I love you Homegrown but I can’t do this anymore!

I played my first Homegrown when I was seventeen. My high school band opened for Coyote at Teatro Zuccone. It was the first sold out show of my music career. I got to share a green room with THE Jerree Small. I got an artist pass on a cool lanyard that let me into any all-ages show (and a few 21+ shows too). I felt like I was on the edge of something. I felt grown up and I felt seen. At the time, it seemed like that feeling was coming from my artist pass, free T-shirt, and (maybe) $50 cheque. Looking back, I understand that what I actually experienced was membership and pride in a community of practice for the first time in my young life. Homegrown gave me an invaluable jumping off point as an artist in this city. It made me proud to be from Duluth and proud of my peers and mentors for choosing to make music here. It opened Duluth to me and deepened my relationship to community and to music. That experience kept me coming back through the years and and through my development as an artist. I’m grateful for it and I always will be, but like many artists in this town my relationship to the festival has become a bit complicated.

A couple weeks ago, I woke up to a Facebook notification informing me that I had been included in this year’s Homegrown compilation mix of local artists. I found my recent single, “Longbody” on Homegrown’s Bandcamp page. The production credits had been removed as well as the copyright info and fair use notice. It was listed as “pay what you can.” This was a surprise to me as I had chosen not to participate this year and had no contact with the festival. They did not obtain permission to use my work. They did not compensate me. They did not notify me prior to the release of this compilation. I contacted a lead festival organizer to ask if she knew anything about the compilation. She congratulated me on being selected. I explained my frustration to her that a festival which I’m not involved with had taken my work without consent and sold it/given it away online. She informed me that none of the artists had been contacted by the festival and that there were no plans to disperse the proceeds from online sales of the compilation to the artists included. She asked me what the festival could do better. I suggested contacting artists before taking their work. I suggested compensating the artists. The compilation went offline a few hours later.

Maybe this sounds petty, and if you just look at numbers it kind of is. The compilation was available for less than a day. Generously speaking, I’m sure I lost less than $5 from people downloading “Longbody” via the festival’s Bandcamp instead of mine. However, my greater concern is with a lack of consideration demonstrated through the festival’s unchecked use of artists’ work. To be clear, I see no malintent on Homegrown’s part. This was an oversight, but if the goal of the compilation is to uplift our work, then communication and fair use should be the festival’s first priority and first step, not an afterthought. Recording and releasing music is extremely expensive. The complete production of an album often costs thousands of dollars and requires (on the low end) dozens and dozens of hours of labor. For the scale at which most artists in Duluth work, breaking even on an album is near impossible. We keep doing it anyway for the same reason that Homegrown has gone on for 23 years: because we believe in the music of this place and we want to uphold it. So, I do not think it is too much to ask that Homegrown recognize the basic legal rights that protect our work and respect the labor that we give to this work.

Homegrown is no longer just an overgrown birthday party. It is a legal entity with a steering committee, an advisory board, more than 40 sponsors, and in my eyes a responsibility to the beautiful and hardworking community of artists that make it possible. Especially after two cancelled years due to COVID, I absolutely want to see this festival thrive and highlight the work of my community. Simultaneously, I worry that Homegrown contributes to a culture that devalues the labor of artists and ultimately undercuts our ability to get paid. A weeklong pass for all eight days of the festival and more than 150 acts is $30. Passes are this cheap because the artists are nominally compensated. In past years, artists would have to contact the festival and opt-in to receive payment of $50. I’m not sure how it works these days, but I opted-in every year and received a cheque maybe twice. I’ve heard the same from many of my peers.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing a free show here and there. We do this because we love it and in years past, that has been enough for me. However, if I’m going to play out during the biggest week of music in Duluth, I want to deliver something special and I can’t do that if I have to take a significant financial loss in order to pay my band. So instead, I choose not to participate. I understand my musical practice as labor and I can appreciate that I do not necessarily share that understanding with everyone in the scene. We all have different ways of thinking about our work as musicians and different amounts of skin in the game. I have no judgement for anyone’s decision to participate (or not) in the festival, but I think it is important for people to know that every performer in the festival is donating their labor to Homegrown.

As the largest institution of live music in Duluth, Homegrown has significant influence over the perceived value of music year round. When Homegrown sets the price of a full week of live music at $30 or even gives away our music without consent, it enforces the notion that exposure is compensation. It makes a $10 three-band bill at Blush seem exorbitant. It makes a $15 LP seem too expensive. It devalues our labor. By no means do I see this as intentional on Homegrown’s part. I believe in their mission as a “celebration of the original and diverse music of Duluth,” but I also believe that impact matters.

