Labourers Are Worthy Of Their Wages: Why We Will No Longer Write For Free


There’s been a lot in the media lately about Sainsbury’s asking artists to volunteer their skills to decorate the cafeteria in their Camden store, in exchange for “experience in the creative industry”. In other words, work for free, make a piece of art, for Sainsbury’s, purely for the love of it. For the joy. For the warmth that fills your heart. For the art.

The resulting backlash against this seemingly innocent enough idea was phenomenal – and spread worldwide. Twitter trended #payartists, and many people asked Sainsbury’s if they’d be willing to offer free food; others were offended by the fact that they as artists are expected to pay for the goods and services they get from Sainsbury’s, and yet, here was Sainsbury’s expecting the same for free.

Exposure Bucks

It’s an interesting insight into how “business” sees “art”: art – and by this we’re including all the arts – dance, music, painting, sculpture, writing – is seen as something one does for a hobby, that’s done as a leisure activity, that’s done for fun, or for pleasure. It’s not taken seriously, it’s not valued in terms of money, it’s expected that the artist gets enough reward in the very act of making the art.

i-D put it well:

“Most people who ask creative sorts to work for free probably don’t even think of it as an issue. To them, it’s just a thing in the world that happens. People seem happy enough to do it. What’s the problem? This acceptance is something we internalise and disseminate amongst ourselves, making it harder for us to ask for money, in turn making it more acceptable not to pay – and on it goes.”

“The struggle to value our art is also hindered by the supposed truths that filter down to us. ‘Work’ is a thing that is hard and thankless and unpleasant, right? If you enjoy it, or even – woah – find it easy in that delicious ‘flow state’ way, which germinates all the best creative work and generates some of the most powerful positivity in the world… then it can’t really be work, and therefore it’s not worth money. And ‘art’ is that silly thing that you get to do at school once you’ve drunk your milk and done your maths – surely you’re lucky to get to do it at all, and the pleasure is payment enough?”

And sure enough – there is reward in the making of art. There is reward in writing, in dancing, in making and playing music. But just like “serious working people” with “proper jobs”, artists also have to make some money. We have bills to pay, we have rent or mortgages, we have families. We need to buy food.

And it is hard to put a value on our art – we will invariably under-sell ourselves, thinking that nobody could possibly appreciate it in quite the same way as we do. And this goes for all artists – “we’re just a new band”; “we’re just a new blog”; “we’re just starting out”. But why? Look back in history and you’ll see the entertainer was a vital part of society, and paid accordingly. The storyteller was a revered and venerated member of the tribe; the travelling musician was feted and repaid handsomely; jesters had a place in the royal court. People still want and need to be entertained – and yet something has happened which means the role of the artist is now of less value.

At Essentially Pop our entire remit has always been, and shall continue to be, that good music deserves to be heard. All artists and genres have fans, and so we make every effort to write positively about everyone we cover, with our particular focus being the independent artist. We’ve recently broadened our scope to include film as well, but our remit remains the same. Positive articles, with a focus on the independent.

We believe our work to be of value. To be worthy of repayment. We are freelance writers – which means that we support ourselves with our writing – for money. Not for free. Among our writers are musicians and students, as well as journalists. Each article takes a minimum of two hours to write – often quite a lot more, especially when there’s research into the artist involved, or questions to be asked, or interviews to be had, or gigs to attend. Many of our writers write about gigs that they’ve paid for out of their own pocket, and have had to pay to get to.

We have one full time employee – Lisa, our editor – who puts in a minimum of eight hours per day – 7 days a week. She reads all the emails, edits articles, writes her own articles (interviews, reviews etc), maintains the website, social media, and makes the Youtube videos. It’s more than a full time job, particularly when faced with the demands from people wanting articles written *now* (or preferably before).

Essentially Pop believes in giving a quality service. But the time has come where we have to put our collective feet down and say enough. As of 1 August, certain conditions will come into play.

  • We shall continue to write for free for independent artists who approach us;
  • We shall continue to write for free for artists we approach;
  • We shall no longer be writing for free for PR agencies. Please contact us about our rates.

If you are a PR agency and don’t agree with this, that’s fine. We’re thankful for your business in the past and sorry to see you go. But we like to think of it this way: if you value your artists, who are paying you to promote them, then you will also value the quality work we provide in reviewing and promoting them.

And yes – we have had discussions with PR companies who say that they’re not prepared to spend so much on “this artist”: when you think about it, it’s a bit shocking isn’t it – wonder what the artist would think if they knew the people they were paying to promote them didn’t value them quite so much as they valued their money?

We currently have in place partnerships with a few PR companies who are more than willing to pay for the quality of work they get in return. We are truly thankful to those companies. Our rates are not extortionate by any means, and are likely under the minimum hourly wage. If you’ve been happy with our work over the past two and a half years, and would like to continue working with us, please get in touch and we’ll discuss terms.

About the author

Lisa has been writing for over 20 years, starting as the entertainment editor on her university newspaper. Since then she's written for Popwrapped, Maximum Pop, Celebmix, and ListenOnRepeat.

Lisa loves all good music, with particular fondness for Jedward and David Bowie. She's interviewed Edward Grimes (Jedward), Kevin Godley, Trevor Horn, Paul Young, Peter Cox (Go West), Brendan B Brown (Wheatus), Bruce Foxton (The Jam), among many many more. Lisa is also available for freelance writing - please email

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