Dancers, we need to talk.
The purpose of this blog, as I explain to new readers when I pass out the link, is to share, “every shameless, money-saving trick I’ve discovered about dancing.” There is a limit, however.
Before I begin I want to specify that this post is not directed at any one person in particular. Recently I got into an argument with a friend of a friend about today’s topic, however while that motivate this post it was but one of several incidences of the behavior I’m going to describe. I’m not writing this to tell anyone off in specific but because this behavior is happening so often I feel the need to address the community as a whole.
Okay, enough vague-blogging. The crux of today’s discussion is thus:
Trying to save money does not justify stealing.
Seriously people, don’t steal.
I’m astounded that this is considered controversial but apparently it is. There are two areas where it is easy to steal in ballroom: music and photographs. We would never dream of going up to a shoe vendor, grabbing a box of Supadance heels, and running for the door but this happens all the time with music and photographs.
Part of it, I believe, is because it is so easy. We all know about software to download illegal music copies. Issues of music piracy are well-known and I won’t rehash those arguments here so much as make a point: ballroom music is a very niche product. There aren’t millions of fans buying the latest Klaus Hallen CD who will cover you if you skip payment and download an illegal copy. Moreover, ballroom music often has extremely high production costs beyond those of other types of music. Beyond scoring or arranging the music, often very expensive licensing fees (especially for strict-tempo covers of pop music), and recording fees, it takes a lot of people to make a ballroom CD. Much ballroom music is either orchestral or big-band, both of which involve large numbers of musicians which costs money. A typical rock group only has four to six people who need to be paid. A big-band style jazz group may have a dozen to thirty members. An orchestra may have fifty to a hundred. That’s incredibly expensive to produce. You look at a ballroom CD and think “$30 for a dozen tracks? That’s outrageous!” No, that’s what it costs to make a CD that’s probably only going to sell a few hundred copies at best.
What You Should do Instead: Casa Musica has launched a new download service so that patrons can purchase individual tracks. If you can’t shell out $30 for a CD, you can still buy individual tracks for about the same cost as on iTunes. For that matter, iTunes is starting to carry ballroom albums that let you purchase individual tracks. Build your collection up slowly and support the artists making them.
Another rampant problem is people stealing photographs. Photographers such as Ryan Kenner and Anne-Marie Lund travel to ballroom events, take pictures, then put the pictures on their websites where dancers can browse the pictures and purchase them for download or printing. These are professional photographs produced at both great expense (in terms of equipment), investment (in terms of training to be able to take those photographs), and opportunity cost (in terms of time). To quote Anne-Marie’s description of a recent competition she shot:
For the typical event I’m at least $1000 in the hole for travel expenses, vendor fees and lost opportunity costs before I walk into the ballroom, usually more, before counting the sunk costs of equipment investment/maintenance, and the backoffice infrastructure requirements (recordkeeping, business licenses, tax reporting). All this for the privilege of working 12-16 hours in the ballroom with perhaps two quick restroom breaks (add a few more hours each day for photo processing and travel). I love every back-breaking minute of it, because I love ballroom, and the next best thing to being on the floor myself is capturing someone else’s joy for posterity.
This is an enormous investment on part of the photographers who are putting down a great deal of money, as well as the actual work of the event to take these pictures, all in the hope that afterward someone will buy the photographs. Now let’s be clear, they do great work (example) but it costs them money, time, and a lot of effort to do so. When someone takes a screenshot of the picture and uses it, even with a watermark, that person is taking everything the photographer gave up to produce that photograph and giving nothing in return. That, my friend, is theft.
It has gotten so bad that several events can’t even get photographers to come. Collegiate events in particular have trouble getting photographers because they will lose money at the event. When I spoke to Anne-Marie she talked about “equipment that literally explodes from intense usage at these events.” Even if the photographer already has all their equipment the act of using it means much of it must be replaced or repaired at high cost.
What You Should do Instead: Support the photographers. A digital download, that you can use for Facebook, costs between $5 and $15, a lot less than professional portraiture would cost you. We’re talking between the cost of Starbucks coffee and lunch. There is no excuse to steal when it costs so little to be honest. If you still can’t afford that much, ask a friend to take your picture instead (most collegiate and USA Dance competitions allow personal camera use). But if you paid $40 for a competition registration you can afford $15 for a legitimate picture.
What We Can All Do
Stop tolerating theft. If you see someone using a watermarked picture on Facebook, call them out on it. If someone likes your music, tell them where they can get a copy. The only reason theft is tolerable is because we tolerate it. We need to make it clear that we support the industry professionals who support us because the only way they can continue to do their job is if we support them, and that support must be financial.
We are dancers, not thieves.
We are better than this.