[Harp-L] Re: Music and the American Dream ... (Long)

   Here's another take on the subject. I got this
award-winning article (reprinted in the
International Musician) on the Dixieland list
and thought it was interesting. Guess it doesn't
apply to those of us who do play "just for fun,"
but after several years of playing for tips and
coffee -- our minimum was $7 one night, our max
$70, and usually it was around $15 to $25 for
four to six people and two hours of music, not
countng any friends who came and sat in for a
tune or three for free -- for establishments that
hope you'll make money for them (and want you to
promote your own gigs, too, so they don't have to
pay for any advertising), it somehow struck a
chord with me.

Bob Loomis
Concord CA

If I Could Play an Instrument 
by Brein Matson 
Honolulu, HI
  "If I could play an instrument ? I'd love to 
play for a couple of hours for $50. Heck, I'd
even do it for free, I'd just be so happy to 
be playing music. You're so lucky!"
  Sound familiar? It's the voice of the 
uninitiated non-musician, the fan, the admirer,
the "Regular Josephine," the "Regular Joe."
They're right. We are lucky that we play music,
but it's bad luck that most people look at our
profession in that way.
  We are professionals. We chose music as a 
career, we work hard at it, and we want to make a
decent living at it.
  Here's another familiar sound: "It's just not 
in the budget. Look, you love to play, why don't
you just do it for that amount? It's better 
than nothing?" 
   Or these: "Take it or leave it"; "It's great
  Sound painfully familiar? It's the voice of the

purchaser. The club owner, the restaurateur, the
agent, the promoter. The sad thing is that 
the purchaser is in the music business to make 
money, but somehow, they don't want to pay the
people who make the music that makes the money.
  This article is addressed to the "Regular 
Joes," the "Regular Josephines," and the
purchasers. It's also to us, the professionals.
need to think about this, and remind ourselves of

how specialized what we do is, and set the bar a
little higher in order to survive and--dare 
I say this?--prosper. 
   Let's go with the $50 gig. Most of us won't
take them, and people are surprised when we
don't. But let's use that figure and do a little
math to illustrate why we're not happy to play a
of hours for 50 bucks.
  "Two hour gig, $50 each, cash. What's wrong 
with that? That's $25 an hour." Hmmm-m-m-m. Let's
say the gig is from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.,
and let's not take into consideration practicing 
or warming up.
  Start with the drive to the gig. What? Everyone

has to drive to work! True, so we won't count the
drive. Keep in mind that most people drive 
the distance, and then walk in to work five 
minutes early, grab a cup of coffee, and start
working. We have to pack up the car with
(half an hour) and drive to the site. Unload the 
car, load the equipment onto the stage (half
hour), go park the car (15 minutes), come back
and set up (1 hour).
  Let's say that you timed it so you had 15 
minutes before the gig starts. That's two and a
half hours. Add the gig, and you've got four 
and a half hours.
  Now pack up. If you're lucky, and nobody wants 
to talk to you after the gig, you can tear down
in one hour, go get your car, load your 
equipment (another half hour), and drive home.
  Nobody counts the drive home, but when you get 
home, you unpack your car, and load your stuff
into the house, another half-hour, easy.
  That's six hours work, for $50 cash. More like 
$8.33 an hour, not $25 an hour.
  Let's look at making a living with that same 
amount. To make $1500 a month, you would have to
do one $50 gig a day, every day of the month. 
If you did that every day, every month of the 
year, no vacation, no holidays, you would make
about $18,000 per year, and that's before 
  Paying federal and state income tax, general 
excise tax, and full social security tax (no
employer contributions), knocks it down to 
about $11,880. By the way, you're not eligible 
for unemployment or workers' comp, but that's
okay, it's not really work, right?
  Let's double that to $36,000 gross, which is 
$23,760 after taxes. For that, you would need to
do two of those gigs a day. Two gigs taking up 
6 hours each is 12 hours a day, every day of the 
  It's a simplistic formula, but it makes a 
point. The point is, that's why we're not "happy
to play for a couple of hours for $50," even 
though we are lucky to be able to play music.
  The next time someone says something like the 
opening line of this article to you, turn it
around. Say: "If I could be a dentist, I'd love 
to do it for $8.33 an hour. I'd just be so happy 
to be able to practice dentistry. You're so
   I'm sure the reply would be: "What do you 
mean, lucky? I studied for years, and I still 
study. I worked long, hard hours to perfect my
craft, and still do.
   "My equipment cost me an arm and a leg, and
it's very specialized work. I'm a professional!" 
   Just smile and say, "Me, too."

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