Postering wars: Who owns the streets?

Artists are waging a daily battle against council and major labels for control of the streets, writes Melbourne musician DALLAS FRASCA.

Being an independent artist is expensive. If you’re one of us, you’ll understand the huge amount of money we need to pour into advertising to promote our shows. It can be damn hard to make ends meet. How hard? Well, a new study suggests the average musician’s yearly salary is a measly $7000. It’s a sorry category to be in. Fortunately, I am one of the lucky few that has lived solely off my music. I’ve done so for the last seven years, but there have been many sacrifices along the way.

When radio stations like triple j and the many commercial stations aren’t getting behind your music, how do you promote your band with limited or no funding?

These days, there’s no shortage of promotional tools at our disposal – online and streetpress advertising, publicists, poster companies, text messages, social media, newsletters (which have monthly fees) and community radio. Facebook, it must be said, lost its way when it chased its “pay to promote” scheme. Also, we no longer have TV programs like Countdown or Recovery, which means we don’t have the one-stop, large exposure shop for people wanting to discover new and great music. Those days of mainstream exposure are long gone. The marketplace is now divided into so many segments.

“Artists are having to poster in illegal spots because the ‘free space’ is controlled.”

To reach a wide audience in this current climate, you have to attack from 30 or so different avenues. It can be extremely time consuming and almost impossible for an independent act to navigate on their own without the nous and manpower. So how do you promote it? How do you get yourself out there without spending?

We decided to turn to “our streets” when four of the major Australian streetpress magazines folded during our last national tour to promote our album. Since getting our hands dirty on the streets to promote our band, we’ve discovered that many local councils, major labels and poster companies – who now also control the price of our art – are slowly buying up this “free space” in certain local music precincts, making it harder for independent acts to get their name out there.

Major labels may own radio stations, television music content and magazines, but they don’t own the streets where you have a legitimate and cheap alternative for advertising a show, right? Well, not really. Now artists are having to poster in illegal spots because the “free space” is controlled. If your poster goes where it ain’t meant to go, you risk being prosecuted by corporate lawyers.

Melbourne has Australia’s biggest community of live music venues and is recognised as one of the world’s great live music cities. In certain areas, artist posters meld with the street works to make a wonderfully colorful tourist destination for lovers of arts. Free postering isn’t frowned upon and it helps support independent arts thrive among the coffee shops, cafes and bars. These businesses need arts to thrive just as our bands need free poster space to survive.

If you give the free space away all you’ll see is corporate brands and major label pop stars on every street corner. Imagine waking up to Bieber on morning TV, turning on the radio to hear more Bieber, opening up a magazine and, what do you know, more Bieber, and then stepping outside to see Bieber on every billboard. If we gave these big entities half the chance they’d buy all the space and tell us what to look at, but until they get their hands on everything, let’s make it known who really owns the streets.

“If you give the free space away all you’ll see is corporate brands and major label pop stars on every street corner.”

We believe the lane and alleyways of our cities are everyone’s to share. It’s about art forms, creative ventures, gigs and even garage sales. These spaces are being used as an alternative to avoid the garbage being pushed down our throats from corporations. It offers people a different form of expression and a colourful journey to and from your destination.

Poster companies now charge an arm and a leg to put your posters up. They only last a couple of days before other posters get plastered over the top, so it’s time to get creative. Bat For Lashes’ campaign for her latest album involves stencilled paint on footpaths, while we created handmade “love heart” flower pots to advertise our most recent show in Melbourne. They were scattered among the city and suburbs in busy locations and also got us a great reaction from the people seeing them.

Poster companies should not control the price of our art. We will not let them or major labels take our free space. It’s just one more avenue they can control. Fair go. Stop trying to take money from arts – we don’t have any. Imagine Brunswick, Fitzroy or Collingwood without posters? Like a pub with no beer.

Postering: Unwritten Laws
– Never post on a shopfront window of a running business or where it clearly states “no posters”. – Post in a spot that will last. – Don’t go over the top of a poster where the event hasn’t happened yet. (Unless, of course, a poster has had a lot of coverage. Make that judgment call. It’s a poster jungle out there.) – All artists can find a legal little or big spot for a long or small duration somewhere in their town if the space stays free. – Admit to nothing.

Dallas Frasca is a Melbourne-based musician. Her second album, Speed Painter, is out now.