Every two weeks the blogosphere comes to life when bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic. The topic this time is “If you can’t afford the tip you can’t afford the meal.”
Here are two not-actual but representative-of-actual ads I’ve seen on Craigslist:
Seeking band to entertain at publishing industry event to benefit a worthy cause. We’re looking for a jazz quartet to play from 7 – 10 pm on Friday at a beautiful SoHo venue. No pay, but great exposure to publishing and fashion industry types.
Your music at our restaurant, Friday nights, 6 – 11 pm. If you’re a solid band with a good following, let’s talk. No $$, but a receptive place for your music; you can pass the hat, and get dinner for up to a trio. Potential for longterm gig.
Hmmm. Let me ask you something, industry event throwers: Is the catering being donated? How about the invitations? The flowers? The venue? All being donated for exposure and the chance to contribute to a worthy cause? Nobody’s getting paid a cent for any work they do to make this happen? If that’s the case, then, okay, you have the right to ask musicians to work for free, too.
Restaurant owner or manager: before I help you build up your business by bringing in my band and my following, please come to my home and cook dinner for my friends and me. I have a stove and electricity (you supply the ingredients). No $$, but a great opportunity to share your talents with an appreciative group of hungry musicians. If the food’s really good, we’ll ask you to come back and do it again.
It seems hard to put a price on something as emotional, as ephemeral as music. But there are hard costs, just as there are with any product. The CD your kid is downloading for free because he knows where to find it online (and, after all, how’s it going to hurt Amazon or iTunes or Gaga or Jay-Z if they don’t get his $10 or $15?), well, that CD may have cost thousands upon thousands of dollars to make, and those thousands may have come out of the artists’ pockets. Granted, my own musical subgenre doesn’t include Gagas and Jay-Zs and overnight YouTube sensations, and that’s a-ok with me. For many of us, pop stardom isn’t remotely the goal. Me, I just want to make music I like and can feel proud of, and to earn a reasonable return for doing so. I’d like my friend who recently didn’t get paid for a gig, and had to pay the band out of her own pocket, to find the check in today’s mail. I’d love to think I might break even on what it costs to make a CD (and I’m only talking hard costs–not time, training, skill, and so on), though I know that’s unlikely.
Now, look, nobody’s forcing me or my friends and colleagues to make the kind of music we make. You are who you are, after all, and I’m sure I wouldn’t get very far as a pop star if that was something I wanted (I’m way too old now, but even when I wasn’t, that wasn’t my thing). But many of the musicians I know are people with masters degrees (and student loans), children, health problems, rent, mortgages. You know the type I’m talking about: regular people. Some of them just happen to be regular people with decades of experience and with incalculable amounts of time and money invested in the development of their art and craft. They’re people who create possibly somewhat esoteric but also possibly meaningful music. And while their music may be appreciated for giving joy, provoking thought, soothing savage breasts, it’s rarely understood as something having monetary value. Music, after all, is free. It floats on the air, on waves. You can’t hold it in your hand, put it on the mantle, hang it on the wall.
Well, it’s easy to take some things for granted, isn’t it? We all do it. I do it. I’m tuned in (no pun intended) to where that for-granted-taking happens in music because that’s the world I inhabit. I thought it might be interesting for non-musicians to have a peek at some of the adventures in Musicland. But that’s all this is, a peek. Oh, the stories I could tell you! But I won’t, not now. I’ll leave you with this request: some time today, or in the next few days, please put on some music you really like. And listen. Really listen. Embrace the music, and let it embrace you back.
(Apologies to other participants. . . as usual, I entered the code to show the list of bloggers, but all that shows is the code. My blog apparently doesn’t want to cooperate.)