I have loved Homegrown and I care about its future. As the festival has grown and evolved, I feel that its practices regarding compensation and treatment of artists have become increasingly incongruent with the current realities of this music community. I understand that nobody is getting rich off the festival, that for the hardworking paid and unpaid organizers it is a labor of love, but I also see the current model does not work for everyone. Maybe it should be smaller. Maybe passes should cost more. Maybe it’s just not for artists who think about this work in the same way as me. I don’t expect everyone in the scene to agree with me, I don’t claim to have a simple solution for the issues I see with this festival, and I certainly do not have any interest in becoming an organizer. I just want Duluth to be thinking and talking about these concerns because I know they’re not just mine and because I love this music community and I want to see it thrive year round.

Happy Homegrown!
Really, I mean it.

Nat Harvie

If you want to purchase or listen to “Longbody” via MY Bandcamp, you can do so here:
Married in Song by Nat Harvie

8 Comments

Garner Moffat

about 2 weeks ago

Thanks for sharing your experience, as a festival volunteer and regular attendee, I was unaware of these challenges. I love the festival for a way to see many new (to me) bands and some old favorites. I hope the festival board takes this perspective and is able to create a more positive experience for artists involved also. Maybe a Homegrown app with the schedule and links to Venmo artists directly, along with a clear artist payment plan when artists apply? Also a better push to sell music for artists without a mark up (there could be an optional "donation to homegrown" add on button in the cart). And yes, the passes should increase in price. We get free volunteer passes, but would settle for a volunteer discount on a weekly, or a free nightly pass if that helps the festival sustainability.

[email protected]

about 2 weeks ago

As a (retired) performing musician and teacher who first started performing in a rock band in Duluth 47 years ago, I totally agree. We were performing during the heyday of live music before disco and DJs and we were paid WELL! Musicians need to be paid a decent wage! We were paid about $9/hr for a 30 hour week (rehearsals and performances) which would be about $48/hr now. The public has gotten used to very cheap entertainment. Time to pay for the wonderful quality live music we have in the Twin Ports!

BadCat!

about 2 weeks ago

At absolute minimum, they should have contacted you to ask if you wanted your music on the CD. Not contacting artists for permission is super-shitty, but removing song credits is straight-up disrespectful to the local music community!

Paul Lundgren

about 2 weeks ago

The middle of festival week is a challenging time for Homegrown to put out statements or even think deeply about much other than making 190 shows happen smoothly. No one appointed me spokesperson, but I'll share my personal perspective, having worked with Homegrown in various ways for many years. Apologies if my response ends up being longer than the original post.

Nat outlined a few objections and they are reasonable. Artist pay is a complex issue the festival has always had to wrestle with and will continue to revisit. The issue of using songs on a compilation without permission is where a serious mistake was made. There are numerous excuses regarding how it happened, but those excuses aren't good enough. Please believe me when I say the members of the steering committee and board are upset about the oversight. It's egregious and embarrassing, but it's also human error committed by overworked people, each of whom thought someone else was doing the thing that didn't get done. 

My connection to this matter is both loose and direct at the same time. I'm not on the board or committee, but work for the festival producing its Field Guide. I haven't directly had much to do with the Bandcamp releases, but back in 2007 and 2008, when the series originated as compact discs, I volunteered for the task of putting a written agreement in front of a representative of every act that appeared on the compilations. In the years that followed and the Homegrown Rawk and/or Roll series drifted to Bandcamp, different people handled the processes in different ways, and by 2022, well, clearly the processes unraveled. Organizing the festival through a pandemic while seldom meeting in person can partially be blamed, but ... well, this isn't about making excuses.

Ultimately, Homegrown screwed up and the chicken has egg on its face. It's a tough thing to accept while watching so many bands kick ass this week, so many volunteers work so hard and so many people show up to make the whole thing such a success. I personally think 2022 has been the best Homegrown yet, but yes, marred on some level by this blunder.

It's not known at this time what the end result will be regarding Homegrown's Bandcamp compilations. They have been taken down until there is time to revisit the issue. It's possible they will never return. Maybe that's for the best. Organizing a festival is enough; side projects are clearly overwhelming. 

Many of the members of the board and committee are musicians, so obviously they aren't donating their time for the purpose of taking advantage of other musicians. They did not want to take anyone's work without asking. But of course damage can happen without intent. Again, no one appointed me spokesperson, but I'm going to go ahead and say we all accept the criticism for what happened.

