Saskatoon musicians fed up with being asked to play for free

Musician Tyson McShane says it wan't the first time he was asked to play a free gig in Saskatoon, and it likely won't be the last.

Musicians' union says artists 'can't pay bills with buttons and smiles'

Tyson McShane is a band member in Slow Down Molasses. (Steve Pasqualotto/CBC News)

Musician Tyson McShane say its wasn't the first time he was asked to play a free gig in Saskatoon, and it likely won't be the last.

Earlier this month, the Saskatoon Airport Authority sent an email out to the Saskatchewan Music Association and the Saskatoon Musicians' Association. The airport asked local musicians to play in the airport to arriving and departing travellers. While the artists wouldn't be paid, they would be able to sell CDs and merchandise.

"It seemed like somebody was pranking me," said the union's secretary-treasurer Warren Rutherford. "I'm very happy for them to program music out there, but to do it on the backs of musicians, it's outrageous... You can't pay your bills with buttons and smiles."

According to Tyson McShane, this sort of request is nothing new. The leader of Saskatoon-based band Slow Down Molasses, McShane took the fight to the airport authority on social media.

"It struck me as fairly a naive request," he told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. "They didn't understand what they were asking."

After ten years of playing, the band is still asked to play for free. While Slow Down Molasses still play for local fundraisers, they're often on the road, and have a hard time squeezing in paid local gigs.

Next week, the band will be playing in Reykjavik, Iceland, for the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. The world-renowned festival was sponsored by Iceland Air, and brings people from around the world together. He said Saskatoon should pay attention.

"They want people to come to Iceland because it's a cool place, and we've got this great music scene, so we're going to throw this big concert in a hangar at the airport," he said. "Those musicians are being paid, and now they're flying in musicians from all over the world and it is one of the coolest festivals I've ever been invited to play at."

Ultimately, McShane said music is a profession, and it's highly unlikely that a band will become famous by being discovered at a local charity function.

"It is still a vocation, like other vocations," he said. "And there are people who make a living at it. And if you want to celebrate what's happening in music in Saskatoon, there [are] great ways to support musicians."

For its part, the Saskatoon Airport apologized for any offence caused, and are still examining the program.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning