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An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.

A question for all my Chocolate City indie artists:

When “so and so,” “this place and that place,” and “whodie who” asked you to come out to perform your craft or display your wares for sale at their benefits for Haiti, were you compensated for your time, energy, creativity, and resource expenditures?

“Of course not Head-Roc!” you say. “It was a benefit for the People of Haiti following the massive earthquake, for Pete’s sake! Dude!!”

OK. You’re right. I’m sorry for asking so directly. What I want to more skillfully ask is this…

When you came out and rocked your sets for zero comp, I mean, donated your entire performance, did the venue donate their entire night’s receipts to whatever charitable organization, as well? Do you know if they did? Did you think to ask? And more importantly, do you care? [At least one benefit, last month’s DMV Supports Haiti concert at the 9:30 Club, did give all receipts to charity—-ed.]

And I’m not asking the hobbyist musicians, the open mic’ers, and karaoke professionals. I’m not asking you—if you love your 9-to-5, 401(k), and retirement benefits, then hey, you probably can afford to come out and rock for free, right?  (Yes, it’s a trick question.)

I’m asking the ones whose names have been well-known throughout the city over the years—my contemporaries in all forms and genres of the D.C.-area indie arts scene. I’m asking the cats whose mission it is to create and perform their original music full time. I’m asking because, well… you’ve put in massive work, having withstood the tests of time to establish yourselves as bona fide musicians. Your music is solid. Your act is polished. Your peers acknowledge you as a pro, and you’ve got diehard supporters that will show up for you when you “work.” Yes, I said “work.” Playing professional music at any venue is actually “work,” you know.

So, when venues advertise benefit shows where they are “donating all proceeds to [insert charity here]” and have known professionals playing for free, are they donating the night’s bar and food receipts? Their staff’s wages? Payouts? Their sound guy’s pay? My point being: Are they donating their “work” as well? Or are these venues actually profiting from the “work” of others (musicians, promoters, family, and supporters) donating time and efforts organizing people to attend the functions they “host?”

I think these are fair questions to ask. The music scene in Chocolate City is supersaturated with predators dining nicely off the career aspirations of indie musicians working and investing toward sustainable careers. Many venues and promoters take advantage of musicians looking for a bigger, better, or—my favorite—the “right” opportunity, so that they can play later at a high-profile event. The problem is that overwhelmingly and all too often, it simply does not go down that way—for some people. Yes, dig that!

Consider this the first in a series of tangential thoughts on the phenomenon of incredibly talented Chocolate City musicians not being able to “break” based on the merits of the music we create. Ya’ll hold on tight now… it’s going to be a bumpy ride! You might ruffle some feathers and maybe even lose a few friends (like I have) going down this rabbit hole, but please… holla black with your thoughts!

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