We are also grateful that Nat maintains affection for Homegrown despite the frustrations that can come with it. The chicken loves you, Nat. Thanks for playing the festival in the past, and we hope to earn your faith in us again some day.

ClaireKirch

about 2 weeks ago

Thank you Nat, for writing this excellent letter. Duluth really does undervalue its artists. I travel a lot for work and when I was in Philly recently, I wanted to go out and hear a band. No way could I have seen any one band without paying at least $20-$25. And Mr Claire who has played in various bands over the years once played at a local venue famous for its shows that shall go un-named but is no longer in business. Four bands on the bill, three of which were local; the last band was from Minneapolis. There was a cover. So, the place was jammed for the local bands b/c they brought in all their friends, but emptied out when the last band came on stage, as no one knew them and people were burnt out by the fourth band. Guess which band got the ENTIRE door, so that the local bands who actually brought in people got screwed? 

I for one would be happy to pay more for my Homegrown ticket so that the artists would be more fairly and uniformly compensated for their hard work. Paying the artists and doing so promptly should be #1 on the list of post Homegrown follow ups for show organizers. 

I compare Homegrown to literary festivals I go to, including one I just went to in Columbia, Mo. It was free to attendees and volunteer-run. The organizers made it worth the while of the authors and other speakers by promoting their books **heavily**. There were two locations where people could go and buy stuff: one had festival merch and the other sold authors' books; some authors were scheduled to sit and sign books for people at various times and that was publicized as well. Perhaps Homegrown could more heavily promote the work of the artists in such a way that they make some kind of profit over the compensation they already receive from Homegrown?

T. Heinonen

about 2 weeks ago

I agree with Nat and can commiserate. It seems that the first people that are asked to "donate" are the artists, be they visual, musical or what have you - and we're often told we should do it, it would be good "exposure. Well, one can die from exposure, especially up here. It's not that I haven't donated to a cause or two both with my art and music, it's just that after awhile people get used to using artist and always go back to the well and expect that "we'll do it again" - for the "exposure". Part of my living has/had been my music and art before I retired. I am very careful now with my time and creativity. Also, back in the early 70's when I first started gigging with my first bands we went to the local AFM to see if it was worth joining. They were pretty accepting of the fact that most folks didn't want to join or pay dues, but they told us as long as we charged the prevailing union minimum we were ok. Later I did join when one band I was in did pretty well and we had a booking agent and being a member helped with some clubs in larger cities that would only hire card carrying performers. I've since retired from all that now but there needs to be a return to an hourly price standard or something. Don't give it away or you'll devalue it for everyone else who are trying to make a living at their art. Anyone remember the disco craze of the 70's? I had a bumper sticker that said "Go to a disco - put 5 musicians out of work"  My motto - HIre Local - Pay them honestly.

ClaireKirch

about 2 weeks ago

This reminds me of what I think Dave Lynas -- may he rest in peace -- told me once about Empty Bowl ... people would complain to the potters about the pricing of their wares and would even say, "I can pick up the same quality of bowl at Empty Bowl for $10." I  do know Empty Bowl now charges more for a bowl of soup during the fundraiser, but people have to not be assholes. If you benefit from an artist's contributions to something like Empty Bowl or Homegrown, support them the rest of the year -- and this includes not arguing about covers at venues or the prices they set for their work, they need to make a living too!

Melissa Ginger

about 1 week ago

Thank you, Nat, for taking the time to speak with me in length on the phone the day the mix tape was carelessly released. After speaking with several artists featured as well as with Mimi Parker via email, we decided it is best to pull the mix tapes as we look into better ways to amplify artists on their terms. 

I meant it when I said we screwed up, and as director, I take fault in assuming that the permissions box was checked. 

With all the excitement of the potential of Homegrown happening after a two-year hiatus, we dropped the ball in the worst way. 

Again, I apologize for the mistake. I appreciate your honest and direct post. 

I know you mentioned you were unable to perform at Homegrown this year due to thinking you would be touring, and I hope you will consider performing at Homegrown in the future knowing that we will be working this summer through some areas where improvements are needed while looking into ways to better compensate the festival’s performers. We plan to send a survey to performers seeking solutions-based feedback on what we as an organization can do better. I would love to send this survey to you as a past (and hopefully future) performer.

Thanks again for bringing your thoughts and concerns to the table. I am sorry. 

Melissa

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