined to name a particular fee, saying that each night was different based upon who the band was and where they were coming from. The overall data was inconclusive. Naoum saved chunks of it, threw away the rest, and started polling musicians instead.
Fair Trade Music D.C. launched its artists’ survey, which is accessible on its website, in early September. Almost two months and 70 completed surveys later, Naoum doesn’t feel there’s enough data to go public yet. But it’s been interesting learning about how restaurants—-along with other places where music is only a piece of the entertainment—-conduct their business with artists.
“You can get an idea of the basic business models they’re operating on [and] what it is that built this draw,” says Fair Trade Music’s Graham Smith-White, discussing restaurants’ treatment of music. “What do they sell? Do they sell tickets? Do they just sell cans of beer? Do they have a full bar or full menu? You can look at these things and kind of get an idea for how they deal with music.”
Naoum and Smith-White will be representing Fair Trade Music D.C. at the Future of Music Summit, which takes place today and tomorrow at Georgetown University. Tuesday at Georgetown, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the organization will have a laptop station in which artists can fill out the survey. The more they get, obviously, the better.
“For data’s sake, I’m looking for a couple hundred surveys,” says Naoum. “Hopefully with a big press push, we can get that done in the next couple of months.”