On Friday, the Grapevine did a small report on the towering Juggernaut that is OF MONSTERS AND MEN being interviewed in the Scottish Sun about the fact that “They can’t go back to Iceland” to perform here. Now bearing in mind that they were talking to the Scottish Sun, that bastion of truth and objectivity, it’s likely that this may have been deliberately misinterpreted, but she came out with this quote.
“Our gigs are nothing like playing in Iceland,” she said. “For a start, we hardly have any venues left. It’s a sad thing and they keep shutting them down… It’s so expensive to be travelling out of Iceland and, to be honest, back home being in a band is considered a hobby – people don’t expect to pay you for it.”
Posting this on Facebook that same day provoked a few comments from many musicians and DJs in the scene about the state of play for artists being paid for their performances in down-town. The discussion did veer a little off course about musicians vs DJs (In this situation, I didn’t see much difference), but some of the comments I think are worth putting out to a wider audience. Forget the elves, this is the real state of play in Iceland’s music scene right now…
“She’s also slightly too young to remember that before 2007, bands got paid all the time, and support for gigs was readily available through various sponsors and special events held by businesses and political parties. Since everyone has scaled back their budget since then, things have obviously changed. I’m not saying she’s wrong about the current situation in Iceland, but no-one in their right mind would call a platinum-selling band a “hobby,” nor do they think that musicians don’t deserve to get paid. People just prioritize their spending, and hearing live music is not a priority after 2007.
“Also, Of Men And Monsters are in a unique position to change things in Iceland. If they come back and pressure venues into paying them for gigs (which they totally can), and outright refusing to play venues that don’t pay other bands, they might be able to change attitudes here. I’m not saying they’re under any obligation to do this (why would they want to?), but they could.”
“There are many aspects to this…
- Bars promoting gigs with free entry, and as such will pay bands/DJs in beer
- Many people baulking at attending a DJ night that charges 500ISK, or people trying to get into a paying gig for free (And pulling a massive strop when they don’t).
- Disjointed costs. If you are the putting the gig together, even when you charge for a gig, the costs in getting it together (PA, sound-man, promotion, size of venues, paying support bands), you’re not going to make much money if you’re only charging 500-1000 Kr a ticket.
- Supply outstrips demand. We have LOADS of bands/musicians/DJs in Reykjavik. Do we have a punter base that can actually support it all? I remember going to a Kimi Records showcase event that had 8 bands but only 20 people turned up.”
“I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to make a living just doing what I want do do, play my music to people that want to hear it. I manage it by not having any overhead cost and no bullshit to cover, plus having a very loyal and engaging fan base. Also, I show the self respect of starting my concerts at the advertised time 21.00 instead of 01.00 and charging a normal amount of money for my concerts instead of 500 Krónur for 3 amazing bands, which is ridiculous but people still do that, because the punters in Iceland have been taught to disrespect the artists by being loud, drinking and placing beer over good music in their priorities…
“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people are paying for what they perceive themselves to be enjoying. If they come to a concert that’s starting at 2 in the morning and they’re already pretty drunk, the aesthetic part of “enjoying a concert” is kind of anaesthetised. So their enjoyment is now a lot less and the amount they’re prepared to pay follows.
“When I decided to live off music in 2008, I made one promise, that I wouldn’t play any gig, knowing that the people there would be drunk. I’ve had to compromise a couple of times, but I’ve managed to hold onto that principle 99%.
“Drunk people don’t enjoy music, they start to talk loudly and ignore the music. Faced with this reality, musicians start to play louder and get drunk themselves, to try to drown out the humiliation and lack of appreciation that they are feeling. Vicious cycle right there…”
“I want to backtrack a little here. I think this is kind of an odd discussion and I think that OMAM’s points are a little odd, because if a band or musician attracts a following (like OMAM certainly do), then they will get reimbursed nicely for their shows (like OMAM certainly do). I think the issue is not people refusing to pay admission or promoters/clubs refusing to pay musicians (people pay to go to gigs all the time, and clubs pay bands all the time), but maybe the local tradition of charging so little for gigs (esp. with up and coming acts).
“Maybe this has to do with alcohol culture in Iceland and how deeply ingrained it is with music culture. With alcohol prices being what they are, folks maybe can’t afford to pay to get properly fucked up AND go to a show, so they skip out the less essential part of it..”
“If a dj is paid 40k (as someone mentioned)… out of that he has to buy music, taxi to & fro, equipment, time to prepare etc. etc. i calculated last year that it costs me at least 18k to just show up and that was very loosely calculated in favour of being on the cheaper side.”
“I have a few points:
- If Iceland has more/many “good” bands proportionally than other countries (I’m not sure this is the case, are there numbers to back this up), I think it is because its hard to drive a tour bus/van to Reykjavik and not because we are special in any other way.
- Reykjavik isn’t a conventional stop on any small bands tour (european or american), where as similar sized cities in the states or mainland Europe get touring bands coming through all the time. For an Icelandic gig you have to book things especially and fly them over, the economics are totally different. Less touring bands -> more local bands, people make their own fun.
- Bands and dj’s shouldn’t play for free, they shouldn’t have to bring equipment that is standard for a venue to have (monitors, cables, dj gear etc) and people should pay to get into to a proper club. In an ideal world.
- I think the best thing that could happen would be for the current Reykjavik night-life would be to turn the downtown venues back into the bars and cafes that they really are and only give long hour licences to proper nightclubs. Locating these nightclubs in non residential neighbourhoods would be preferential too, and spreading them out a bit. So you go downtown to a club, pay to enter and go to see whatever is on there. Kill this drunk “í bæinn” wandering around from place to place.
- I can’t speak for the live band thing, because I don’t really know that scene. But for dj’s and club nights it’s been a race to the bottom as all the promoters have started putting on nights with free entrance (relying on sponsor money, getting paid from the venue or doing things out of pocket). There should be a concentrated effort to reverse this imo, but it is hard to be the odd one out.”
And the last word on this from the esteemed Harlan Ellison…