Saturday, September 01, 2012

The price of music

Playing with 'Beau Jangles' at Hertford Corn Exchange
I'll start with an anecdote that's going round on social media.

"A guy calls the musicians guild to get a quote on a six piece band. The rep says 'Off the top of my head, about $2,000'. The guy says 'What?! For music?!'

'Tell you what', says the rep, 'You call six plumbers, ask them to work from six till midnight. Whatever they quote you we'll charge half'."

It's sadly true. These days pubs will happily put on music to bring in more custom. But most of the time they expect the musicians to play for free or, if they are lucky, for beer. They'll happily host sessions and jams, and not even give the organisers the courtesy of respect for all the organisation and the business it brings them.

Now I know that venues pay PRS fees, and that musicians should be able to log their gigs, the songs they played, and get their royalties. But it's a long process, and also the fees are pennies. You'd have to work thousands of hours to earn a living from royalties that way.

Many pubs in our area put on live music but expect the musicians to play for free because 'It gives them a chance to showcase themselves and sell CDs.' How many CDs would you have to sell to make enough to pay a band their expenses, let alone a fee? And, of course, there's the overheads of the CDs themselves to be taken into account.

I was moved to write this post because I received an email the other day from our local folk club which is urging support. They are booking some good acts, and I understand that they want to build up funds to help pay for the artists that perform. These are the 'lucky few' - those that can make a living out of playing music. But it takes hard work, dedication and the ambition to be a working musician, not a super star.

I won't be going to my local folk club, however.  My email was for the singers' night. Entry £4, performers £3. So they don't just want performers to play for free, they want them to pay for the pleasure! I will be going to Hitchin to see the acts I like in the folk world.

(The reason this particularly annoyed me is that I did support the very first singers' night and did pay as I didn't realise that performers had to pay before I turned up. Whilst I was on stage, two friends of the organiser came in. They offered to pay and he refused. We got to pay to see the audience... That, to put it mildly, peeved me somewhat.)

In the 'good old days' our band used to do gigs and save the money to pay for making our CDs. The music scene is so very different now. If you wanted to self-fund an album, you'd be extremely lucky to do it from gig fees. But it's possible if you didn't want to eat, for example.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the opportunity to play when it's provided - I am not in a working band and our duo doesn't get much chance to get out there and go for gigs. But I do feel that musicians have been devalued by the bookers (not necessarily the audience who will enjoy a good live act whether they are paying to see them or not).
Am I old and embittered and resistant to the new way music is shared and enjoyed these days? No, not at all. But I say a fair pay for a good job, and I'm buggered if I'm going to pay to play.
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