June 13, 2014
by Paul Blest
One of my favorite things to read on the Internet on a daily basis is the Self Defense Family Tumblr. The band has put out some of my favorite records of the last few years (You Are Beneath Me, Iceland, Try Me, etc.), but on the internet they’re another force altogether; frontman Pat Kindlon and other members of the band field questions from anonymous users on topics ranging from veganism and musical ethos to Christian Bale movies and not wearing a shirt. I don’t claim to agree with everything Kindlon has to say, or even most of it, but he’s honest, fair, and funny.
Yesterday, I made the mistake of browsing the comment on one of his answers, a brutally honest critique of why punk bands don’t last, considering kids aren’t willing to pay more than $10 for an LP or $5-7 for a show, and saw a response from someone who called it “classism” (complete with a trigger warning) to expect “broke” fans to pay a fair price for a musician’s hard work. Another said that punk is supposed to be “stomped on and dirty,” and that charging more for a show or a record somehow ruins the pure foundations punk was based on. Another cited Converge – Converge – as the model that all bands should follow, after the original question used the band as an example.
Get fucking real.
Let’s forget for a second the fact that Converge are one of the most legendary aggressive bands of all time and have put out eight full-lengths, at least five of which are considered hardcore canon, and the fact that someone on the internet apparently thought that building a fanbase like this over the course of twenty-five years is easy to do. Let’s forget that the people from which punk ideals originated bought houses off of $5-15 tickets in the 90s at best, or, at worst, hired a fashion designer to run their band and then made a butter commercial. And let’s also forget that the original person somehow thinks that they are entitled to cheap merch and cheap music, and also that they think it’s “classism” to expect a musician to not be homeless when he or she is not touring. Those are different arguments for a different time.
On a very, very basic level – this is just rude, on the level of someone who refuses to tip their waiters, waitresses, and bartenders.
“DIY” punk, for many people, has become less about fighting the corporate rock structure and more about consuming art and goods like shirts and records for as cheap as possible. I get it – I’m broke too. But let’s consider what it takes to make a “DIY” record in 2014, for an averagely popular, decidedly not Converge-level act: in order to get it sounding the best way possible for the least amount of money, you dump $500 into recording, unless you have an incredible hook-up. You have to pay to get it mastered, specifically for vinyl, which we’ll call $300 – again, this is on the low-end scale. The next step is actually getting the thing pressed – you might be lucky enough to get someone to put it out – if you don’t, often it just doesn’t come out on that format, and you have to ride with a cassette/CD and a digital release. Regardless, let’s say you find a label to put it out – to press 500 LPs, with everything included, costs at the very least, $2000.
So right there, you’re out roughly $2800 for your record. But you have to convince people to buy this $2800 Frisbee, so you have to book a two to four week tour. If you have a job, you have to either convince your boss to let you take off or you have to quit something, either the band or the job. If you have a van, it’s going to need repairs, and it’s a gas guzzler. You need to get a bunch of shirts printed for $100-200 so you have something cheap to sell someone for $10, $12 at most, depending on what kind of brand you get and whether or not you hate your fans by tricking them into wearing Gildan shirts. You’re going to have to deal with 14 different promoters and 14 completely different crowds that may or may not like your stuff depending on the day/style of music you play, or may not even show up. But let’s say you get really, really lucky and your gas money haul averages out to about $50. Sounds pretty sick, right? Except YOU’RE DRIVING A VAN. And it’s a gas guzzler. And there’s four people in the band. And the people at the house you just played/stayed at don’t know that cooking or buying food for bands if they can is a good, nice thing to do.
Let’s say you sell 50-75 of the records on your 14 day tour. That’s about $750 at most. You’re still out thousands upon thousands of dollars just to do something you love.
It’s not about capitalism, or classism, or (laughably) adhering to a “corporate model,” or musicians trying to make a quick buck off of their fans. It’s about basic respect for another human that made something that you genuinely get enjoyment out of. If anyone alive in punk rock is adhering to a corporate model, it’s the fan that refuses to pay a fair price for shows, merch, and music. All of the hallmarks are there – benefitting, for the least amount of money, off of someone else’s work. These are sometimes the same people that claim to be “activists” (although their activism often amounts to nothing more than a few tweets) or in favor of workers’ rights, yet pull the same exact shit on bands they love that McDonald’s pulls on their workers, with the only difference being that they justify it with “DIY ideals” rather than corporate profits. The “No Money, Mo’ Problems” article was written by Emily Zemler in 2011 for Alternative Press; in three years, the financial situations for many bands have only gotten worse, and the fans have gotten more entitled.
The complete aversion to musicians not being broke is completely unique to the broader punk scene, and it’s a major reason why bands break up after one or two records and then, if they resonated with a lot of people, do a reunion show and pocket more than they ever would have if they had kept making records and touring. At this point, who could blame any band for following this model? When, in 2014, it would not be unheard of for any band to reunite, any band that drew 25-50 people on its best night 10-20 years ago, you know the system is flawed in some way. And cheap ass punk kids are the ones that broke it.
This isn’t to mention what labels go through to operate; the much discussed Adapt or Die piece for Billboard by Jade Tree’s Darren Walters put into perspective exactly how much has changed since the ‘90s for both bands and labels alike. And still, smaller labels such as Square of Opposition, Count Your Lucky Stars, and Black Numbers continue to invest time and money into virtually unknown bands, willingly going broke to give bands that are even more broke a physical outlet for their music. And larger labels such as Topshelf and Deathwish pump money into well-done, incredible pieces of art that (such as the toe. discography) that, on a good day, sell a quarter of what their top acts do.
And, for this, the bands and labels get a resounding chorus of “fuck you” from entitled brats who have no problem paying $4 for a drink from Starbucks, $20 for a case of beer, or $1500 for a Macbook, but somehow don’t have the money to throw $10 to a band for a good show or $15 for a record that will last a lifetime. If you really don’t have the money – don’t go. It’s that simple. You can buy the music on Bandcamp for pay-what-you-want and listen to it that way, and practice your mosh in your bathroom mirror a little bit more than the rest of us.
I’m tired of hearing that punk is dead or dying from “fans” that are actively attempting to kill it. If you think all of the goods and wares you buy should be as cheap as possible, go to Walmart and buy a Train CD. And please, for the love of god – stop calling your bullshit “DIY.”