Should Bands Play Corporate-Sponsored Shows?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
My band's stuck in the middle of a debate and I hope you can help us. Our band has been around for a few years, and had a pretty run-of-the-mill existence in the scene. We have an audience, but it's not huge. Every once in awhile we get a gig that covers a few cases of beer and a coupla months of the band's van insurance. It would be nice to make some money, that part we can all agree on. We got offered a gig playing a sponsored show. Everything about it's different than a regular show--there's a product car in the "venue," only [redacted] will be served, the show's happening in a place that isn't a club, the other bands are corny and not from our scene. I say we don't need the money that bad. The rest of the band says it's not big deal and we should do it, especially since it could open the door to doing more of these easy money shows. What say you?
The rest of your band is correct--in this day and age of bands and corporate partnerships, this is so little of a deal that saying yes to sponsorship is standard. This is how plenty of bands make their living and underwrite their other endeavors. A lot of bands, as you know, are happily seeking out such opportunities as these and real happy to jump through these hoops and shill for whomever is offering.
I think the question to ask yourself is if playing this show is going to change how you feel about what you are doing? Is it going to change how you approach making art? Maybe not. Maybe you will feel sickened by the very sight of yourself in the mirror the next morning. Maybe it's just another show. I dunno what scene you are in, and whether it's one where doing a sponsored show will be something you suffer fallout from or whether your band mates have daycare bills and baby shoes to buy.
Do this: instead of band practice this week, devote one night to everyone reading up on this brand, its practices, any illegality or grossness that might lurk behind the bucks. Are they just an energy drink or are there people or animals or countries suffering because of what they do and how they do it? Do your research. Are you abetting corporate sketchiness? That might make things clearer. It's 2014, there is no reason anyone should be making an uninformed choice about how they participate with big brands.
The other thing that your bandmates are correct about--if you say yes, it might open more doors. It will probably be easier to say yes once you cross that threshold. And there is a reason. Saying yes to money is easy. But then that is the game you are playing, that is where your attention is--and eventually you start to wonder or focus on how do you get these people to give us more shows and more money? To paraphrase Bill Cunningham, money is cheap, freedom is what is expensive.