Adele’s show on May 26 at First Avenue will make her the first artist ever to play that venue while simultaneously having the nation’s #1 single (“Rolling in the Deep”) and #1 album (21). The Daily Planet won’t be covering the show, because we didn’t make the list of press approved to cover the high-profile performance. If we had been selected to cover the show, though, apparently we would have been asked to pay $20 each for our writer and photographer—a sum to be donated to a charity of Adele’s choosing. [This blog entry was written on May 25; Adele’s First Avenue performance was subsequently cancelled due to illness.]
I’ve previously written about the mechanics of music shows’ press lists, but not about the principle of them. Like artists in other fields (theater, dance, film, visual arts), music artists typically don’t charge press for admission—that increases the incentive press have to cover their shows, and gives the artists some measure of leverage over the nature of the coverage.
Artists typically don’t try to dictate what critics write or what photographs we publish, but high-profile, high-demand artists sometimes flex their muscles. In exchange for the right to photograph his show at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium this spring, Tiësto required us to send the photos to his PR reps for approval—and they did in fact veto close-up shots of the artist, as well as a shot of a concertgoer dancing in a bear costume. Though this hasn’t happened to us yet, other artists have required publications to submit for approval not just photos, but the text (including review) that will accompany them.
As a journalist, I don’t have an attitude of entitlement: those are Adele’s tickets to her own show at a privately owned venue, and if she wants to charge us for them, that is her prerogative. If we really wanted to cover Adele’s show, we could have paid for tickets like everyone else did. By no means am I questioning Adele’s right to attach strings to her tickets.
I do, though, think that forcing journalists to donate to a charitable fund is tacky.
Kyle Matteson, our writer who would have reviewed the show, pointed out in an e-mail that the practice is not unprecedented: Prince and other artists have done similar things. In response to the news, a friend of mine (who I will not name since her Twitter account is protected) tweeted, “She doesn’t need the press now…but why dump on them when they helped her get to that point?”
I wouldn’t feel “dumped on” if asked to pay $20, but as Kyle notes via Twitter, the expense is likely to be more keenly felt by smaller publications. Our budget is so limited that we typically can’t even pay writers or photographers for live music coverage, let alone incur the expense for their tickets.
Larger publications have slightly deeper pockets, but it’s no secret that journalism is in a state of crisis, with the advertising that supported print publications (especially newspapers, which have traditionally relied heavily on revenue from classified ads) evaporating and with readers largely unwilling to pay for online content. Across the board, editorial staffs are being slashed and slashed again. Even writers assigned by for-profit publications may not be making a hell of a lot more than $20 for their work. So in asking a journalist (or his/her publication) to make a donation to charity, Adele is in effect asking one nonprofit to donate to another.
It’s just tacky. If you want to charge journalists for their tickets because you want the money, then go ahead—that’s your right. Either we’ll pay you or we won’t, and you can do whatever you like with the money. But openly trading press access for charitable donations is an insult to our professionalism. Yes, we cover music because we love it—but see that notepad in the writer’s hand, and that expensive camera the photographer is using? We’re working.
Of course, as Kyle further notes via Twitter, “the # of people who get on guest lists but don’t actually cover/work the show outnumbers those who do by a ton.” I can’t speak to who those people are, or whether it’s cool to give them a well-intentioned shakedown along with the working press.
I do, though, wonder whether Adele’s preparation for her visit to Minnesota included listening to our native son Bob Dylan—specifically his song “Foot of Pride,” which includes the lyrics, “You know what they say about bein’ nice to the right people on the way up: sooner or later you gonna meet them comin’ down.”