East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

In the land of the up-and-coming


Ok, short (?) post stimulated by this post by the always stimulating Seth Godin.
And yes, it does have to do with writing.

Now, I like Seth Godin’s piece a lot, I love his suggestions, the post in question gave me a lot of ideas, but it all collides in a rather unpleasant way with my experience.
I tell myself it’s because I’m in Italy, and he’s in the great big world out there, and yet, it is not a completely satisfactory explanation.

The idea is…

If you’re an up-and-coming band building an audience, then yes, free, free, free. It’s always worth it for you to gig, because you get at least as much out of the gig as the organizer and the audience do. But when you’ve upped and come, then no, it’s not clear you ought to bring your light and your soul and your reputation along just because some promoter asked you to.

I love that.
But, what if up-and-comingdom is the default setting of your environment?
What if, in other words, they won’t recognize your professional status, and will try and keep offering you free gigs which are “a great opportunity”, “great exposure”, “you should really be paying me for this, kid!”.
What if the first question, when striking a deal, is “how many readers/punters/paying customers can you bring?”, followed by the observation that you should account yourself lucky for the opportunity they are offering you, and it’s just right for you to pay of the expenses, while they’ll kep the revenue?

It’s a form of blackmail.

You wanna get the professional treatment? Big venue, big name publisher, big whatever? Fine, but you must provide professional services at fanboy prices.
Or I’ll get me a fanboy anyway.

I’m not making things up.
I know of a well respected publisher, in my country, which publishes anthologies of stories – by newcomers or by established authors, it does not matter – which are not paid.
And the publisher asks the authors to actually buy a copy of the book, because complimentary copies are over budget.
And this is not a vanity press – or at least, it is not perceived as such.
And I’ve seen venue managers reply to established, professional musicians “Pay? I can get kids doing your job for free.”
And in the field of translations, where this gig is always for free, but if it works out, the next will be paid – only, it never works out.

It’s weird.
I mean, it’s not only the fact that they are not interested in quality or professionalism, they are interested in not paying.
It’s also a problem with people willing to do their work (and it is work!) for free, or anyway, “for cheaper than you!”
The responsibility is equally distributed – but this is no consolation.

So, Seth Godin’s piece leaves me very uneasy.
Because I feel it is perfectly right, and I like it, and it is the way I think it should be.
But what the heck, outside my window the system seems geared towards keeping up and coming artists up and coming forever.
Maybe it’s because I am in Italy.
Which is why, incidentally, I started this English-language blog.
(and no, this was not a short piece. Sorry!)

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

7 thoughts on “In the land of the up-and-coming

  1. And don’t forget the “We’ll obviously certificate all the good work you’re doing for free, so that you can add it in your resume/get credits at school/whatever”. I love that part so much! ^^’


    • Oh, yes, the “working for free to build up a CV”… which is somewhat suspect when you are 20, and it gets downright sinister when you are pushing 40.

      And it goes hand in hand with the “how can I be sure your CV is not full of lies?”
      Because credits are great, but they just won’t trust your honesty.
      Works great with foreign languages.
      “Japanese? You know Japanese? C’mon, this is serious…”


  2. They call it work-market, what a laughter!


  3. It’s not like that just in the arts, it’s a more generalized unwillingness to pay of the typical italian. Or, in other words, it is a heavy disrespect.


    • Sekh, I think the response form garbled your comment.
      But I agree – it’s disrespect, in its most ferocious form.


      • I was typing from my cell-phone, maybe something went wrong.
        Anyway, I was saying that this kind of mentality, as you certainly know, is widespread and not just confined to the world of arts and creativity.
        A building surveyor that I collaborate with from time to time, told me that one of his customers, after more or less three years, still owes him a sum with four zeros, and a fair share of it consists of anticipated expenses paid directly by him.
        And this is just a single example, these smart peoples try it every time.


  4. Pingback: Of backstage and more » | Book and Negative

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