DIY artist Whitey lashes out at big media when asked to give away music for free – and he calls for a “public discussion”
It’s compelling when an artist takes a concept and crystallizes it into words you wish you had come up with. For example, let’s say you want to send a message to all the big media companies that are looking to use music from a DIY artist for their television shows but claim “budget restrictions” when it comes to paying for the music they want to license.
Enter Whitey, AKA Nathan White, a Berlin-based electro-rock multi-instrumentalist/composer from London who apparently shuns many standard DIY promotion tactics (like having an official website). He has, nonetheless, crafted a 10-year indie music career and has landed songs on Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, in addition to releasing multiple albums and scoring other notable licensing placements.
Whitey’s making headlines for his recent spat with Betty, a London-based TV production company that “makes modern and high quality popular formats and factual television series” (i.e. reality TV). Betty wanted to use his song “Stay On The Outside,” claimed budget restrictions when asking to use the track, and basically asked him to give away music for free. This was too much for Whitey, and he posted the transaction on his Facebook page. Here it is below:
Thanks for emailing me, I have emailed your label but not heard back yet so thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately we don’t have any budget for music but would be great if we could use the track but it is up to you, but would appreciate anything you could do?
Firstly, there is no label – I outright own my own material, so I’m not sure who you’ve been emailing.
Secondly, I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “Unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget. So you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week – from a booming, affluent global media industry.
Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are.
I am a professional musician, who lives from his music. It took me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard-earned property. I’ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on earth; from Breaking Bad to The Sopranos, from Coca-Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games.
Ask yourself – would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resume like that, and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing? Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.
Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying, “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not. Because, culturally, we classify that as theft.
Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot- from the caterer to the grip to the extra- even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.
Now let’s look at you. A quick glance at your website reveals a variety of well-known, internationally syndicated reality programmes. You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows. Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt. You have real money; to pretend otherwise is an insult.
Yet you send me this shabby request – give me your property for free. Just give us what you own, we want it.
The answer is a resounding and permanent NO.
I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to reblog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians… this was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.
— NJ White
Of course, there’s the ongoing debate regarding whether DIY artists should give away music for free, and it can be tough, especially as a budding indie musician, to say “no” to opportunities that are pitched as benefitting you in ways other than monetary compensation – the old “we can’t pay you, but you’ll get a ton of exposure” line. We want affirmation that our work is worthwhile, or seek that gateway to reach an unknown audience that can result in new fans and record sales.
But the question of when and why your music should be undervalued or why you should be expected to give away music for free is a relevant one. An actor or director wouldn’t do a commercial for a major product and not expect payment. They wouldn’t see it as a chance to gain exposure and other work. Why would that be true for the DIY artist, musician, or composer?
Whitey’s Bandcamp page: njwhitey.bandcamp.com
Whitey’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WhiteyOfficial
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