Tuesday, 29 March 2011

More Jam Sir ? To go with your bread ?

Picture the scene.....  you arrive late home from work one evening, and discover that your water pipes have burst. Somewhere. You dont know where..  All you know is theres a horrible whoooshing sound. and water is pouring out from the walls... Who do you call ?  yes.. thats right,  a plumber..   but hell be expensive..  could be hundreds of pounds..

Imagine the training that person had to pay for, and go through, to be able to get to a point where he could legally advertise himself as a plumber.  I bet we all never think about that on a daily basis.. you hand over your cash, or cheque (do they still exist ?).. and magically the water disappears, and everything gets fixed..  as nice and polite as we are to the superhero in disguise, we just hope we dont see him again..  or the water for that matter..

Now imagine this scenario...  The plumber has fixed the leak, tots up his bill, and you look at him rather confused and say.. " I thought you were doing this for nothing.. you know... for free..  because you love it...."

He would be pretty happy with that would'nt he ? After all, its his vocation in life, his passion.... 
It's all he'd ever wanted to do..   why should we have to pay a builder, plumber, electrician, landscape gardener, sewing machinist,  printing firm ANYTHING ?   they love their jobs.. they must do.. surely ?

Now as a fully paid up member of all things musical, this is where I draw the line...  I see time and time, venues advertising JAM NIGHTS..  come along, bring your instruments down, play and have a great evening..  Imagine at the end of the night, turning round after filling the place up, and saying.. "cheers for that... £xxx.xx (Insert reasonable sum there ) please..."   and look at their faces..   "oh, we dont pay the musicians anything.. "   

Now, I for one, CAN see the validity in jam nights,  If you are out of work, and are looking to form a band ( in gods name WHY?! lol )  then surely the quickest route to getting out there would be to go along to as many of these as possible...  more often than not though, its also a sure fire way to end up washed up, chewed up, playing the same numbers, week after week, to little or no audience, or worse still, a packed house, who have all turned up to see these "charity-musicians" play..

Charity ?  yes, that word again.. I, for one, have known many people struck down with the dreaded "C" word, and not come through.. and  as for  great organisations like Help For Heroes, and the teenageers fighting out in Afghanistan..  Id play all YEAR for NOTHING for causes like them..  happily.. 

But, and I'll come straight out with it..  IF you are a musician, FULL TIME, making a living at it, and not a day-jobber, plodder, who simply lives in a never ending quandry at middle-age of ".. oh no, all my kids are grown up, was it all worth it ? perhaps I should have stuck at being a musician, as i was bloody good.."  then chances, are, you will know what I am talking about ....

Being paid to provide a service, which includes people hiring YOU, YOURSELF, as a PRODUCT.. is a business..   and there we have that word..  the music BUSINESS.  Jam nights are, in a professional musicians eyes,  to be avoided at all costs..  why should you give your services for free ?  remember the plumber ? 

Now, ive probably upset quite a few people by posting this, but rest assured, that is never my intention, my point being simply this... 

If you are a professional musician, then, yes,  you are a bread-head (to a point) as that is how you make your living..  to even talk money/wages/salary these days to most people, is a moot issue..  but it does need to be said.   If my gear leaves the house, its to earn money... doing what i spent 10 years of my life in a rat-infested bed-sit, slaving over Paul Hindemith books, and working on my jazz/rock/ear-training/sight-reading chops.

The choice was simple for me, I accept that I may never be a famous musician, or have international chart-sucess, but well, frankly, if you only gauge your sucess on being on the cover of Rolling Stone, then you're pretty shallow.  No, for me, I equate sucess with being able to make a living from music.  It's bloody hard and sometimes, the rewards are clouded, IF ANY.   

Now, if you are a "day-jobber" musician, and want to go along to a jam night and have a bit of a giggle, and play a few songs, then hop back home into normality, GREAT.  I have to get that point across... only, dont whinge, that you might have missed the boat, and how your life could have been different had you not had 2.4 children, and gotten married, and become obsessed with this UK-"FETISH" of  "I MUST OWN MY OWN HOUSE IMMEDIATELY"..   if theres one thing im learning, its that you just cant have it all...  you either want to be a full-time musician, or not.. dont pretend, or blag, or moan.. 

