Saturday 17 April 2021
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The price tag on live music

…Big Ben weighs in on the cost, hurdles and rewards of being a live-performing artist


Live music has long been an important part of the global music industry and the growing demand for the instruments and live effort put in the art is testament to the booming industry. Music enthusiasts want to see effort, the production of music while at the same time enjoy their favorite lyrics. However, not all is cheers as those in the industry have a different narrative to tell.

Having been in the industry since 2001 and earned a name on top of reputable accolades from his art, the ‘Moro-Moro’ hit maker Big Ben says it is not easy for live performing artists when it comes to finances and remaining in the industry.

Although the industry is growing at a snail pace in terms of attracting artists to the instruments, a shoestring growth is only visible in the demand and the transition of artist from backtrack to doing live music.

On the other hand, major record labels locally have been seen doing major signings of backtrack artists instead, citing huge bills they would need to invest in live performing artists. This draws the perception that doing live music is expensive.

Word on the stages is however different from the assertion that live performing artists are expensive with artists saying it is the factors within the cost that makes the prices of live performers ‘expensive.’

While acknowledging that the ‘expensive’ tag is generally a Namibian thing where everything is overpriced, live performing artist are not having it any easy surviving in an industry with many middlemen making the buck and them only getting what is left.

In addition to the time spent performing at an event, the cost for live music includes practice hours, time spent learning special-request songs, travel time and expenses, and preparation and transport of gear to the event.

Take Big Ben, he has 6 to 7 band members whom he would want to pay at least N$2000, and then he has to pay for transport to get his band to and from the venue for sound testing, and he need to pay himself to be able to administrate his business. By the time the total is set, many event organizers will shy away from these artists saying it is too expensive.

“But we are not expensive, it’s the service providers in between that inflate the prices, taking away even more than what the person who does the work will get at the end of the day. You must understand that there are instruments that I need to use. The guy who has the sound system would charge me twice the amount it would cost,” charged Big Ben.

The multi-award winning artist pointed out that there are only about four companies that rent sound systems and they too have their fair share of monopoly. The cost endured to bring about live music is heights above compared to your backtrack artists who at most does not need a band or rent an instrument. It is not realistic to hope for a professional string quartet to perform for N$1000.

“It is fair for any band to charge anything above N$25 000 to N$45 000. The fact that I perform with a band means I feed more people and pay a lot to make my music compared to the person who performs alone.”

Should any party be blamed in the stagnant growth of live music, Big Ben says fingers should be pointed in the direction of service providers who price their services very high, sometimes even making more than artists.

“Your event organizer, the guys who provides you the speakers and all sound systems, the person who books you and every little equipment that you need to take on the stage has a cost to it. It is simply how people do business that paints us the way we appear to look in the eyes of the public.”

“These guys take up more than 50 percent of what I’m getting paid already. On top of that, artist are the only people who are arm-twisted to still negotiate after submitting a quote.”

An important aspect of live musical sound, and one which is very helpful in judging reproduction systems, is not recognized by existing terminology. With technological advancements becoming not only accessible but also affordable, live performing artist could only wish the cost of live music production could also become reasonable.

Attending live music events and concerts has become a big thing. Watching the dynamics of the musicians on stage as they perform, while they treat you to a sound experience I would not otherwise get from listening to music canned as heard through the stereo system.

The ambience from the crowd makes the experience even more enjoyable. When thousands of people in the crowd are singing along, with the band’s encouragement, or dancing to the music, it makes the story so much better.

While creatives are not generally given the praise they deserve, next time you go to a live show, consider the hurdles artists go throw and support the art.

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