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  1. #1

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    Posts about money seem to come up often. I contemplate the ideas discussed often. In my town, low gigs pay about $20/hr, high about $1000/hr. I've seen quite a few people play for free. And I've seen others get mad about that. The puzzling thing for me is that there is no analogy to this in other fields. Engineers don't build bridges for free. Therapists don't therap for free. Teachers don't teach for free. Custodians don't clean for free.
    I think the difference is that playing music is fun. More fun than the vast majority of jobs. So much fun that most musicians will train for that job for decades without ever having an expectation of making money from it. They will actually pay other people to train them for that job that they will never make money from.
    This problem will never go away unless playing guitar becomes no fun anymore.

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  3. #2

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    Well, people who actually make a living from playing music ain't playing for free. That's the hobbyists.

    Like you said, playing music in front of people can be fun. It's actually a little less fun sometimes when it's your sole source of income, it can be pretty stressful in that context. But it still beats say, plumbing, as a hobby.

  4. #3

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    Professionals like architects many times "audition" for free. Requests for proposals usually involve an overhead marketing budget. I have worked on them and they can go into the tens (and not just two) of thousands of dollars. If we get the work it ain't going to get done for free though. If the stars align our fees end up covering the previous expenditures to get the work. The stars don't always align with either getting the work or paying for the effort though.

    I don't think that the issue of "fun" has much to do with getting paid. Getting paid is about competition and the devaluation of the service. If someone can play better than me (a lot of people can) then they probably deserve to be paid more than what I would get. If someone who plays decently plays for free then they devalue the service. Everyone will expect someone decent to play for free. Then none of us get paid what we deserve.

  5. #4

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    We have a musician in our area that recruits other musicians to perform at a fundraiser. That in itself is not an issue I do fundraisers all the time.

    The issue for me is it is a fundraiser for a summer concert series where he hires and pays musicians from out of the area.

    Am I missing something in finding this insulting to local musicians?

  6. #5

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    Every service provider competes on price, except, presumably, for a few who are so highly valued that they can name their own price.

    Managed care beat down the prices of therapists, doctors and other health care providers. A similar dynamic applied -- some took the lower rates and others were irritated by that.

    Custodial services complete on price and quality, same as many musicians. But, as the OP stated, there aren't custodians working for free. Then again, playing music for an audience is more fun than cleaning an office building at night - which is the explanation.

    It seems to me that the only solution for the individual musician is to be worth the money. In most situations that means attracting paying customers.

  7. #6

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    People teach for free. A lot of people provide free educational content on youtube, forums, personal websites etc. only small percentage of them have some long term business expectations.

    Technically any educational content posted on this forum is undercutting professional musicians who rely on publishing teaching material and selling enough copies to earn income. But again they have to be able to favorably compete with the quality of the free material to justify the price of the paid content. No different than musicians who rely on gig income competing with musicians who are willing to play for free.

    Free online material is probably is even more harmful as some amateur musicians are lead to believe that they can just learn music on youtube without having to take private lessons.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 01-29-2020 at 09:10 PM.

  8. #7

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    All professionals (even lawyers) offer/donate free services (also known as "pro bono"). Some of them even "retire" and then continue working in the community without reimbursement. Obviously, it's not common otherwise we would not be having this discussion.

  9. #8

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    Some musicians (like myself) do free gigs only transitionally until (hopefully one day) they have sufficient experience playing with higher level players that they feel they can charge for jazz gigs. Much like volunteers in many professional industries.

    Programmers do free work too. There is an enormous body of open source software available for free that are arguably more essential to most people than catching live music at the local bar.

    If a fresh graduate applying for a programming gig at my company says they have no experience with large scale code yet. They are asked why they didn't try contributing to a significant open source project to gain that experience. Needless to say they don't get a second interview.

