Thursday, July 30, 2015

About paying to play…

This topic has been covered in many user groups, but let me be very clear about how I feel about this: bullshit!  And here’s why…
Business, any business, follows a model of risk and reward.  Generally, the higher risk you take, the higher the potential for reward, and vice versa.  Venues that assume a pay-to-play model basically want to take no risks, and have all or some portion of the reward.  I believe it is utterly unreasonable for a venue, other than one strictly operated for the purpose of live performance (such as a proper concert hall), to expect to cover all or any significant portion of its operational costs from the revenue generated from live performance.  If a venue is a bar with a stage, its purpose is to sell booze, if it’s a restaurant with a stage, its purpose is to sell food and booze.  Under both models, live music is an enhancer to attract patrons to come in and consume their booze and/or food.  Having said that, I do concede that unless they are working through a promoter, a venue has costs associated with the logistics of live performance, such as advertising, sound equipment, and sound engineer, to name a few.  But that’s where risk sharing comes in.
There are some artists that refuse to engage in marketing or promoting a show, mainly on the basis that they are entertainers, not marketers or promoters.  I am not one of those artists; I do believe artists have a stake in the success of the show, and not just as the lowest levels.  Look at movie stars doing the talk-show tour to promote their movies.  Big name bands also have to do their share of promoting products and tours.  So why shouldn’t I?  A concert event is a partnership between the venue, the acts(s), and the promoter if there is one, where each should participate in the risk and the rewards, and each should have a stake in ensuring the event’s success. 

I believe a well-balanced approach is one in which the venue accepts its responsibility for creating a “scene” or environment to attract patrons that hopefully become “regulars,” while the talent assumes the responsibility of promoting their events and creating a following, and promoters assume not only the logistics responsibility but also formulating events that make sense with regards to how the talent is combined and sequenced.  If all three carry their end and do their part in promoting the event, then all three should equitably share in the returns. So I believe that the reasonable way to split the responsibility and the gains is for the artist (and promoters when involved) to get the door (in the case of a bar or restaurant), or a portion of the door in the case of a concert venue.  There is of course the possibility of a set fee paid by established venues, but these are fewer every day.

I live and work in a small market where no musician is really able to make a living just from performing.  Every professional musician I know in my town compliments their performance revenue with giving instrument classes or some other form of “day job.”  It is important that, given this reality, artists don’t stoop to playing for free, and much less paying to play, just because they can afford to.  I’m not talking about open mic’s, that’s a whole other topic I will not get into here.  And I am not saying that you should not consider an opportunity here and there in which the rewards may not be monetary but may very well be worth it, such as a good marketing or exposure opportunity.  All I am saying is that if you are a professional musician or aim to be one, and especially if you take the time and make the effort to promote your shows, you should respect and honor the value of your service and craft, just as a painter or sculpture places a value on theirs; you don’t see painters or plastic artists giving away their creations.  Why should musicians? And of course, there we come to the topic of to charge or not to charge for your music releases.  But I will leave this Pandora’s Box for another post.  Cheers to all!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bad joke of the week…

Allegedly, this is real testimony recorded in court:

Attorney: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?

Witness: All my autopsies are performed on dead people.

Attorney: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

Witness: The autopsy started around 8:30 P.M.

Attorney: And Mr. Dennington was dead at the time?

Witness: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy.

Attorney: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?

Witness: No.

Attorney: Did you check for blood pressure?

Witness: No.

Attorney: Did you check for breathing?

Witness: No.

Attorney: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?

Witness: No.

Attorney: How Can you be so sure Doctor?

Witness: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

Attorney: But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?

Witness: It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Musings on the topic of songwriting

I asked myself this morning over a cup of coffee: how can I become a better songwriter? This led me to thinking about what makes a good songwriter, and here’s what I came up with, in no particular order:

  1. The curiosity to wonder about and explore thoughts and feelings;
  2. the creativity and intellect to create story around those thoughts/feelings;
  3. the sensibility to add emotional depth to the story;
  4. the eloquence to express the story in writing;
  5. the musicality to compose a melody around the story; and,
  6. the objectivity to edit it all.

All of the above contribute to being a good songwriter, but I believe that what sets apart the great songwriter from the good songwriters is the last one: the ability to edit.    In a Nashville documentary I saw recently a young songwriter captured this sentiment in his praise of Kris Kristofferson: “He’s thrown away better songs than I’ll ever write.”  A testament to his power of editing I guess.

By the way, do check out the documentary For the Love of Music: the Story of Nashville.  It’s on Youtube and well worth it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

@ Starlite Lounge (the family session)

So I have a family contingent from out of town, including three minors, and they wanted to see me perform.  I have no gigs until August 1, so I contacted Brandon Lee, host of the Starlite Lounge open Mic, and asked him if he could hook me up (I needed to be up front on the lineup so I could get the kids out of there before 9:00, when they stop serving food).  Brandon really hooked me up, he was done setting up the PA by 8:00 or so, and said : “you can have at it until 8:50, when the kids have to be out of here.”  So I got to play approximately 45 minutes worth of music for my family and a few other patrons sitting around the bar.  I confess it was not my best performance ever (technical difficulties distracted for the majority of the set), but it was fun a to share my music with family. 
Lessons Learned: 1) Brandon Lee and Shannon Cannon (owner of Starlite) are truly wonderful and supportive people; 2) Open mic’s are a great way to have an impromptu showcase if you ever need to, and hosts are generally accommodating if you approach them humbly and with respect for their activity.  3) Although impractical for open mic's, never underestimate the value of sound check to work out technical issues BEFORE you start your set...