Every Labor Day weekend in Seattle is the Bumbershoot festival. The format varies year to year, but it’s generally 3 days and more than 100 bands. There are a lot of other artistic activities as well, but I focus on the bands. It draws a couple hundred thousand people each year.You are guaranteed to see (1) a band you’d loved forever and always wanted to see (Bob Dylan, 2010) (2) a band you’d heard about but never listened to (Band of Horses, 2008) and (3) a band you’d never heard of and now is your new favorite after seeing them (Thee Oh Sees, 2011). This has been going on for 11 years for me.I love Bumbershoot because I can really escape into several days of music festival culture and not think much about work. Ah, but I do. There are great lessons about – you guessed it – compensation at Bumbershoot. Here are a few from this year.
1 – Imagine if you could assemble a team of 50 or so superstar talented people and get them to perform under rigorous conditions, week in and week out. They are so good at what they do that tens of thousands of people applaud for them every few minutes or so. (When was the last time that happened with your work?) As they later mingle they talk about the passion they have for their work, the great people they work with, and so on. In casual conversation, they also volunteer information about their pay for this demanding role, just as a side comment but also as a part of the passion they have for their role: Minimum wage.
2 – An individual begins to speak and perform and a crowd gathers. Dozens of people watch his talents for about 15 minutes. As he introduces his final task, he explains why the observers should pay, suggests how much they should pay, and why it is reasonable for them to pay for what they have just enjoyed. His hat is passed and it overflows with cash. I estimate that he’s made the equivalent of about $200 per hour. Much better than minimum wage, even in the state of WA with the highest minimum wage in the US.
3 – Another performer quietly displays his world-class talent (he has won multiple international competitions) standing on the side of the path. Saying nothing to the passing potential audience, and answering questions in a single phrase, he continues with his amazing work. His hat lies on the ground with no sign or other indications. His hat overflows with cash. I sensed that while he surely liked the cash he was there for the adoration of his quirky talent.
4 – A well-known performer finishes up her set on one of the major stages and notes that she will be at the tent adjacent to the stage after the show, inviting the audience to come by and say hello. The tent also has CDs, t-shirts, and other items for this artist. People line up, shake hands, and spend.
I spoke directly with at least one person of each of the four examples above, in detail, about compensation. (OK, I’m a hopeless compensation geek at a music festival.) In all cases, I didn’t have to ask, the information was volunteered or obvious. They are all extremely satisfied with their compensation model and results.
Noticeably absent from this year’s Bumbershoot lineup were the mega-acts that are making a lot of money just to play, before t-shirts and CDs, and no hat is necessary (though Bob Dylan wore a really stupid looking hat last year).
Much of the compensation delivered this year, like every year at Bumbershoot, was through a voluntary process, or didn’t involve cash at all.
Pay and Performance. Compensation plan designers: Look into it.