It comes in waves, this discussion of money and art on my twitter/facebook/email stream. Over here someone says “F*ck you, scurvy pirates! Pay me!”someone else says “Art has no worth” and over in that other place someone says “Art is slowly dying out”.
Honestly I don’t really care if people listen to my music for free, but you know what DOES put a bee in my bonnet- getting underpaid by venues. A lot of places have this default mode of expecting musicians to be both entertainers and promoters and it’s not fair to the performers, it’s not fair the venues that do pay, and it’s not fair to you guys-the people that come out to shows. So here are my 6 reasons I’m just DONE with this kind of scheme.
1) My goal with shows is to build my audience– I am not building my audience if I am BRINGING my audience. If I wanted to play in front of people I’m already in front of I would just do online shows on Concert Window and save my self the hassle of leaving my house and socializing (also, wearing pants).
2) It’s not even that great of a plan for the bar- Sure, placing pressure on bands to bring in lots of people might bring in some extra people who will buy two drinks, stay for music, and probably never come back. There will always low spots after you’ve run through the five Seattle bands that actually have consistent draw. All the rest of the time you’re going to get touring bands and those of us who average about 20-40 people if we’re playing on a prime night and the weather doesn’t suck. It makes way more sense to build up a reputation doing whatever you, bar, are good at and use music to influence it. If you have amazing cocktails pair those drinks with the kind of performers that seduce and entice. If you want to demonstrate you’re on the cutting edge bring in the best un-heard of bands consistently and build a dedicated regular base of early adapters. For the sake of all that is holy take responsibility for your own damn income, I’m already running my own business over here….which leads to my third point
3) Music is my business. Just because someone peruses in a clothing store there is no demand that they BUY. I get that. I’m not angry that not everyone wants my music, or can afford to pay for it. If a place doesn’t want to pay an artist they have the option of not hiring me. However-if I have been brought in to entertain and I did my job and people stayed and drank and had a good time and said they wanted to come again then I deserve to be paid. I don’t have crazy exorbitant fees. $150 for up to three hours of entertainment or 15% of the alcohol sales, whichever is more.
Sometimes I will even do a “sale” of a sort if I
A) like the venue/promoter/am doing a favor for a friend.
B) If I know I will be able to achieve my goal of getting in front of new people who will like my music and I will be able to sell some things to make up for not getting paid (I’m playing in Vortex Music and Movies on the 28th earlier in the day because they always have amazing people coming through and I always end up with way more people on my fan list)
C) It just sounds like fun and I want to be involved. ( An excellent example of C- my friend Kendra is launching her book Kindling on the evening of the 28th which is about a belly-dancing motorcycle gang of witches who fight evil with dance and sheer awesomeness. Fuck yeah I’m going to play that show. I would PAY to play that show if I could…which is point number 4)
4) Not paying me means I can’t pay a bunch of people and that just pisses me off. Album art, audio production, poster printing, promotion, keeping the website up, music video acting, directing, and producing, my band-mates. It’s actually irresponsible for me to play for free because I’m in turn forcing all these other people to help me out for free and I HATE being that person. The alternative is that I have to do all those things myself which effects the quality of what I can turn out. I owe it to the people who HAVE committed to my music to give them the very best of what I’m capable of.
5)I’m not an idiot, I know how the bar makes money and it’s not from ticket sales (and I hate it when a bar gets stingy about the guest list)
I know and you know that the bar makes it’s money from drink sales. Period. If I am selling people tickets there needs to be for a reason – not some slap-dash thrown together line up of varying degrees of quality. My friend TBASA does an awesome job at making events it’s easy to sell tickets for- they are monster line ups with great performers crossing a variety of genera and I and many of my friends leave with new favorite artists every time (I’m performing for one of these events on Valentines day at Georgetown music for art attack and it’s free, you lucky duckies)
The thrill of discovery is something people enjoy, it gives them a REASON to come. Come and see me play with two other random people who the booker just picked without screening and who may or may not know more than three chords and will likely cause traumatic college era coffee house flashbacks is essentially trying to sell people regret. Seeing as I am not some kind of crossroads demon, selling regret is not my forte. At the very least give me some drink special I can use as leverage.”Yes, the person who put together this show is an audio-masochist, but after you pay for this abuse you get 2$ whiskey shots to help you forget. ”
I love music. I love musicians. Some musicians are not good (yet, maybe never) I’m not saying it’s my place to judge, I’m saying it’s the venues place to judge. I’m going to show up and make friends and play a good set no-matter what but if my friends/fans/casual acquaintances listen to a line up and I’m the only person they want to see they are going to wait for an internet show or one of the free three hour shows I play someplace fancy and that, my friend, is not my fault and no amount of promotion would make it better.
I love music so much I make it for a living and even I say “let’s try someplace else” if there is cover for a venue and I don’t know who is playing …unless of course it’s someplace that has a reputation for always having good music which takes us back to point number two.
Tickets or cover need to serve a purpose other than the bar being a cheapskate and not wanting to commit to paying me or the sound guy. If I have people on my guest-list (and keep in mind, the most people I have EVER had on a guest list was three: the folks that gave me a ride and a guy that was taping the show for me) don’t give me the freaking side eye, especially since I’m solo 90% of the time and thus don’t even have a band getting in for free. Three people on the guest list means three people drinking and having a good time at your establishment and possibly telling their friends and that is exactly why I let them in. You’re bloody welcome.
6) And Finally- Do not complain to me about how tight the budget is in an effort not to pay the entertainment. It’s insulting.
I don’t do many things I can’t afford. I don’t buy organic. I don’t take the cat to the vet as often as I should. I don’t own a car. I don’t have a gym membership. I don’t eat out. These are all things I do not do because I have no budget for them. Guess why I don’t have a budget for any of those things: If you guessed because I have to write a blog post about why I deserve to be paid as a musician you are CORRECT! DING DING DING DING!
I don’t go into the gym and say “Hey, I don’t have a budget for this but can I have a membership anyway, and I’ll just ask the people already in your gym for 5$ a piece and I will pay you from that.” Nope, that only works with the arts.
If you can’t afford music don’t use it as a money making scheme. Don’t act like you’re some saint for having music in your bar- you’re bringing in new people, you’re getting promoted every time someone says they are playing and every time someone at a show posts videos or photos or social media mentions about it… AND people are buying booze. In the case of most of my fan base, more then a few drinks per show, and the nice stuff too, not the tall boy PBR cans. You, cheep ass venue, have music for business purposes and you should pay for it just like you do every freaking other thing….or did all those huge plasma screen tvs scattered about the bar get donated by the NFL?
You know what’s amazing- I find I bring far MORE of my people out to the shows where turn out doesn’t matter. Believe it or not I am not the center of people’s universe!
I am not the only reason people decide they want to come out and see me. Other factors include but are not limited to: they want to check out new places they’ve heard of before especially if the reviews are good. People want to go somewhere where they can meet other people like themselves, or feel like they are part of a community. People want to go somewhere the over-all experience is going to be high quality. People want to have a sense of adventure without feeling at risk or taken advantage of. These are the reasons people come to my shows, I do my part by bringing the music, but it’s only part.
Basically, I deserve better. Any musician who has put in the time, energy, and intense self flagellation involved in being “professional” deserves better. Most importantly, the people who have invested in me on any level deserve better. SO, to the shit venues with crap pyramid schemes- it’s over. I’d say don’t call, but let’s face it you never really did anyway.