WORDS AND PHOTO BY HANA JAMA
It’s hard to get money with whatever you are passionate about—especially if your passion has something to do with the arts. I may sound like an old parent when I say this but it is often the truth.
As someone with intersected identities—meaning I am a woman, queer, Black, and Muslim all at the same time, not separately—it can be hard navigating through DIY spaces even as a showgoer. Navigating the scene with these identities becomes even more complex as someone who books and organizes shows.
I have to deal with the same whiteness that a lot of showgoers and punks of colour have to deal with but on a more heightened level because I am organizing and working with the white bookers who book white musical acts which encourages more white audiences to come out.
I also never make money from booking shows.
Every show I’ve ever organized or helped co-present is another show I see no rewards from. Every email I send, phone call I make, artist I recruit to make the poster, the Facebook page I make, and the word I spread, is worth no monetary value.
The same can be said for many organizers who ensure that whatever money bands bring in at shows, actually goes to the bands. I know I need and deserve the money, but so do they. I could stop entirely but I try my best to book mainly musicians/artists of colour or queer artists of colour to diversify the local music scene because I know that’s what this scene needs.
Often when these shows get press or when fellow Babely Shades members and I are being interviewed for our work in diversifying the music scene with these shows, we still don’t get paid for that. It could be for bigger publications such as Noisey or Fader, or smaller publications such as Ottawa Citizen and the Charlatan—no matter what, we still don’t get compensated for the draining process of explaining inclusivity, the importance of safer spaces, and queer/people of colour politics and jargon to white folks.
In the same way that journalists are educating the public, as their sources, so are we. But when we’re continually relied on to educate others, we get no compensation in return.
As many do, I have to look beyond my main interests to experiment with other art mediums and/or gain other skills in order to get paid. If I kept just making music and booking shows for other musicians while doing activism (which no one gets paid for), then I could not get by financially.
I hope that booking DIY Shows can become a sustainable source of income for some people in the future. There are bigger venues that hire bookers specifically but as a freelance DIY-booker, you don’t have any security. If your work is freelance because most venues are white-owned, genre-specific, or don’t like mixed bills, your options don’t grow as others’ might.
This turns into several layers of free work: the work of booking and promoting, the emotional labour of educating while you book and promote, the work of educating the people who interview you, and the constant side hustle because your work is seen as niche if you’re not booking white bands.
That’s a lot of free labour. And doing all of this free work isn’t possible for some folks who may have added barriers and simply cannot have 10 different side hustles.
Free work is not sustainable to anyone, but it is especially not sustainable to marginalized communities. This work is seen as a cool hobby but for those of us trying to make a space for ourselves, art isn’t something fun to experiment with—it’s our lives, its our way of survival in a society that shits on us, it’s our air, and for that we should be hired and compensated more.