Art and commerce have always had a shaky relationship.
During the renaissance, artists were supported by wealthy benefactors, kings and merchants. Now, art is just another commodity on the market. Artists have to sell themselves to be supported. Every dollar has strings attached, though.
There is a scene from “Man On The Moon” where Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey) is fired from a club gig because of his stubborn refusal to conform. I couldn’t find a video clip online, unfortunately. But the exchange with the club owner goes like this:
Andy Kaufman: So, Mr. Besserman, same spot tomorrow?
Mr. Besserman: I don’t know, Andy. I think I have to let you go.
Andy Kaufman: You’re firing me? You don’t even pay me.
Mr. Besserman: I don’t want to be insulting, but your act is like amateur hour. Sing-alongs for six-year-olds……puppets that aren’t funny, playing records…?
Andy Kaufman: But it’s original. No one’s ever done it. I’m not like everyone else.
Mr. Besserman: Everybody else gets this place cooking.
Andy Kaufman: I thought it was cooking. There was a man really upset.
Mr. Besserman: He stormed out, and other people left during your act. I can’t sell booze to people who–
Andy Kaufman: It’s about booze. Not comedy, not art?
Mr. Besserman: I can’t sell booze when you’re singing “Pop Goes the Weasel.” I’m running a business. It’s show business. Show. Business. Show. Business. Without the business, there’s no show. And there’s no show for you.
My experience dealing with the “legitimate” side of the music business has not been very pleasant. Half the time, clubs will try to rip you off. I got the sense that they were really mafia fronts for drug smuggling or human trafficking. I overheard talk about some clubs blacklisting bands for playing at DIY shows.
When I tried to book shows myself, I mostly got rejections everywhere because I was too different from what they wanted, except pay-to-play venues. Fuck that. So, I played coffeehouses and parties when I could. Hell, I even played in parking lots, anywhere with electricity.
I would rather avoid the “business” side of music, if at all possible. I am very suspicious about people wanting you to sign a contract or join something. I know that it is often necessary. But, I prefer to do things DIY when possible.
Some artists have done pretty well by this work ethic; Big Black, Fugazi, Crass, NoMeansNo, etc.
Is compromise sometimes necessary? Maybe. But, it usually better not to be put into a situation that forces you to.