  10. #9

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    Hi, Mittens,
    Everytime a musician plays for free, he diminishes, if not eliminates the potential income for a pro. The reasons are multi-varied and really not important. The issue is: don't play for free. I had a very well paying job in a very upscale bistro in the 2000's playing mostly Classical. For a 3 hour tuxedo gig(45 on/15 off) including tips I made between $275-$350. a night cash. I played two nights a week. When I moved out of state, I heard from a friend that a piano player had the gig. He was new to the area and when he heard I left, he asked for the job. When the owners asked him how much he wanted an hour, he said $10.00. If he was popular, he could make $50. to $100. in tips. That job, although not free, was ruined forever. Don't play for free. Don't play for peanuts unless you're an elephant.
    Good playing . . .Marinero

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by mittens
    Posts about money seem to come up often. I contemplate the ideas discussed often. In my town, low gigs pay about $20/hr, high about $1000/hr. I've seen quite a few people play for free. And I've seen others get mad about that. The puzzling thing for me is that there is no analogy to this in other fields. Engineers don't build bridges for free. Therapists don't therap for free. Teachers don't teach for free. Custodians don't clean for free.
    I've been a software engineer or manager of software engineers for 23 years (I'm 43). I go through phases of coding outside of work, but in general, I find coding fun, and often have coded for "fun" outside my day job, for no pay at all. There are lots of open source contributors in my field that do the same thing. People often code on the weekend for fun.

    The other big job in my industry is selling software. no one sells software on the weekend for fun, ever.

    I can't explain it other than some occupations are more well suited than others for doing things for fun, and music, thankfully, happens to be fun.

    To me, these days, I'm more surprised by the attitude that music needs to be a profession wherein "pros" are somehow entitled to make a living playing gigs, and the rest of us should just, I dunno, stay home? there's a post further down the thread that appeals to people to not play for free or cheap. The longer I am on the internet, the less I understand this kind of sentiment. People are gonna do whatever they find enjoyable, and that's gonna include playing jazz for free or very cheaply. If that "undercuts the market", well, maybe it wasn't such a good market to begin with.

    My experience, in playing gigs for more than 25 years, is that for most places that have live music, the quality of that music matters very little, and thus, there will always be lots of gigs that pay little to nothing and there will always be lots of musicians that will play these gigs for little to nothing. Your local jazz club does not need to have Herbie Hancock on piano every night for people to enjoy their evening and buy some drinks.

    Obviously, a post like this is the equivalent of trying to fight the sea with a sword, but somehow I feel better after typing this . I play gigs for relatively cheap and occasionally for free (if I'm leading the band I'll take no pay to pay other members the max I can) and I'm fine with that. I certainly play on a "professional" level and I haven't found a lot of correlation between musical skill and willingness to take a bad gig. The other week, my friend, who hosts a jam session had one of the best tenor sax players in the world guest the session, a name everyone here would know, and, it was lightly attended and no one made any money. The tenor player had a free night, likes to play, and didn't seem to care about the money, either.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero
    Hi, Mittens,
    Everytime a musician plays for free, he diminishes, if not eliminates the potential income for a pro. The reasons are multi-varied and really not important. The issue is: don't play for free. I had a very well paying job in a very upscale bistro in the 2000's playing mostly Classical. For a 3 hour tuxedo gig(45 on/15 off) including tips I made between $275-$350. a night cash. I played two nights a week. When I moved out of state, I heard from a friend that a piano player had the gig. He was new to the area and when he heard I left, he asked for the job. When the owners asked him how much he wanted an hour, he said $10.00. If he was popular, he could make $50. to $100. in tips. That job, although not free, was ruined forever. Don't play for free. Don't play for peanuts unless you're an elephant.
    Good playing . . .Marinero
    Paying gigs aren't that fragile. They don't disappear because someone came along and was willing to work for less. Venue owners who pay for musicians aren't that dumb. They get musicians contact them all the time. Some ask to play for free, some for peanuts. It's not like they don't know that they can find musicians who would play for less or nothing. All well paid gigs would have been gone by now if there was no real value for paying well for the more accomplished musicians.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 01-30-2020 at 10:51 AM.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by mittens
    This problem will never go away unless playing guitar becomes no fun anymore.


    Seriously, ladies and germs:

    I want to get paid. If I'm not having fun---and I usually do---at least there's that.

    We must view ourselves as professionals---even those here for whom music is a sideline. What you said about all the other professions and their practitioners is 100% on the, er, money. I always tell people: doctors get paid---and well. What I do is as healing, possibly more. Pay me a fair rate so I can pay my bills. Getting paid and being creative are not mutually exclusive. So don't let's fall into that trap.

    There are exceptions, of course: I don't really want to do door gigs anymore, but if we're talking about a creative project, especially my own---that will expose my compositions especially in a worthwhile venue---of course I'll take a hit. Ex: I'm paying a singer to come learn my tunes for an upcoming gig----it's the decent thing to do.

