The music industry shouldn't have to run on carbonated drinks
If I’d gotten a hundred dollars for every time I played a guitar solo, I wouldn’t be very rich. That’s because I’m not a very good guitar player and I can’t think of many who would want to pay a Benjamin to have me on their song. Fortunately, they can now ask Faraz Anwar. I would. Speed-picking, string-skipping, sweeps, legato runs—you’d get all those and a lot more without having to spend the better part of your life practicing scales.
Now, either you’re wondering who Faraz Anwar is or why we’re paying him a C-note.
Faraz Anwar is one of Pakistan’s finest guitar players. He has defined the sound of progressive rock music in this country. He’s released solo albums, albums with his flagship band Mizraab, recorded for dozens of Pakistani artists, and toured the world with pop icons Junaid Jamshed and Sajjad Ali among others. He played guitar on the Humsafar OST.
Given his reputation, some of us are upset to see that he has placed an ad on Fiverr, a marketplace for freelancers. Anwar has offered to play a professional guitar solo on your song for, you guessed it, just one hundred dollars. (This is roughly Rs16,000 these days).
What is it about the ad that bothers us? Is the money too little for a man of his musical mastery? As someone who is known not to compromise on his craft, should he play for any Mehmood or Michael willing to dish out the dough?
Have we, the listeners in Pakistan, let him down?
I’d say that unless you’ve illegally downloaded Anwar’s albums or are a marketing executive for Coca-Cola, you’re being too hard on yourself for taking the blame for his Fiverr ad. Also, taking the blame makes it sound like he’s made a mistake. As if you are saying, ‘Don’t do this Anwar. Don’t sell yourself. I’ll give you the…’
Artists need to make money too. Many of them turn down lucrative gigs because the projects are simply not good enough—but not everyone can afford to do that every time. There are bills to be paid. If you are not lucky enough to have found mainstream success and the relative security that it guarantees, what you do with your art becomes that much more important for your survival outside it.
To put a price on your art will always be soul-crushing. Never mind art; all of us have been there at ordinary job interviews. ‘How much are you expecting?’ Well, a lot less than what I think I deserve!
Most artists are not very good at promoting and selling their work and themselves. What we need is a music industry that makes people part with their money because they want to, not because they have to support the artist. We need promoters and talent managers who realize that if the artists make money, they make money. An industry that runs on its own economics, not those of carbonated or caffeinated drinks. Undercutting the artist dries up the cup too soon. And for that, we can blame the government and all those who have stifled the arts and creative expression.
In an ideal world, Faraz Anwar should have been able to go to study at the Berklee College of Music after winning a scholarship, taken part in Guitar Idol in the UK after being selected in the competition, and made millions from his music in Mizraab.
But till then, he and other artists will have to do what needs to be done. Anwar is not the only guitar player to put himself out there like that. Grammy-winning musicians appear on livestreams on Twitch for tips and sell lessons online. Normalise paying artists for their work so that they don’t feel they’re doing something wrong for demanding compensation for their time and skill.
Pity will only undermine an artist and their work.
In a moment of rare consensus, I will have to agree with my friend, culture beat journalist Rafay Mahmood, who says, “We as a society do not respect artists” is a rather reductionist view to take here.
If only I could have a hundred dollars every time someone said that.
The writer is a journalist and writer currently working for Justice Project Pakistan. He tweets @haiderhabib
Editor’s note: To support Faraz Anwar’s work you can subscribe to his YouTube channel