Covering costs

The latest incremental wage boost has stirred up an old debate: what about wages for artists?

When on January 1 minimum wage increased to $9.50 an hour in the province, it sparked a discussion on Facebook that the standard $5 cover charge for shows isn’t enough. Shows with a local lineup at downtown bars have generally cost $5 since at least the early 90s.

The Bank of Canada’s online inflation calculator says a ‘basket of goods’ that cost five bucks in 1990 should cost about $7.20 today.

It might not seem like a big increase, but multiply the difference by the number of show attendees, and that $2.20 or can translate into hundreds for fledgling musicians earning beer money, or veteran performers feeding their families. Or vice-versa.

Twenty years or more of the same cover charge means small scale concerts don’t get the bands as far as they did back then. Overhead costs—things like gas to get to the gig—have only increased.

The Bank of Canada’s estimate is not perfect, as of course inflation varies from province to province and the B of C uses the average.

The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Musicians’ Association, Dan Rubin, says that cover isn’t the core issue when speaking of musicians’ survival.

“I think the whole notion of playing for the cover charge should be questioned,” Rubin says. “I think people should be very wary of doing that.”

His organization advocates for musicians to charge minimum rates and negotiate with bar owners so that what they get at the end of the night isn’t dependent on the gaggle of factors that can influence turnout. Bar owners, he says, should think of paying musicians as another operating expense.