Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Portland's Fair Trade Music Campaign in Billboard

Today, Billboard magazine's website published a rather astute analysis of Portland's Fair Trade Music Campaign entitled: Weighing Fair Trade As It Hits Portland's Music Scene. The story made its unlikely way to the webpages of Billboard via a a story in the Nashville Cream, which was based on a nice spread in last week's Willamette Week.

Fair Trade Music (formerly Fair Pay to Play) is a campaign led by local musicians to establish a minimum pay guarantee for musicians playing in commercial clubs, and I should divulge that I have been involved with the campaign for a while.

The main idea behind the campaign is that we're asking venue owners to partner with us and agree to pay a minimum guaranteed wage to performers. There are five tiers to the pay scale, so that many music venues from large-capacity clubs to coffee shops can participate at a level most suitable to their budget and crowd capacity. These participating venues would get a sticker with the FTM logo (above) on it, as well as promotion from our campaign on our website, and in our campaign releases and literature.

In addition to assuring that musicians get compensated fairly, however, the system is also an attempt to reinvigorate the live music scene by improving the reliability and quality of performances, which the Billboard analysis caught onto quite well. Current business models tend to place all risk on the heads of bands, leaving the club without a lot of reason to spend any time or money on promoting their club or establishing their own draw as a quality venue. There's also not a lot of motivation to better cater local shows to a wider local audience. With a higher degree of professionalism on the part of both bands and clubs, there would be more impetus to start shows on time, deliver quality performances to patrons. And perhaps, as the article suggests, and as we've previously discussed here on CIMTB, venues might re-schedule show times to reach a greater number of potential music fans.

I'm excited to see the campaign receiving such widespread coverage, and even moreso, I'm excited to see coverage that taps into the idea that creating a stronger live music scene will require changes and creativity, abandoning the idea that exploiting performers to sell a few beers to their friends is a viable business model, and acknowledging that a great music scene requires professional behavior and quality on the part of both clubs and musicians, and an effort to excite local audiences.

For more information on the campaign, visit


Jake 5 cordas said...

You know, I just re-read this after several months, and it strikes me that this article "gets it" quite a bit better than the (first) Billboard article. They just printed another one on us; check us at for updates.

Dr. Something said...

Thanks for posting about the latest story, Jake! Here's a link to the latest article for all, too: