Head-Roc’s Mouth: Should DMV Musicians Pay $1,000 to Open a Show? Absolutely Not.
An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.
Last week, I got a text message from a well-known local hip-hop promoter. It said: "I’m looking for a rapper or producer interesting in opening up for [a well-known local artist] at LIV [in April]. Connect me if you know someone who’d be interested."
Since I know a few stellar artists who would jump at the chance to open up for this particular artist, who has been getting it in on the regional and national level for more than a year now, I sent a text back over that said: "Pay?"
To which the promoter replied: "I need a team who can drop $500 to $1,000 toward the show in exchange for stage time and tickets to sell. Packages include enough tickets to make profit. $500 will get the artist 10 mins and $1,000 worth of tickets. $1,000 will get the artist 20 mins and $2,000 worth of tickets. The lineup will be full in about a week or two at most. So if you know someone who can flip it, have em hit me up sooner than later."
My response: “[Black Cultural Term of Endearment]... That is a motherfucking scam, and I will have no part. Are you kidding me? Don't ever send me no shit like this again."
The promoter responded, “Hahahhahaaha hilarious... it's a huge opportunity for some... just reaching thru my phone book don't take it so personal. And I don't scam no one."
“I am done being nice to you [Black Cultural Term of Endearment]," I texted. "God don’t like ugly. That shit you sent me is wicked."
Boldly, this cat sends back the following to my phone: “Explain to me how it's wicked? Many artists will benefit from the package I'm offering. Meeting with my first act in a few mins. They gonna give their tickets out for free to folks in their hood and use the event to launch their music video. It ain't for everybody... there is a place. Good morning to you too.”
I did not respond.
Don't get me wrong: LIV is a great spot to rock, and it's home to the champion of all D.C. open mics, the Gods’illa-produced Up and Up Open Mic on Tuesdays. (I have rocked there myself a few times; I love the stage and the space LIV provides for local rock stars.) But this promoter's pay-to-play deal? Look: Promoters are gatekeepers, and that's a valuable position that requires a lot of responsibility and a sense of a community's needs. In almost every art scene, we're dealing with economic predators looking to make a quick buck by preying on the desperation all artists experience at some point as they struggle to find places to perform and display their work.
Yes, I said "work." Creating art, especially professionally, is work. Just like how serving as a judge, lawyer, custodian, school teacher, food service worker, or waiter is work.
Now, raise your hand real high if you pay to go to work.
Raise both hands if you pay your employer to work for them.
This is a stick-up!
I wasn’t mad at the brother. But I was shocked. It ain't even funny how many times I've written about the irredeemable practice of requiring professionals to sell tickets to pack their own shows. The promoter of this concert said he sent out a group text that included me. He made a serious mistake.
I am revving up to plant the seeds that will grow into a grassroots campaign in support of the entire D.C. arts community, long frustrated with being robbed of their earnings by predatory practitioners of what I call sharecropping booking practices. The definition of sharecropping, if you don't already know, is just a hair—a gnat’s hair—above flat-out slavery.
It’s the responsibility of other gatekeepers and tastemakers in the community to step up to this kind of practice. Unfortunately, too many of my fellow movers and shakers continue to remain silent when this type of ugliness arises. Have you been wronged by a local establishment or promoter who disrespected you, disenfranchised you, or stole door or bar money owed to you for a night's work? Speak up. Many of the artists who complain to me about being robbed return to the some of the same venues, subjecting themselves to the exact same predatory practice over and over again.
Last week, I took to Facebook to air my thoughts on the issue, and I made a decision: I'm calling for a general artists' strike here in Chocolate City to begin on the first day of spring. As a professional artist, I have long instituted a policy that I do not pay to play a stage. Are you a professional artist working to earn a living that will pay your bills, keep a roof over your head, and feed your family? And are you being asked to devalue yourself for a promoter's profit? Consider putting March 20 on your calendar. A solidarity meeting will happen that day where we all can come together and discuss the problems plaguing us. Stay tuned.