Don’t accept less than you're worth, says musician Tyrone Schwalger

Before he sets out to pursue his music career in the chilly South Island of New Zealand, singer/songwriter, Tyrone Schwalger, has a message for people starting their careers: don’t undersell yourselves.

Mr. Schwalger has been performing his unique crooning tunes across Samoa for several years, and just recently collaborated on a unique song, ‘This is Love’, written by a group of up and coming young artists.

The organisers behind the track, Island Base FM and Brown Girl Woke have been working to create spaces for young musicians in Samoa to perform and meet experienced artists like Down to Please. 

But before they get started, Mr. Schwalger wants young artists to defend the integrity of Samoa’s growing music industry, and not to undercut their prices to hotels or event organisers.

“I charge $100 an hour,” he said. Anything less, especially when the gig climbs to three hours of straight singing, is not worth it. 

“That’s your time, your energy, you have got to get there, set up, pack down."

He said his rate is similar to rates charged overseas, relative to their currency, and that if musicians accept less than that they will drive down prices for everyone.

People who book musicians for their venues or events often ask young musicians to drop their rates, or accept food and drinks instead of payments. 

Mr. Schwalger said that should not be happening.

“People used to ask me to drop my rate a little bit and I say no, I can’t do it for less,” he said. He had to stick to his guns, and luckily his mother, a former singer herself, supported him to do that.

He believes most organisations, hotels especially, can probably afford $300 a night for a great musician. People starting out might charge $50 or $75 for their first few gigs, but not for much longer.

Ultimately, Mr. Schwalger wants music to be a viable career in Samoa, and that means actually making money.

Too many people who want to pursue music aren’t supported to do so by parents concerned for their wellbeing.

“They sometimes pull their kid away because they think there is no money to be made there or they only see the negatives,” he said.

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“And that rate issue - that could be a reason. If everyone is dropping their rates then everybody thinks the rate is low.”

Island Base F.M. Manager, Jasmin Ziedan, said the creative industry is full of people either missing out on opportunities or being underpaid to perform.

People consider performing as simple, something they could do themselves, she said, and so they don’t see a value in paying for it.

“It’s a tricky one, because if you do not go down on your rate they could go with someone else and then you lose out on your job,” she said.

“If you do go down on your rate, the whole industry will go lower, lower and lower.”

Ms. Ziedan said she’s found when musicians tell their families how much they’re being paid, they’re told “see, I told you, there is no money in it.” 

In one case recently in Samoa, a singer was told not to take up an opportunity to perform because her parents assumed there was no money to be made, even though other artists were being paid for the show.

“Instead of asking can she get paid, can we arrange something, it was not even a consideration. She just called, crying and saying ‘I can’t do it’,” she said.

Island Base FM has been working to put young Samoan artists in touch with each other, as a way of learning and even creating some standards and norms for the industry.

She said if no one knows what the other artists are being paid, if at all, they will always doubt their rates and are more likely to drop them.

Ms Zeidan said going forward, Island Base will offer training on the technical side of being an artist.

“It’s one thing to create an artist, it’s another to teach them how to be a business person, how to pitch themselves, how to come up with the right rate, how to negotiate. 

“There is a lot to it and none of those kids know anything about it.”

Eventually, Samoa’s music industry could grow and the size will keep prices competitive. But today, as Mr Schwalger puts it: “You could be the most famous singer in Samoa and still be pretty broke.”

He said there is a lot of talent in Samoa, which even he did not realise until they all gathered to make ‘This is Love’ last week. 

“You just don’t see [the talent] because people don’t want to do it. 

“Maybe in a couple of years they will be more out there but they have got to push for it, like I had to.”

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