Should CMA Pay Or No?

Kix Brooks, one half of country duo Brooks & Dunn and a Country Music Association board member, recently spoke to Nashville business leaders and said it was time CMA Music Festival paid its performers.

Brooks’ comments at Lipscomb University’s Nashville Business Breakfast February 19th inspired two Tennessean columnists to take sides. Peter Cooper took Brooks’ position and Beverly Keel wrote an opposing piece.

At the cornerstone is that country artists who give their time to perform at the four-day Nashville festival do so because the proceeds go to charity. The CMA’s Web site notes that since co-establishing "Keep the Music Playing," which funds music education in local public schools, CMA has donated more than $1.1 million from proceeds in the festival, according to the Tennessean.

Cooper defended Brooks against claims that he was being greedy or that he had forgotten about his fans.

"In terms of charitable endeavors and face time with fans, country artists get straight A’s," Cooper wrote. He pointed out that country stars sign autographs and pose for photos with fan club members every night, in every town – but the same can’t always be said for rock or pop artists.

His column discussed how much country stars do for charity – from Rascal Flatts donating $2.2 million to a children’s hospital to the long list of organizations to which Brooks & Dunn donate.

Cooper wrote that the CMA Music Festival charges fans admission to the show, as do festivals like Texas’ Country Thunder, but the difference is that other festivals pay the performers.

The Tennessean article added that if artists were paid, the CMA Music festival would become stronger because artists like George Strait, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill, who typically don’t make appearances at the event, might be convinced to join the roster.

To a comment Brooks made that artists give up six figures a night to play the CMA Music festival, Keel responded, "If these stars can earn six figures a night for 364 days a year, certainly they can volunteer to sing one night annually to pay back the very city and industry that has made them what they are today."

The column said that half of the proceeds from last year’s festival – $655,624 – went toward purchasing 775 musical instruments for 33 Nashville public schools. Keel wrote this was only possible because the artists performed for free. She asked her readers if the proceeds of the festival would be put to better use "lining the wallets of well-to-do artists" rather than going toward music education.

Keel acknowledged the festival actually costs artists because they still have to pay their bands and crews but said that this was offset by the valuable exposure of TV coverage of the event.

To the claim that other festivals pay their performers, Keel wrote that to her, those are just "regular ol’ gigs" and that the CMA Music Festival is different because of its contributions to charity.

Keel wondered if some "stars are getting too big for their Wrangler britches" and closed by saying that because stars love that Nashville treats them like regular folks, stars should continue to volunteer at the CMA Music Festival like everyone else who works at the event.

After the Tennessean columns were published, Keel wrote another article on the subject after talking firsthand to Brooks.

Keel wrote that when Brooks spoke to the business leaders, he was speaking as a CMA board member and a member of the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee – not as an artist. Brooks said the motive behind his comments was to ensure the festival survives and raise questions to improve the event.

"I’ve always gotten so much back from working on the festival," Brooks told the Tennessean. "I feel I have a responsibility to make sure the fans get the greatest show they can for their money."

Brooks said he looked at the Houston festival as one example of a good business model for a successful festival.

"Houston pays the artists, and as a result of being able to do that, they generate more ticket sales and, as a result, have more money at the end of the day to give more to charity," Brooks said.

The country star also assured fans that there was no way the festival would move.

"This festival could never work anywhere else. It never would and it never could," Brooks said.

This year’s CMA music festival will take place June 5-8 in downtown Nashville at Riverfront Park and LP Field. The artist lineup is yet to be announced but Brooks told the Tennessean, "I’m still excited about our festival and I’ll still be in my booth at Fan Fair to sign autographs, just like always, if anyone wants to come."