RAW Natural Born Artists: A Time To Shine Or A Raw Deal For Up And Comers?

The Racket recently talked to Evelyn Jess about trying to help diversify Newfoundland music and she reached out to us about an upcoming show at Club One that she, and many others are calling a scam.

The event is supposed to take place at Club One on November 29 and serve as a music and art showcase for local independent artists. According to RAW: natural born artists, they are offering “a chance to be part of an international arts organization that is currently operating in 70+ cities throughout the world,” as well as an audience of over seven hundred people, access to a professional photographer, headshots.

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Jess and her bandmate attended an orientation session for the Club One event and was quite confused. “We arrived at the 2PM meeting time, the doors to Club One were still locked and a number of other artists were waiting around outside in the cold,” she said via email. She claimed that once inside, got inside, the event organizers didn't know basic details, like if the event was to be all ages or 19+, which A/V company would be responsible for technical production, or even what the basic layout and floor plan of the event. Musicians were also told to bring their own amps and had to decide which band was responsible for bringing a drum kit to use during the show and visual artists who planned to sell prints and other art were expected to provide their own tables.

In exchange for participating, RAW requires artists to each sell twenty tickets to the event at a cost of $20 per ticket. Artists themselves would be responsible for any that went unsold and would receive $10 for every ticket sold once they exceeded their required twenty.

Jess has concerns that the RAW event, as well as the organization itself, is “a scam to take advantage of less experienced artists.” She believes that RAW stands to profit “thousands of dollars just from the artists being forced to buy into their ticket[s].” Jess called the RAW event is a “pay to play scheme” and the organization is “a predatory pack of wolves”.

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The Kicker recently wrote a story about RAW, referencing a 2014 article that stated the organization had reported “large profit margins and attempts at the company to suppress negative commentary online through search engine optimization.”

Glenda Tulk, executive director of MusicNL called the RAW event “a HUGE scam!!!!” in an email to Jess. Local photographer Sandra-Lee Laydon also posted a warning on social media, that RAW had sent identical emails to local photographers in St. John’s asking them to participate in the event. She also called the event a scam and warned her friends to look out.

Rebekah Robbins, Program, Marketing and Communications Director of Music NL told The Racket via email that she was concerned the RAW event was a pay to play scheme. “There does not seem to be any onus on the organizer to promote the event, and as a result of the makeup of the event, most of the attendees are friends and contacts of the artists who aren’t necessarily there to buy. Likewise, the organizer makes the same amount of money regardless of how much effort they put into the promotion and organization.” Robbins did point out examples where pay-to-play events makes sense like a curated festival or conference, where the organizer guarantees that there are buyers and the event is promoted.

The Racket reached out to RAW for comment. The organization’s Community Engagement Manager, Ryan Smith told us via email that he has dealt with similar criticisms. “I believe the implication stems from the incorrect assumption that someone at RAW is recruiting artists to recruit individuals to recruit individuals and so on, each taking a percentage of some profit created in the process. We have an alternative to the traditional booth fee by allowing our artists to crowdfund it. Instead of asking artists to pay submission and booth fees out of their own pockets and taking a percentage of their sales, we allow them to sell tickets to negate those costs.” He said artists are under no contract to pay out of pocket and can drop out of the showcase. Their ticket holders are immediately alerted, and able to get a refund.

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Regarding Jess’ concerns about the event organizers at Club One, Smith noted that St. John’s is a new market for RAW. “It’s up to our directors to align our artists’ needs with the space,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very smoothly if the doors are locked, so I can only speculate that we were left with a mortified director and less-than-pleased artists. Organization and communication can mitigate almost any issue and it certainly sounds like we missed the mark that evening.”

The Racket reached out to Club One for comment but did not receive a response.

Finally, Smith said that while he understands artists keeping their “head on a swivel”, but noted everyone at RAW is an artist and despite negative press about its platform, he has seen many more examples of artists who claim that Raw has “literally changed their lives”.

Robbins pointed out that MusicNL always pays artists, and that performers “should always be wary of scenarios where an organizer requires them to sell their own tickets.”

Jess isn’t comforted by Smith’s statement and said: “me nerves [are] rubbed right raw”. She thinks artists are better off staying home and listening to Nirvana's "Pay to Play" instead of getting involved with a RAW showcase.