    But for the quotidian, everyday gig---pay me. And I hope everyone here is getting paid...

  14. #13

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    seeing the title, "The Value of a Musician" I thought it was his artistic value, that of his work. I was wrong, it had nothing to do with it. A bit like talking about a painter's work and the price of his paintings on the art market

    I have on the question a philosophy of art, and I distinguish on the one hand the fact that an artist has to earn a living and on the other hand the quality of his work or possibly his genius. In other words, a work of art as such has no commercial value, and its commercial value is not rationally related to its artistic value, but to demand in the art market. The most in-demand musicians are the highest paid, which depends on the music they make and its success at any given time, the sales of records, the number of tickets to his concerts, and we know that it has only a distant connection with the quality of his music , it is the entertainment and cultural industry market. In Japan different words are used to talk about real artists

    as a manufactured object, a painting is worth only the price of brushes, canvas, paint tubes, and time spent. From this point of view, a bad painting of a Sunday painter is as expensive as Mona Lisa. That's a bit of what we're talking about in the Gear section

    for me, the work of art is priceless, it is not 'free', it is a work-subject, a performative relationship between the work and the one who listens to it, looks at it, reads it. My reference is poetry, because at least we know one thing, poetry books are almost unread, and do not bring money to poets. Poetry is unsellable, that's what makes it strong in this world where everything sells. As a poet, I have no value, I am only a worker in the service of my work

    but I'm off topic, as usual

  15. #14

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    " All well paid gigs would have been gone by now if there was no real value for paying well for the more accomplished musicians." Tal


    Hi, Tal,
    Most of the well paid gigs ARE gone now with the exception of a handful of names with box office appeal. In the 60's and 70's, my hometown of Chicago had nightclubs, neighborhood bars, theaters and concert venues that paid at least unioin minimum wage for all musicians and the talent was good and the performance opportunities were considerable. Perhaps in NY and Cali this still exists but in Chicago(population 2.7 mil), there are today ,at best, 3 Jazz clubs and none of them are setting attendance records. Most clubs and bars play canned music. So, it is true there are some well paid gigs but it's the number of them that tells the story. The best paying gigs today are weddings. If you can play during the dinner or ceremony(usually Classical), it's worth your while but don't expect to compete with the DJ unless you can play "Proud Mary," "The Chicken Dance," "Bunny Hop," and other deplorable wedding classics guaranteed to dislodge your lunch/dinner. And, if you're a serious musician and are always playing music you hate, it's a rough road to travel. I left full-time playing in the 70's when Disco killed just about everything of value and steady gigs were infrequent at best. However, for the last 50 years, I've been fortunate to pick and chose my jobs and play music I enjoy playing and being paid a respectable fee for my services. The reality is that it is easier to find a Classical gig than a Jazz gig and they pay much better. So, it's another hurdle to leap. In conclusion, if your house was worth 300K in a good market, would you sell it for half? Why give away your talents garnered over a lifetime and study for pennies? No one wins but the buyer. Good playing . . .Marinero

  16. #15

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    Venue owners don't want to pay more than the gig is worth to them financially. If they're paying you $400 for two sets and you bring in an extra $150 in business, that's not worth their while. That's why there is a tendency to have musicians playing for tips only. The purpose of having a musician play in the venue is not to support the art of the music; it's to attract customers and increase revenue. You need to increase their revenue more than they're paying you to make it worth their while. Are you going to be able to do that?

    In addition to hiring you to play in their place of business, they are also paying ASCAP, BMI, etc. licensing fees which are not cheap. They're paying to provide power, possibly a PA, possibly backline in some cases, as well as giving up table space for a stage, etc. We tend to think of them as a******s ripping off the musicians, but for them it is very much a dollars and cents equation. The majority of restaurants don't last a year before going out of business because they're not making enough money to pay their bills and their staff.

  17. #16

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    I know a few - and I know of a lot - of musicians, photographers, writers, and artists who do give away their work for free. I'm of the opinion that the very first valuation of your work is the valuation you assign it yourself - if you think your work is worth nothing, then fine, give it away. But then don't expect anyone else to value it any higher.

