Why are renowned institutions like LUMS Music Society, I am Karachi Music Festival and others, cheating the talent that makes their events and platform a success? We reached out to some Pakistani independent musicians to shed light on this frustrating culture of delayed and non-payments for their performance.
Getting paid on time has always been the bane of our existence, especially if you’re freelancer. It’s as though people that give us work take the ‘free’ in freelancer to heart. Musicians in Pakistan, independent musicians specifically, are working on a freelance basis because the music landscape in Pakistan doesn’t allow for more work opportunities if you’re not famous. But somehow it’s difficult for some to grasp that not being famous doesn’t delegitimize the art that these musicians create. To call them freelancers would also be an understatement, because they put in endless effort every day to continue creating new music, now and again, in the hopes that one more person will hear them, one more opportunity to get someone to invest in their work, one more Facebook like, one more fan.
It’s as though people that give us work take the ‘free’ in freelancer to heart.
But somehow, there is still a perception in the entertainment world of Pakistan that you can continue to ask musicians to perform at your events, but paying them is least priority. For the longest time, musicians were hardly discussing this pressing issue on public platforms and spheres until recently, and it’s been a long time coming.
Last month, a Facebook post by indie musician Shajie shed light on the plight of musicians who are simply just trying to get paid for the work they put into performing at shows. He posted on Facebook regarding a performance he did for the LUMS Music Society, saying: “Now it has been more than two and a half months and I have still not received the amount mentioned on the contract. Please pick up my calls.”
This pretty much sums up the life of almost every indie musician in Pakistan.
“Delays in payment of our performance fees is just part and parcel of the independent music scene in Pakistan,” said Shajie while speaking to Mosiki. He also experienced this while working on an Indian film project last year when it took over a span of one year for him to get paid, after constantly nagging the producers about it.
“This is just something you come to terms with as an indie musician in the industry” he adds. “However, the reason why the incident with The Music Society of LUMS was the last straw for me was because of the utter lack of respect that they showed me. Their representatives stopped answering my calls and they were the least bit apologetic about the delays in payment. On top of that, they did not pay the amount that they promised, not just to me but to three other bands that performed at the Indie Music Food Festival.”
Shajie further elaborates that when an artist is invited to perform at an event, he/she is not just being paid to stand on stage and sing for a certain period of time. “You’re paying them for standing on stage and singing, endless amounts of rehearsal time, equipment costs, the transport to and from the venue and so many other things. The least you can do is respect the artists and pay them what they deserve,” he says.
Lahore-based Poor Rich Boy also performed at the the concert organized by the LUMS Music Society. The band has been playing shows for around ten years now, and this was one of the many times they faced issues with payment. “Back in the day, playing at small venues for people we know for about rupees 3000-4000 per [band] member, has never been a problem. If the sum exceeds that, suddenly everything changes” the band said. This also wasn’t the first time Poor Rich boy performed at LUMS. The band has been invited in the past to also give lectures off and on many times in the past few years. The institution has a number of societies and they aren’t related to each other, but they all have usually taken a long time to pay the band. But what was communicated with Poor Rich Boy before they agreed to perform at LUMS?
“They said what they always say when they’re trying to seduce us to come play: we’ll take care of everything, you’ll be paid on time etc., please don’t ask for this amount or that amount, we’re just poor students with a dozen sponsorship deals,” Poor Rich Boy shared. “So we end up agreeing to an amount that already makes no sense, considering the number of band members and all. And then there’s the usual post gig amnesia that all organizers suffer from. This time around, late payment aside, we got taxed 35%! which was never communicated in advance.”
According to the band, somehow there is clarity in communication and the agreement before the show, but after the show it all becomes “nebulous and strange”. The band added that nobody actually pays on time, be it a concert, a meet or a festival, it takes two to four months on average for musicians to get paid and it has been a constant problem in their careers.
Yet, there is still a perception in the country’s entertainment business that musicians can still be asked to play for free at their events because ~ E X P O S U R E ~ but this mentality is getting really frustrating and old, especially for musicians who have given their art nothing but their all for a number of years.
