No filter: Musicians raise voice against unfair treatment, non-payment by concert organisers

Chinmayi Sripada, a musician, a voice actor and a revolutionary in her own right, once again has spoken up for a cause, using her personal story as the story.

Shravan Sridhar and Pragathi Guruprasad; Haricharan and Chinmayi Sripada Chennai: Musicians and artists not getting paid and being treated unfairly, unless one’s a celebrity who has a team in a place to ensure that doesn’t happen, is sadly commonplace, as I find out. Many musicians, worried about retribution, fearing being blacklisted and being out of work, have requested anonymity but shared heart-breaking stories with me.

From six to eight young musicians being crammed into one room at their host’s home while on tour, to having to sleep under the dining table is the least of their problems. Having been lured abroad with the promise of performing in the US often, they are pressured into performing with the wrong visa. One such musician who was arrested and deported now faces a 10-year ban. The organisers who took him there didn’t feel the need to brief him about the risk and liability of doing so, and asked him to sign documents in English claiming they were standard. As someone not very fluent in English, the singer felt he could trust them, but sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Chinmayi, recently exposed one such instance of a payment pending to her on social media. She says, “It’s about time we did something about this. As musicians, we are not in the business of charity, especially the charity of fattening already padded wallets. We all have our financial needs and responsibilities and I think the older generation needs to understand that having to ask for payment is distasteful. Many musicians continue to work with organisers who have wronged them, owe them money, exploit them and treat them badly because this is their bread and butter. Demonising people asking for what is rightfully theirs is not acceptable. I think musicians, especially the young ones, need to band together and look out for each other, warn each other of bad experiences with certain organisers so others can be careful.”

As I wonder what the solution can be and ask Chinmayi if she thinks we need a ‘Diet Music’ account on social media, she tells me, “Either a whisper network, or an online global community website, where freelancers rate organisers of music events and share data with others, is the way forward. Organisers who pay on time and are a pleasure to work with can be given good ratings, and people who are the bad eggs and exploit artists can be listed. This way, we can eliminate the aspect of organisers playing off of the insecurities of upcoming musicians.”

As a model and emcee, I have heard organisers tell me that they spent the money they were supposed to pay me on personal expenses. I have bills to pay as well, so my heart goes out to the musicians when I hear these horror stories. Popular singer Pragathi Guruprasad, who travels the globe, tells me, “I have heard reasons for non-payment like a death in the family, that the event was a loss, or that it was a banking error. I think this happens because the organisers don’t understand the difference between personal and professional relationships. It all starts and ends with respecting musicians and artists, no matter how big or small.”

Violinist Shravan Sridhar, who is currently touring the US, adds, “It’s not just event organisers, I have families that still owe me money for playing at their daughters’ weddings months ago. It becomes awkward when they bring up sob stories. They don’t understand that I have paid for my band and the musicians out of my pocket and I can’t keep going on that way. Some organisers allege the client hasn’t paid them yet, while the client would have called me personally to appreciate the music, adding that they had paid in advance. Getting a management team has been my response to all these troubles.” For many singers, getting a team is not always possible. Due to the lack of a proper redressal system, singers who question about their payment are labelled difficult and their calls aren’t answered.

For another celebrity singer Haricharan, whose musical journey has spanned 15 years, there were many learnings from all the issues he faced. “Initially, there were instances of me not getting paid in India, where there isn’t an easy legal recourse for the payments promised and defaulted upon. Deals and contracts are usually on friendly terms and over a handshake, which makes it hard to refer back to, in case of issues. I make sure to be professional, but have also learnt to spot the red flags early on. Now, I only work with clients who respect artists. I think it is important for musicians to learn to read people, negotiate and walk the tightrope of being professional, polite, yet firm while maintaining friendly relations,” he remarks.

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