Stars sing for Nando's vouchers, as corporate gigs become source of musicians' income


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If you’re pop royalty, a friendly dictator might pay you £1m to entertain his daughter. Those further down the scale are invited to sing for Nando’s vouchers. But corporate gigs are now the biggest source of income for professional singers, a new survey has found.

The first major analysis of the earnings of professional musicians in Britain has found that corporate engagements now far outweigh revenue from record sales and even ticketed live concerts as the primary contribution to a singer’s bottom line.

The UK Music Measuring Music economic survey asked 900 composers, musicians and songwriters to detail their revenue streams. For singers, “payments for non-ticketed corporate gigs” accounted for 49 per cent of their total earnings in 2013.

Ticketed live events produced a further 10 per cent of their income with royalties from record sales, publishing rights and radio airplay also accounting for just 10 per cent. Brand sponsorship deals, commissions for film and television as well as music tuition accounted for the rest.

Albums sales have declined by nearly 50 per cent over the past decade, as the music industry struggles to make the transition to a digital future, forcing musicians to supplement their income with corporate work.

Lily Allen was once paid £120,000 for a 40-minute performance at the Nokia Christmas party. Beyoncé pocketed up to $1m to perform at parties thrown by Muammar Qaddafi’s sons Hannibal and Mutassim in Italy and the Caribbean.

Yet not every musician can command a bumper fee. Steve Mason, former member of acclaimed folktronica group The Beta Band was among artists offered £1,000 of Nando’s vouchers, in lieu of a fee, to perform at the restaurant chain’s outdoor Cock O' Van at this year’s Camp Bestival event, it is believed.

Natalie McCool, a rising Liverpool singer-songwriter who has been mentored by Sir Paul McCartney, said corporate gigs are vital for emerging artists. “I’ve played corporates for Yamaha, Audio-Technica and Ford, where they wanted a piece of music to accompany a new car launch,” McCool said. “I do a lot of those because they pay well. Local music venues don’t have that kind of money to pay artists so it makes sense.”

McCool, who won a songwriting competition judged by Chris Martin, added: “I know some bands who don’t upload footage from corporates to their websites because they don’t want too many people to know.”

Corporate gigs helped boost music’s total contribution to the British economy to £3.8bn in 2013, up nine per cent from 2012, according to the Measuring Music report.

Musicians, singers, composers, songwriters and lyricists contributed £1.7bn followed by recorded music (£618m); live music (£789m); music publishers (£436m); music representatives (£80m) and music producers, recording studios and staff (£102m).

Beyoncé earned up to m to perform at parties thrown by Muammar Qaddafi’s sons (Getty)

Jo Dipple, CEO of UK Music, said: “This data shows Government how important an industry we are to the UK economy. The young bearded kids in the pub, making a racket on a Friday night, might just turn out to generate more revenue for the Treasury than a car manufacturer. But they need support to get there.”

“We need a strong copyright framework and we need help to ensure the many legal music services we licence are given priority in online search results. Our SMEs need access to finance and support for skills and training to allow them to grow. And we need help to talk to young music fans about how to value the music they love.”

Asked to confirm it had offered vouchers instead of cash as an inducement to performers, a spokesman for Nando’s said: “We work with lots of artists, both up and coming and established acts, in lots of different ways. It would be inappropriate to discuss the different financial arrangements we have with each individual artist.”

Stars who brandish the corporate shilling ostentatiously risk alienating fans. Pharrell Williams berated his audience at the iTunes festival in London last week for refusing to cheer their corporate benefactor. “Apple brought us together tonight!” he told them repeatedly.

Corporate gigs

Jennifer Lopez has made an estimated $10m from a number of questionable corporate bookings including $1.5m for singing “happy birthday” last year to Turkmenistan’s repressive President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Robbie Williams, Stevie Wonder and The Beach Boys shared £3m when they played at retail titan Sir Philip Green’s 60th birthday party at the Rosewood resort in Mexico, in the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Simon Cowell and Naomi Campbell.

Dance hitmakers Rudimental and electronic duo Gorgon City will perform on the inaugural flight of the new Virgin Atlantic 787 plane on its journey from London to Atlanta next month. The gig will be streamed live and fans of the artistes can register to win a seat.