“I’d say about 90 per cent of the gigs in my career (all the projects I’ve been involved in) from the start have been unpaid performances,” shared Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey (Alien Panda Jury). “Usually it was on the selling point of ‘good promotion’ or giving us a ‘platform’ to perform because a bigger artist will be taking the same stage later that day. However with the paid shows, getting paid late is very much the norm, sometimes it stretches beyond 3 months.”
A point to learn from is that the shows that Alien Panda Jury played abroad, he was either paid for them in advance or soon after getting off stage. So in comparison, what is happening in the Pakistani music scene right now is pretty unfortunate. But on the bright side, Alien Panda Jury recently performed at a festival in Karachi which was the first time he was paid an advance and the remaining payment was given to him no later than a month after, which was a positive improvement compared to his past experiences. He says that the problem arises because organizers often say their sponsors haven’t provided the funds yet, so they don’t yet have the money to pay up. Or, organizers say they can’t pay your usual fee, yet will be willing to spend around 30 times your asking price in order to pay the headlining performers at the event.
He further shared that when it comes to paying artists, there has never been a culture of musicians actually being offered a sum, or even asking them if they charge a fee for their performance. It is rather disrespectful that a smaller artist is expected to perform for free, but appears to me a norm in the industry.
Karachi-based E Sharp has been playing together for the last five years or so and started off by playing a number of free gigs. According to E Sharps’ Ahmed Zawar, the perception of being hired to play shows for free is still prevalent. “They are ready to pay the sound wallah and the stage wallah, everyone gets paid, but the musicians’ payment is of the least priority”.
“We’ve played in renowned festivals like the Creative Karachi Festival and we played there for free, nobody asked us if we wanted any money out of it but we did it because as musicians, we encourage ideas of such festivals happening and it makes me happy on a personal level,” Zawar says. The band also performed at I am Karachi Music Festival in December 2017 and are still awaiting full payment.
There is still a perception in the country’s entertainment business that musicians can still be asked to play for free at their events because ~ E X P O S U R E ~
“They had agreed to pay us a specific amount and the deal was that they will pay us half before the performance and the rest after the performance,” Zawar says. “The remaining half has still not been paid to us in full and it has now been more than two months and we have of course made a number of calls, at times they answer, at times they dont, but we still haven’t received the payment,” he added. This comes as a shock to E Sharp considering that I am Karachi is a considerably big set up with significant sponsors behind it.
“The moral compass needs to improve and people need to realize that musicians are struggling with financial issues and have to invest a lot of to keep making music,” he adds.
Ahsan Bari, the music director and performer associated with Sounds of Kolachi, has been working as a performing artist since the last 15 years. The musician studied music at NAPA and has worked in the past with bands like Gravity and Taal Karisma. According to him, not getting paid as a musician or dealing with delayed payments is a norm in Pakistan.
“I have been facing this from day one and I had no clue how to deal with this,” says Bari. “As a struggling musician or artist, you prefer making contacts and be in good terms with people, specially the big guns, and that’s where they take advantage of you being a newbie.”
In the past, Bari has suffered delayed payments as well as no payments and didn’t know how to tackle this. But recently, he says he has changed this attitude and tries to make sure somehow that he gets paid. However, late payment is still an unresolved issue and he says most of the time artists don’t turn towards legal help.
“Pakistan has a small industry with no infrastructure. There is no ‘music association’. Musicians are not active that way and nobody knows about their rights as an artist,” Bari says. “Most of the time musicians are scared that if they go against the other party they may lose work for next time. This has to stop and I am already trying to unite musicians on a platform and sort this out.”
Bari’s next plan of action is to form a collective of musicians to come together and sort out issues related to payments. “We will form a blacklist of organisers, promoters, advertising agencies etc. and the musicians will take care of these issues together and how to deal with them. This is happening soon.” He hopes that senior musicians in the country will also take the initiative to join this collective, to take a step forward toward improving the music industry and providing solid infrastructure for future generations.
The way performing artists are perceived in our society seriously needs to change, among other things. But if organizations and platforms can’t respect the very artists they need to hold successful events, we really can’t expect the arts and culture in our country to thrive. If you’re an organizer, understand that these artists are *working* for you and just like you are getting paid to hold events, artists must be paid for being a part of them. If you’re a musician struggling to get paid your dues, you don’t have to silently wait anymore. If you made a deal to perform for at their events and never showed up, you wouldn’t hear the end of it.