Saturday, February 14, 2015

a musician's lament

    I have, for professional purposes, to follow a lot of people on social media who I don't like or don't really know. One of them is this bar/booking company (locals can guess who I'm talking about). Whenever you play there, they make you sell tickets if you want any money. This bothers me, because I always thought it was the bar's job. I can't wait until they make us start serving drinks as well...or maybe cleaning up the bathrooms.

    Anyway, someone associated with this particular group posted an article on the stuff bar owners hate about bands. It's not the first time I've seen such things from venue owners. The article boiled down to "these whiny musicians don't fill my bar to the rim and still expect to be treated like humans." The key, it seemed, is that the article assumes bars are doing bands favors by booking them, and bands should therefore do whatever the bar wants without complaining...and that this is particularly the case when a band draws less than ten people.

    I think about this a lot, because one of my favorite places to play makes the bands play the sound engineer before the musicians get paid. This means that the first 22 people's cover charges go to a bar employee before the artists get paid. This, in spite of the fact that if I bring five fans, those people alone will buy enough drinks to make the bar enough money to pay for the sound engineer. Now, I'm not expecting to get rich off of this, but I also don't want to be the only worker who doesn't get paid. My labor is worth something. And this is at one of the friendlier places to play.

    Look, I realize that the bar needs to make money if musicians are able to play, so bars have to be taken care of, financially. But on the other hand, if no one plays at most of these bars because the musicians are tired of being treated badly, then the bars will be empty and close anyway. Both sides of the equation need to be taken care of.

    And yes, I'm aware this rant won't accomplish any of those structural changes. My main purpose here is to make clear that live music is a fragile thing. Already, the venues and the performers are locked in an antagonistic relationship. This is especially going to be the case when people don't come out to support local music. Art being created by artists is a fragile thing. Without an audience, it becomes downright precarious.

    Let's leave aside the matter of whether friends have an obligation to support other friends (short answer: of course they do. What kind of friend would rather watch a film or tv show then support a friend's creative endeavor?). Live music is vital. Art in general is vital. When art doesn't have to lock itself up to the goals of some capitalist edifice to survive, it will most likely be particularly vital. So the least you can do is give it a checking out new bands, painters, whatever.  And if you find something you even kind of like, you should support buying albums and other merchandise, by going to the shows, by taking advantage of musician pre-sales, however you can.

    And yes, there is a certain amount of self-serving going on here...because I would like to be able to keep laying and maybe even make a second album. But I'm also fine if you have tried but still don't like my stuff. No one is required to think I'm a genius...or to even find me tolerable. It's okay to think I suck. It's okay to not support me.

    But for Zeus's sake, at least try to support someone.

    (inspired by Music 101: Why you should support local music)

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