I’ve been a union member off and on the past few years while working the union gigs this town has to offer. After giving thought to the challenges involved with being a musician in 2018 Seattle, I’ve decided to make my membership permanent. Here’s why:
Musicians create one of the most in-demand products on Earth. We’re surrounded by music constantly. It’s in all of our media, playing in all of our public spaces, and enjoyed almost universally. Every single person I know owns and listens to music. It’s as ubiquitous and beloved as coffee and, like any product of value, requires skill and effort to be made. And musicians produce the supply.
In past decades, the costs of production and distribution were so incredibly high that musicians were in genuine need of partners. Record labels provided the capital for production, promotion, and distribution and, in return, demanded ownership of the product and the lion’s share of profits. Short of already having massive sums of money, musicians had no choice but to acquiesce.
Fast forward to today. Production, promotion, and distribution come at a fraction of the cost, within the grasp of the average group of working musicians. But for some reason we still rely on partners who, with mixed intentions, demand unfavorable terms. Employees of Spotify and the like compile massive libraries of our collective work, pay out fractions of pennies for its use, and enjoy six-figure average salaries. Bars and venues that would otherwise be empty book musicians to draw patrons, cover their own costs first, and pay out what’s left. And because we still believe that we need these partners to be successful, we continue to accept terms no sane business person with an in-demand product ever would. We have almost no leverage when we should have almost all of it. Continue reading Join the Musician’s Union→
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. But when a business operates at a loss somebody has to be the loser. Guess who?!
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, the bands are last in the bread line. 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 to be paid for their work. But the thing that often gets missed 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, 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 profiting 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→