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Rogue Music Festival: Never Pay To Play!

Rogue Music Festival is a brand new festival organized entirely by an all-female team. The festival comprises a diverse group of artists given the opportunity to play live without the financial burden that many artists face at the beginning of their careers. The fest begins today (July 7th) and will conclude on July 9th- for three days of jamming to live music and supporting local artists. We had a chance to speak with the organizers of the festival - Roni Corcos, Natalie Field, and Amy Klein - and learn about their motivations and experiences in bringing this festival to life. Keep reading to learn about Brooklyn’s newest and most artist-supporting festival!

How did you guys come to plan a festival?

The fact of the matter is that musicians in Brooklyn are not getting paid fairly. It is really hard to be an artist in this city, an artist of any kind–musician, painter, filmmaker, photographer, you name it. Rents keep on going up, and so does the cost of living. Musicians face extra fees such as rent for rehearsal spaces where we can make a loud noise, Lyft rides to transport heavy gear or gas money if we have vans, the cost of recording and mixing, and mastering an album, and more. Some of us also pay our band members to ensure they get paid.

Since the pandemic and the current economic situation, it has gotten even harder to be a musician in the city. A lot of independent venues are struggling to make ends meet, so there are extra charges that venues build in to ensure they break even on events. Bands may be responsible for covering hundreds of dollars through ticket sales before even receiving a dollar. For many people, the financial impact of performing live is not sustainable.

Around November, we started discussing that there has to be a better way. One of the strengths of the musical community in Brooklyn is how we have come together in a more unified way in the aftermath of the pandemic. All of us realized how much it means to us to be able to live in a city where music is so innovative and inclusive and where the independent music culture gives all of us a home. We appreciate our community so much more since we lost all of our shows and opportunities to collaborate during COVID. Everyone has returned from the pandemic kinder and more open to supporting one another.

So we decided to create a music festival that would emphasize this message of community and collaboration–while ensuring that every artist gets paid fairly for their work. It was important to show that when we work with venues and other bands, we can create a sustainable financial model. Our goal was to ensure everyone–all of the musicians, the venues, the photographers, the DJs, and the small businesses selling goods at our festival–would get paid equitably. We accomplished this by negotiating with three venues, 37 bands, 20 vendors, and many more community members to work out deals that would be fair for everyone.

On each day, 70% of the money the festival makes through ticket sales will be split evenly among the bands who play that day. There are no headliners who get paid more. Unlike so many other music festivals such as SXSW, the musicians had no cost to “apply” to play in our festival. The vendors take home all the money they make during the day. Tickets are only $20 (with the option to pay more) per day so that audience members can see ten to thirteen bands a day at an accessible price. We show that it is possible to build a more sustainable financial model for live music by fairly distributing earnings.

How did your team come together?

We’re all involved in independent music in Brooklyn as musicians and as folks who work behind the scenes. All of us are in bands, so we know how much work bands put into their music and live shows. Roni has run sound at a lot of venues in the city. Natalie has managed venues and continues to do so. Amy ran a feminist group that booked many shows and organized a large-scale livestream music festival during the pandemic.

Roni brought all of us together. The festival was originally her idea. She invited us to talk together because she knew us all and knew we were all interested in creating more equitable payment systems for musicians. We naturally got along because we had similar experiences in creating and playing events. We understand the challenges musicians face and how joyful it feels for everyone when an event comes together.

What surprised you the most about planning a music festival?

It’s easy to reach out to bands through social media and emails. But we were amazed that so many bands responded when we reached out, given that our festival is new, so people had not heard of us before.

To select the lineup for the festival, we put together a list of over 150 bands. Then we (the festival organizers) listened to them and voted on who should play. We knew that this way of choosing bands would be more fair than inviting our friends or selecting people within a particular scene. So in this process, we reached out to many new people. It was awesome when we realized that we could build connections with artists beyond our immediate circles and continue building even more relationships next year.

Our goal is to bring together many genres of music and artists with many different identities, and we are so excited to hear all of the artists at the first-ever Rogue Music Festival.

How did you guys settle on the name Rogue?

We wanted our name to reflect that our festival challenges the status quo. We are not sponsored by any corporation, there is no big company behind us. It’s really just three people reaching out to musical communities in Brooklyn and trying to uplift them.

We are not following the traditional festival model of trying to make as much money as possible for a business. Instead, we are standing up for musicians and showing that you can work outside the traditional capitalist system while ensuring everyone gets paid fairly for their work.

Since the system was not working, we decided to go rogue. It means being independent and thinking creatively about sustaining the arts in our city. We can invent new ways to support one another as artists and community members.

Describe Rogue Music Fest in 5 words or less.

Never Pay To Play!

What are you most excited about on the day of the festival?

We’re excited to see all of the bands. It’s such a stacked lineup. Everyone’s music is unique, and the quality of the artists is so amazing. We’re going to be able to hear so many genres of music and so many different approaches. And we’re excited to be blown away by every single performance because we know it’s going to be wild.

We also hope that the bands who play at our festival get to meet new artists and build connections. We hope that they will stay in touch with one another after the festival and play shows together. We hope that everyone will be able to feel safe and included–and that means people in the audience too, not only the artists. It’s so exciting to facilitate an environment where folks can come together and feel free and joy while supporting one another.

Did you have any starstruck moments while booking performers for the show?

Yes, we were amazed when we heard back from artists we never thought would reply to us. When you email someone you don’t know personally, you never know what will happen. So we were shocked when bands we considered to be well-known nationally wrote back to us. Many bands said they were already booked for the summer, but they were totally on board with our goals for the festival and asked us to try them again next year. That felt really awesome and gave us a lot of hope for next year’s festival too!

What advice do you have for other young people trying to cultivate live music?

If you are planning an event, don’t be intimidated if you don’t know everything about what to do. Just reach out to people who may have different skills than you. Collaborating as a team is the way that wonderful things happen. It’s always possible to do more together than we can do alone.

Another important piece of advice is to let artists know how much you appreciate their music. If you see a show, and you love it, go up to the artist afterward and tell them. It will really uplift them, and it can also help you build a connection with them if you want to invite them to collaborate later on. Many artists are happy to receive feedback and know that their work resonates with others. So being positive and letting your favorite bands know that you care is a great way to start building a platform to support live music. If you’d like to collaborate with artists you haven’t seen live, try sending them messages on social media and email to let them know about your goals and interests in supporting live music.

We have all been through a lot over the past few years, given the pandemic and ongoing financial hardships, as well as the actions of the Supreme Court, which is trying to take away the rights of BIPOC communities, women, students, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Live music performances are opportunities to come together and celebrate that we all belong and that our differences make us wonderful and unique. We can express ourselves, listen to one another’s voices, and feel joy as we appreciate one another’s creativity and energy. Any event is much better when it includes artists with many different identities and welcomes audiences with many different identities too.


Though Rogue starts today, it’s not too late to snag a last-minute ticket for any/all of the show dates. If you can’t make it this Summer, be sure to follow them on Instagram @roguemusicfestival to find out about future events they have planned.

Written and Interviewed by Lily Greenberg

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