Should musicians ever play for free? — An afternoon with Ralph Jaccodine & Sharon Wong

This article is part of a 2-part series of the Music Industry Forum held last July, at UCSI University. For Part 1 of the write-up, click here.

“Should musicians ever play for free?”

Ralph Jaccodine (RJ): While some people felt that musicians should never play for free, you should see the value that the opportunity presents and that if you ever play for free, you should always make the most out of it. Always find the best way to get exposure and make it work in your favor, even if you are not paid.

Sharon Wong (SW): Yes, you never know which contacts may be useful for the future. However, you should not “play for free” by undercutting the market.

**Editor’s Note: The following question is based purely on Mr. Jaccodine’s experience and does not guarantee a one-size-fit for all experience nor outcome. **

Q: How much can you earn as an artist manager? Does it affect your personal life?

RJ: In my first year I made (USD)$1,200. But I could still survive because I came from a career in commercial real estate and I had savings and investments at the time. Then in my second year I made $5,000 and in my third year I made $10,000 and it has been increasing ever since. Currently, I manage four artists and earn $150,000 a year, but I have staff, rent and children, so the money goes quickly. However, I am frugal and know how to save money, which is important for every musician.

In America, people wanted to be heroes and worked 24/7 but I felt that that was crazy, because you would burn out. I put boundaries down, I say you cant call me at night and I try not to work on the weekend. Its about the balance, I try to stay healthy and do lots of non-music things as well.

music industry forumQ: Are there any composer/sound engineer unions in Malaysia?

SW: The Malaysian Association Copyright Protection (MACP) has a website where songwriters and composers can submit their songs and become members. There is also the Recording Performers Malaysia (RPM) – where if you play in an album or a show, they will collect royalties for you. Then there is the Public Performance Malaysia (PPM) – which is a collective of all the record labels.

A few others are Prism Berhad and the Voice Guild for voiceovers. Royalty rates were 65% to the main artist and 35% to everyone else in the supporting band and the Producers fee per song was RM5,000 onwards. If you feel that you have a really good song, you should register it. However, it must be noted that before you can register under MACP you have to have had at least five published works, i.e. five works that have been at least once aired on TV, radio, or recorded being publicly performed.

Q: How do you get a rare genre out there, such as classical saxophone?

RJ: Good for you! You could take over the business. You could be the best classical saxophone player in the world. You might be the only one but you would be the best. If you attach something greater to your job then youre not only doing it for you, but you have a purpose as well. Find people who love your genre, if you cant find them then create it. Do something outrageous, get a negative and do a positive.

SW: In our country, the more genres you knew the better. Classical, pop, jazz etc. – the more things you know, the more things you can do, the more doors you open. As long as you promote and market yourself well, you will do well.

Both Ralph and Sharon encouraged taking a Music Business module if it is offered, because it will open your mind to the fact that to be a successful musician you have to be a business man/woman as well. Knowing a bit of everything, such as accounting, is good because it would equip you fully for things like doing invoices etc. If you want to start something, you have to find out how the money flows and understand the money behind it.

A few words of advice from Sharon: “In Asia, the general mindset is still to get a degree in another field such as business, first, and then go into music. However, if you have passion then you should find a niche where you can fit in. If you love music then thats why youre here.”


This article was written by Andrea Sim, student of the Foundation in Music program.

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