    However, most of the people I know who do this, produce pretty good work and I end up arguing with them that it's indeed worth something. But they tell me they "just want to get their stuff out there". It's a hobby, they tell me, they enjoy it, they enjoy sharing their work, and if they want to do that in their spare time / retirement then why shouldn't they? Hard to argue with that, and in my experience the fact they do this - and generally do it for free - hasn't impacted on the professional scene at all. What it has impacted on is the semi-professional scene where a lot of previously paying gigs have turned into open-mics where pubs / bars / cafes now "offer the opportunity" for such people to get their music out to people. An opportunity that is grasped happily by many many people.

    To get around this lack of paying gigs, my band (not jazz) has put on our own shows for a few years now. We hire a theatre, do the promo, etc. and generally have a fun gig, give people a good night out, and - to get back on thread - usually make some money. Doing this is always an option for anyone who wants to get paid for playing their own music and is confident there's a market for what they're doing (if there isn't a market for what you're doing, then sorry, why would you expect to get paid?). You can set the ticket price at whatever level you believe will bring in enough people to cover the theatre / promo / stewards / bar-staff / ticket-office / sound man / light man etc. It's a lot of work to organise, though, and with every passing year, I must confess it gets harder to find the enthusiasm to do all the non-music elements.

    Derek

  18. #17

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    I have started playing jazz gigs in New York in 1989.
    Then I moved to my home town Istanbul in 2006. Now I perform here.
    As far as the value goes, nothing has changed.
    I have changed my perspective though.
    I think it helps so I will share my approach on the subject.

    During 90's we used to play a gig in NYC at place called 1st Street Cafe cor ner of 1st & 1st.
    I think it was Mondays. No pay just tips. Then we lost the gig We heard Nicholas Payton was playing it
    Then I thought it is getting rough here if we are loosing tip gigs to Payton .

    Anyways, in time I have realized that I wanted to be respected for what I have been doing.
    I wanted respect more than anything. It is a hard job to be a jazz musician.
    All this practice and time. Nobody respects this and they see as a cheap entertainer or at least you think they do.
    This is not a good thought. It drains your energy pretty quickly.
    People do this to you because they do not understand what you have to do to play jazz.
    Or, they are not really interested in the amount of work you put in since they do not really like jazz music.
    A lot of people go to place where jazz is played to feel more sophisticated.
    They do not really like jazz.

    I am 53 years old now and I have been doing this since 1984.
    The only solution I can come up with was this.
    I am trying to take jazz, life and myself less seriously.
    Instead of expecting respect and value from other people, I am just thinking about the job I am doing.

    What am I here to do?
    My first job as a musician is to heal the people who come out and listen to me.
    Those people should be able to go home with better feelings than they arrived to my concert.
    This is really important to me.
    This is how I feel most valuable.
    This I take seriously.
    I am trying to find a common ground with what I like and the audience.
    If I play a hard to listen tune, the next song I try to play something more understandable.
    Jazz can get out of hand pretty easy.
    I like "Kind Of Blue" as much as I like "Bitches Brew".

    I think it is very important to clarify personal motivation points ( expectations ) and check them against reality.
    Some club owners will always see you as less valuable than you are.
    If you cannot deal with that, don't play there.
    Or, play if you can manage..

    I am just saying, thinking that you are the center of the world and performing the most important art form in the universe will probably make things worse for you. On the other hand, If you can see yourself as a spiritual healer, and set your priorities to help you, you might be happier.

    This ( jazz ) is not a plan to get rich.
    However, do you really need to get rich?
    Rich people buy new cars and feel good about it for a few days then they need another dose of high.
    We can play a great gig and elevate our spirits along with the audience ( does not matter if there are 2, 5 or 500 people )
    That also last 3-4 days.

    I am trying to play gigs with less pay ( never free ), If I believe the owners mean well and they are doing the best they could.
    I focus on the audience and my playing. In time, audience gets better and the owners reflect that in pay.

    If I am teaching, my first priority is to find a way to teach as well as I can.
    Sometimes 1hr class become 1hr30 min. I do not care.
    That's why I won't teach in a store.
    I do it at my home.
    I also do not book students back to back.
    I always leave room in between.
    Now I have a reputation here and I have a certain demand for my teaching.
    I always have 1 talented pro bono student.
    I try to give since my teachers helped me back in NYC.
    Vic Juris, Cary De Nigris, Billy Harper, Reggie Workman, Buster Williams, Doug Weiss.
    All of my teachers helped me as much as they can.
    I am returning the favor to the next generations.
    Teaching minutes pass by really fast when I am looking at it this way.
    Otherwise, I keep counting minutes and it is really tough for me.

