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