I’ll preface this by saying that the majority of club owners I deal with are good people. They love and believe in live music and have handed over their lives to the punishing task of owning and operating a small business. There are definitely snakes out there, but generally they’re hard-working people who took huge risks operating in an industry with a shrinking audience and growing costs. That said, when a venue doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay everyone adequately, musicians are often the ones who bear the brunt of that shortfall.
Most venues that offer door deals or low guarantees have no built-in crowd, meaning the only reason people walk through the door is to see a band. But when the end of the night comes and there isn’t enough money to compensate everyone, musicians are generally last in line to get paid. The staff gets paid, the food/alcohol vendors get paid, the utilities get paid, the taxes get paid, the bank gets paid, and the owner of the building gets paid. This is a common refrain and isn’t surprising to anyone, and I’m not arguing that these people don’t deserve their earnings. But the thing that musicians often miss is that, when you commit your time to one of these businesses without a reasonable guarantee, the fruits of your creative output are being used to pay other people first, including the generally wealthy people who own the building and loaned the business money. But for the music you create and perform, the money to pay all that overhead wouldn’t flow into the business in the first place (The same could be said about Spotify and other streaming/radio platforms by the way). Given that banks and commercial real estate owners are indirectly earning money from your work, you should think hard about whether or not you’re getting something meaningful out of the arrangement. Continue reading Low-Paying Gigs: Think About Where the Money Goes→
On Friday I joined Jessica Lurie and Arne Livingston in opening for and sitting in with Victor Wooten, Dennis Chambers, and Bob Franceschini, musicians I’ve been listening to and admiring for half of my life. Here’s what happened and what I learned:
They walked in and sat down to watch just as we started going over tunes at soundcheck. I was nervous to the point of almost shaking but thankfully my body took over and made the music happen. Living Daylights’ repertoire is full of twists and turns and, this being my first time playing their music, I’m glad I studied and had a strong foundation of practice to fall back on. Preparation and time on your instrument always pays off. I give full credit to mega-bassist Damian Erskine for being a shining example of how a pro gets ready for the stage. He plays through the music on his own, marks up charts so they’re extra readable, and makes his own charts when necessary. Whenever I’m prepping for a gig, I always ask myself “What would Damian do?”
After soundcheck I escaped to the green room to pull myself together. When I came out 10 minutes later Dennis was walking back and met me in the hallway. He smiled big, threw his hands in the air, and said he was looking for me to ask about sitting in. I was stunned and the nerves came rushing back, but he was so kind and funny and personable that within minutes I was fully relaxed, hanging and shooting the breeze with one of my idols. By the time we took the stage an hour later I was completely comfortable and just happy to be playing, free from fear of being judged by the incredible musicians I looked up to, and that’s the key. My nerves were an extension of an irrational fear, and getting comfortable with the source of that fear allowed me to get out of my head and enjoy myself. Our set went great. Continue reading Lessons Learned→
I had a long conversation with some of my favorite musicians last night about taking gigs for crap money. I’m against it, some were for it, I’m curious what everyone thinks.
My position is that part of a bandleader’s job is to make sure you have money to pay your musicians what they deserve, regardless of expected turnout, and even when hiring your friends (I think ESPECIALLY when hiring your friends). There’s money out there to support music (How much did KEXP’s new building cost? How much did folks raise to save KNKX?), it just requires making the case to get it. Grants, fundraising, negotiating with venues, seeking out money gigs, merch, etc. It’s not easy and it takes effort and creativity, but it’s doable. Aside from making sure you have money to keep for your own effort, there are a ton of positive side-effects to having this attitude. Continue reading Bandleaders: Pay Your Musicians→
Recently I’ve become acquainted with Jukely, a subscription-based web service that, for a $25 monthly fee, gives music-goers the ability to attend “unlimited” shows without paying a cover charge. There are limitations to the service in that not all venues/concerts are available through their site, each concert has a limited number of passes, and, from what I understand, subscribers can only reserve a spot for one concert at a time. On the back end the service will pay the venue less than 50% of the ticket price for each member who attends a show.
Even with these limitations, as someone trying to figure out a sustainable (read: non-punishing-debt-accruing) way to perform quality music with professional musicians, this seems like a way for people who are entirely removed from the creative process to insert themselves between musicians and their audience while A) extracting money from that interaction, B) adding nothing of value to it, and, most importantly, C) driving down the perceived cost of live music. Continue reading Jukely: Another Tech Company Undermining Artists→