    Just my 2c..

  19. #18

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    I knew a painter once. I went to his place one day and the walls were stacked with all his canvases. He was really good too. So I said why don't you exhibit them? They'd sell, no question. He just said he couldn't be bothered, didn't like that kind of thing.

    You hire a plumber, you pay them. You hire a musician, you pay them. Takes longer to become a good musician than it does most professions. But music is entertainment rather than a necessity like plumbing.

    Also music is something to share, unlike plumbing or accountancy. There's a whole different thing round music. Plumbing isn't cultural

    It's hard in the arts.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    Plumbing isn't cultural
    Never mind. If you know a good cheap plumber, please let me know*. Not the You-tube kind, please

    * New York City by Lenny Breau

    Is anybody going, to New York City
    If anybody is going, please let me know.
    It seems that lately
    I'm, Missing Toronto
    Where bass is strong and drums are full of fire.

    When Those Days are all gone
    I'm coming to see you, New York city
    If anybody is going, please let me know.

  21. #20

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    If you know a good cheap plumber
    I wouldn't trust a cheap plumber. There are lots of good cheap musicians

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    People teach for free. A lot of people provide free educational content on youtube, forums, personal websites etc. only small percentage of them have some long term business expectations.

    Technically any educational content posted on this forum is undercutting professional musicians who rely on publishing teaching material and selling enough copies to earn income. But again they have to be able to favorably compete with the quality of the free material to justify the price of the paid content. No different than musicians who rely on gig income competing with musicians who are willing to play for free.

    Free online material is probably is even more harmful as some amateur musicians are lead to believe that they can just learn music on youtube without having to take private lessons.
    Getting back to the plumber analogy, by this argument one would also say that free youtube videos is harmful and undercutting to (among others) appliance repair people and auto mechanics. Using a data set of one consumer of DIY videos (me), this is certainly true. But I seriously doubt that this has made a significant dent in the need for such professionals.

    I think the bigger issue is that - except for those relatively rare few at the top - musicians (and other artists) are just not that valued.

  23. #22

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    Where many musicians make a mistake is to NOT keep track of their patrons who give tips or comment on your music. When I play, a tip glass is on my amp, my business cards and a list for patrons to provide their e-mails to be notified for upcoming performances. It takes awhile, but once your established, you can sell yourself to a prospective employer with the guarantee that you WILL bring new customers(not including loyal family members/friends) to their business. And, when they see their bottom line improve that night, you'll be locked in for a job--at least for awhile-- if not long-term. Before leaving Chicago, I could guarantee an owner between 10-15 people on the night I played. Sometimes, many more showed up. And, when an owner sees increased revenue and something that separates his business from his competitors, he's sold. I only play very upscale restaurants, hotels and always play in tuxedo pants/shirt. I play a mix of Classical, Jazz, Bossa, and yes, some old school R&B if the mood is right. I usually offer a 2-3 hour gig: $75.00 cash per hour(45/15) with a minimum 2 hours. If I play a one hour gig--$125.00. NEVER TAKE CHECKS FROM AN INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT OWNER. Always sign a contract with a deposit before the gig. Hotels are never a concern. Good playing . . . Marinero

  24. #23

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    One thing is, music is not as popular as it once was. Especially as a going out to hear music thing. It's the era of the internet and the online thing, gaming, social media etc. This along with everything being more expensive and regulated nowdays are the two main reasons live gigs are less common and less well paid. So less gigging, along with practically no income from recordings these days makes the financial aspect of music much more difficult. Free lessons on the internet also, as inadequate as they usually are..

    There has always been an amateur and a semi pro scene, always will be also. There are cities where today, with music colleges nearby etc, many medium level gigs are done for next to nothing. You have to put in the work, organize, promote, record, network, adapt, etc.. etc.. It ain't easy. But that's what you have to do if you want to play out. Players that are successful have done all that, plus all the wood shedding musical work.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    Also music is something to share, unlike plumbing or accountancy. There's a whole different thing round music. Plumbing isn't cultural
    I’m thinking of opening a plumbing club. It’s got to have more chance of success than running a jazz club.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by medblues
    All professionals (even lawyers) offer/donate free services (also known as "pro bono"). Some of them even "retire" and then continue working in the community without reimbursement. Obviously, it's not common otherwise we would not be having this discussion.
    if I’m working for Bono I’m gonna want a fee. Typical.