When i was 13... I remember hearing Jimi Hedrix, and The Beatles... but I also remember playing my first band gig, where everyone was dancing, and I got paid at the end of the night.  But, what people tend to forget, is that although with plumbing, there are formal qualifications.. with music, any wally can get up and do it..   its the last bastion of the cowboy..  you dont get that in TV.. or FILMS..   its just too unionised.  

That part in between hearing, and being inspired by your idols, to actually earning money from it.. for me... it took 5/6 years..  for others it took 10-15, and for some it took 1 year or less..  yet.. at a gig, nobody even considers how long it took a musician to be able to play the latest chart hit, or rock classic... its taken for granted..   maybe that person spent all day every day, in the run up to that gig, learning to play new songs... only to get minimal applause at best..

How could we change this ?   hand out flyers, stating that tonights act worked very hard at making sure the show you are about to watch is the best it can be ?   That he spent all week, running around, getting strings, running through all his equipment, updating his website ?   do you think the audience would care ? probably not..   

As musicians, we are sitting ducks, in some ways.. We need to play, and teach, and record, in order to make a living, yet there is always some... well..  complete DOUGHNUT who insists that hell do it cheaper, or for free, and proceed to play as if he was on acid and had consumed pot and alcohol intravenousely...  

Getting back to the part about learning your craft..  How many years did it take you ?   remember when your parents would run in and shout.." turn that damm racket down.. "  and you looked up and said...." but mum, cant you hear what song im playing..."   then 4 years later, they come in and say...." thats good.. that sounds like.. (insert fave song)...  now, can you washup!"

I like to make comparisons, because I doubt ANY sucessful musician has made a living from going to jam nights..  if he says he has, hes lying.. blatantly....

Some of the best advice I ever took was from an agent, years ago..  he told me..."when your gear leaves your house, its to earn money.."   and I've stuck by that all this time....  Provided, I give 100% at each and every gig, and play my absolute arse off, to the best of my ability, then YES, I do feel like I can justify that statement....

Imagine, if you will,  <insert modern rock band>..  In  concert..  you've camped out all day, in the mud, to see them perform..  it is raining, they come on,  and they play 3 numbers, swear at the crowd, and walk off..  would you feel cheated ?  yet, they would still want paying..  possibly thousands...  in 15-20 years time, they may be struggling to play some no-name venue that only packs out 100 people..  they all look at each other and think.." where did it all go wrong.."   perhaps the mud-fest tantrum day ?!

So, as I type this, in the throes of releasing yet another self-penned, self-composed, self-produced album, which has consumed yet more of my time than anything... It does make me wonder, why should i even bother ?  perhaps i should stop tomorrow..  become a milk-man, or postman, or stack shelves at Tescos.. become one of  consumerist society, who has the nice comfy concert seat, can buy the souvenir T-shirt, or CD at the end of the gig.. and not have to pack up any gear, in pain from constant back spasms after having played for 2.5/3 hours... why.. because, in conclusion... its my job, and I still love what I do..

If your intention is to make a living from music, then the only way to change the music business at this level, is to start with yourself, ..  say to yourself.. NO, im not going to go and play for nothing.

Is this a good thing ?  Maybe I'm wrong, and I think that my sh1t doesnt stink ?  perhaps I have an enormous EGO ?  If that were the case, the "free" gigs ive done for cancer research, kids cancer, and countless other times where ive donated my services for nothing are a figment of my own imagination... I think not.. 

There is a time and place for EVERY form of musical engagement. Jam Night, Solo Gig, Band Gig, Acoustic Gig.. even... Karaoke!...  but there is also a time, when you have to decide..  Am i doing this for the benefit of the venue owner, so he can fill his till up ? or am i providing a quality service that has people asking for more at the end of the night ?   there is a difference between the two.. and in my professional opinion, as a skilled tradesman.. its that one has perfected his craft, and knows his worth, and the other is wasting his talent.

Do you think Trevor Horn recorded Video Killed The Radio Star and turned round and said.."  its ok, you can keep the royalties, and ill sign all the rights away.. i dont want any money.. ".. 

Now, again, excuse me, while i put on my wig, and head along to the latest Karaoke night... Dancing Queen anyone?

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