I can’t think of an adequate header for this post, because I will start waxing ranty, and fair warning for heated language.

That said, onward we go.

My dear friend and pro percussionist Gary Stanionis posted this recently. If you can’t see it, the best way I can sum it up is that he had an experience with being asked to play…for $100. For his entire group. Yes, venues think nothing of paying their band $100 (for all the guys in the band) for a gig or not paying the band at all, and Gary wrote an analysis of venue/musician relationships, and what that means for both.

I feel for Gary. I really do. Because this happens to musicians of all tiers, from aspiring and talented beginners to seasoned pros, across multiple genres, and it brings up the curious and very disheartening state of how creative services are treated in general

This bit is a slight rehash of Gary’s post, but when a band books at a venue, especially if it’s a restaurant/club-type environment, a large chunk of the crowd that comes in for the night that the band is playing is coming for the band. The venue gets the revenue off the bar and meal sales, but what would it have happening for the other times? And since when is $100 for, say, a five-piece band, an appropriate fee? Let’s be realistic: that barely covers the cable bill. But the club owners will offer that price, with the ever-condescending, “But it gets you exposure” line thrown in for good measure.

To note, exposure leads to frostbite (quote by my beloved friend Bettie, and it’s wickedly on target).

Seriously, what message do those $100 offers for gigs send? It’s eerily similar to having someone publish a writer without paying them for their writing or underpaying them something ridiculous, with the same line about exposure thrown in. It’s patronizing. It’s certainly insulting to the band, because that $100 has to get split between the band members. If that band is playing a two-hour gig at $20 each, the bandmembers would, after the 40% self-employment tax is paid because a large number of musicians are in fact self-employed, be making less than minimum wage per hour. Most importantly, it’s sending the musician that their services aren’t really worth much. Because after all, they’re getting “exposure”, right? That should be enough, right?

No, it bloody well is not enough. Nor is not paying a writer to be published in an anthology, even if it’s a thousand-word short story. Because the time that this short story had taken to get prepped and written was not done with just the love of the craft in mind. If you want to be a writer and make a living off your writing, you write to make money. Same goes with music: if you’re aiming to make your living off your music, then the first thing to do is ensure that you establish a clear minimum for what you and the bandmembers need to make  per gig, and do not back down on it.

But, wait for it… “That’s not how the clubs work!” So tell me please, what do the clubs hope to accomplish by driving away their essential source of revenue? Musicians bring the people in, and in addition to money made through tickets to see them, the additional revenue is from the meals and drinks, which can be equal to or greater than the door cost, provided that every person orders. No music playing = no audience = no revenue. And keeping in mind that, usually, a packed house is packed for the music, rather than the venue, what does this mean for the next night of the club? The same thing has to be done, right? Right. For a club, long-term investment in their entertainment is far more paramount than squeezing the band. Penny wise, pound foolish is the saying.

In other words: invest in the music. The club will have a constant and consistent revenue stream if musicians are 1. playing routinely and 2. treated well routinely. Because guess what: if they’re treated well, they will recommend the venue. Win-win on both parties, yes?

In theory. Practice is another ball game.

I’ll pause here and plug a recommendation: Bob Baldwin, a veteran keyboardist, producer, arranger, and all-around Jack-of-all-trades, wrote a hell of a book on the music world. I’m very lucky to have been the second-edition editor on this project, because apart from editing, this is required reading for anyone in the music world. Not just musicians, but the venues as well. In this very changing music world, where going independent is a very possible and plausible path to success, certain things, like walking a mile in the artist’s shoes, need to be kept in mind. Though I’m no musician, this book was an eye-opener and taught me a thing or two about running my photo/design biz.

I will now restate something that has been said before, both by me and my editor: stop romanticizing independents. This goes for writers and musicians, and not necessarily just independents. I’ll amend the statement: stop romanticizing creative people.

Because this method of business, both in the writing world and in some aspects of music is partly – note, partly, there are many factors that have contributed to this state of affairs and it would take me way too long to hash through them – based on a very unrealistic idealization of what the musicians or writers are living like. They’re seen as doing what they do “for their love of the craft”.  If they’re not in a popular genre, or not popular enough to be on a tabloid cover, then they must not matter, Never mind that they probably took the gig, or the writing assignment, because whatever little revenue they pick up, even if stretched, still pays a bill.

Look: creative work is still work. And it is a metric ton of work. All that 90% of people see is the finished product, and quite a bit of them get the very, very wrong impression is that it must be so easy. It’s not. And in the current climate, there’s a pretty good chance that the musician you see up there playing his/her heart out is taking a financial loss because they’re now trying to recoup the costs of making that new album that you’re hearing. Similarly with authors: you see someone with a new book, and you probably don’t stop to consider that the author may’ve had to shell out money for the cover, for the edit, for the formatting, etc.

Whether in music, writing, sculpture, photography, what-have-you, creativity deserves its dues.



2 thoughts on “

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve just put out my first three books, and am sitting in the hole, due to financial outlays to get these books on the market. Yet everyone I run into (friends and family) think I should just ‘give’ them a copy, since I ordered a few for promotional purposes. Of course, I have given my children each a copy, and those few friends that reciprocate our friendship in other ways, but at some point money has to be made to recoup cost, and hopefully make a profit. It is not easy trying to break into the ‘creative’ world that could potentially set one free from a life of working for someone one else until the fat lady sings.

    1. THANK YOU. My list of who gets a book is very, very short. Both my cover artists get one. My editor. 5-6 of my close friends. The rest of them? Shell out the cash.

      Luckily, even with the costs of production, it’s still an easy recoup of my costs, but I’m one of the few. How many more authors are in the hole right now because they’re still trying to earn out on their costs? And in trad-pub, what are the odds that a midlisted author will earn out their advance?

      Same with musicians. If they’re not independent, they’re stuck trying to earn out their advances from the record label, which can be a losing battle in this climate.

      It sends a hell of a disheartening message about how much worth is given to creative people. If ever I’ve hoped to live off my writing, I know it’ll be some years before that happens.

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