$50 gigs – What of it?


A lot has changed over the past few years with my career, however there still seems to be an unvalued perspective on club pay for live musicians even in this new decade. I just saw a video posted up on Vimeo.com of MTV’s new show $5 Cover and this just reminded me of a rant I wrote about 2 years ago when I was working for the Musicians’ Association of Seattle (MAS). I’ve posted  the article below for your enjoyment (originally featured on MAS’s MySpace page HERE). I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this matter for setting a new intention for valuing live music in 2010. I may revise my rant in a few days so that it reflects what I’ve learned over the past 2 years since it’s first post:
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Monday, February 25, 2008
$50 gigs – What of it?
Current mood:  determined
Category: Music

Keep in mind that our teachers (and in some cases our teacher’s teachers) were taking $50 gigs before we were even musicians (let alone born – in some of our cases). What does this mean? I think it means that we’ve undervalued our club gigs, our music, skills, talent, abilities, etc. for way too long. I understand there’s a lot of cover-charge models (I know because I still perform under some) and if the night isn’t stellar – well – the money isn’t stellar.

This is a complex issue that doesn’t just result with the simple answer…”we should just demand that the club owners/bookers pay us more than $50.” Easier said then done right?! Many of you may have approached a club owner from this stance and they just laughed you out of their office. To them (in many cases) they’re doing us a favor – the biggest one – offering us a place to play and get exposure. We’ve all heard this before, “don’t focus on the money so much, your band is going to get great exposure.” We’re starting to realize (I hope) that exposure isn’t everything. We need to survive in our industry – and how can we do that if we’re making $50 a night. Truthfully, it doesn’t seem very likely that anyone can make a living even if they’re playing 4-5 nights a week on that kind of money. In other cases we don’t even make $50 – THEY PAY US IN BEER OR DRINK TICKETS!

I don’t have a simple answer, but I do think valuing our music and going to the business table with confidence and a strong self worth is going to get things moving in the right direction. One other situation is if we undercut (taking a gig for $50 or less or taking a gig for less then another group) it’s only going to hurt any movement toward better conditions. Clubs owners will assume there are 20 musicians/bands lined up ready to take the gig when you talk to them about value this value that.

Baby steps – but I think we can all agree that the era of the $50 gigs has to end – we have rent we need to pay, food we need to buy, college loans we need to pay off and the list goes on and on – we can’t meet the living standards of today nor better the music market if we continue struggling as a community. The other option is to work for Microsoft or some other job to maintain your life as a musician – this isn’t the way it should be…should it?

Can we value our music more?

Here’s a possible plan:
1) Make a list of the clubs and venues you really like to perform at.
2) Crunch some numbers (venue capacity, price of drinks, meals, average door charge and anything else you think applies to revenue)
3) Start to add some dollar signs and add up various scenarios (for example: a full house of (x people) will probably bring in $2,200 of revenue for this club on a given night).
4) What are your costs for making your performance a financially feasible night (rehearsals, posters, fliers, gas, etc.)?
5) Now figure out a reasonable price based on some of the numbers you’ve sorted out – How much do you think you are worth to the club owner when you put those things into perspective?
6) Go back to the club owner (keep your crunched numbers withheld unless showing them is absolutely necessary) and openly discuss your value from your new found knowledge.

Working with club owners/bookers to me is about working TOGETHER and making sure they’re giving you the piece of the pie you feel you’ve earned (or can reasonably earn). You work hard and you’re a professional cat – we have every right to approach them from this playing field…it isn’t skewed one way. For example: The club owner says “I’m doing you a favor!” or “I own the club, you’re just a musician.” Do you think his bartender(s) and wait staff would put up with that crap…they work as a team…it can’t be any other way. His staff would give him the finger and walk off the job if they had to listen to that crap…think about it.

We could write an entire book on the subject, but I hope this gets some wheels turning and gets some folks interested in sharing some of their perspectives or experiences.

I (for one) am not taking any more $50 gigs…just to be clear…I’m working on a $75 or above level. I simply turn down opportunities that aren’t worth my time and energy, not because I think I’m too good, but because I value my time, energy, and music. I’m at a place right now where I’m into the quality side as opposed to quantity side. Quantity and mass exposure hasn’t turned out to be all that it was cracked out to be – in my experience.

Thanks for reading my rant.
-J