This is for audiences as well as musicians. How do you put a monetary value on an aesthetic, non-tangible product?
I only half-joked about a "catharsis and therapy surcharge" for some performances. The emotional impact, the mental health benefits are immeasurable. Yet, in a $ per hour scale, figuring in travel time, practice time and other overhead, the "therapists" often don't get minimum wage. It takes a lot to arrive at that couple of hours of delight.
We're experiencing many revolutions at once. As "consumers" of music, it's important we understand what goes into the product and how to ensure we still have it in our lives. J.P.'s essay is a grand start on what should be an ongoing dialogue. With his permission, I hope to add it to the CB Music site in the shift to online life. As he says, this is not going to go away any time soon, so we may as well embrace it.
Still thinking about the Song Sparrow that starts my day so happily. He has to do it; it's in his genes. I happily pay him in sunflower seeds, because he has to eat and I want to hear that song. Maybe artists have to sing, or play, or paint, or sculpt, or even write. But they also have to have the energy and essentials to survive and produce the things that make live more than just existence.
As the evil Ayn Rand said - "value for value." What we consider true value is important. We need to recognize the value of music and art not in its absence, but in its presence, in order to ensure our own continued health and happiness.
Thanks to J.P. Cormier for permission to reproduce his words here.
To my fellow touring musicians:
Here’s the deal guys and gals.
The music industry as we knew it is dead. It’s dead and won’t be returning for a considerable number of YEARS, if it ever does at all.
The article below only proves what pro musicians already knew. We have been fighting a rigged system of devaluation for decades. Our product is constantly devalued in varying degrees by venues, radio, promoters, and anyone else who uses live entertainment in
The bottom 90% of us are out playing up to 200 shows a year, scraping as much income out as we can. The top 10% can make the same money with just 10 shows. It is incredibly unfair and has little to do with talent or the relevance of someone’s art. This is all made worse by the fact that 75% of our income goes to expenses, consistently. It’s not a cheap career choice at all. It’s often not even a choice. It’s how we’re born and it’s who we are. Some people are just artists and it’s what they’re meant to be. These people would have zero success on any other path.
Soon venues will try to reopen at severely reduced capacities. Mathematically, they will say they are unable to pay entertainers more than 25% of what they earned at the same venue pre-pandemic. Then we will watch the lineup of desperate touring musicians fighting to go in to these places for $200, $300, union scale basically. Sometimes less. We’ll pretty it up and justify it by saying “oh well we have to support these venues so they remain solvent long enough for things to get back to normal.” Unfortunately, there will be times when it’s clearly not necessary to work for next to nothing because of public health constraints, but it will be asked of us anyway.
It’s already happening now. I was called recently by a venue that will remain unnamed. Let me tell you, these people are GOOD people. It’s a good artist minded venue that’s involved with the local community and only has the BEST of intentions. I love them, and they’re friends of mine. Now, with that said, they still came up with this lopsided plan that doesn’t seem to make sense.
They have the capacity of 16 six-person tables outside with all restrictions being observed. They intend to sell the tables, not the seats. That table price is $40. So that means a table of six people would see a live concert for roughly $6.70 a head. The artist gets all the money. The venue sells drinks and restaurant food to 96 people at full price.
My normal ticket price that I’ve fought and worked and sacrificed to raise over the last 38 years is $25-35.00. So... the audience sees a full concert, after not being able to see me or anybody else live for nearly four months, at a discount of 80%. They pay 100% of normal for their food and drink.
The only person in this equation who is losing is the guy on stage. How do the pandemic and social restrictions equate to the entertainment taking an 80% pay cut???? It makes not one bit of sense, and if I don’t take offers like this (this is not the only one that has come across our desk) I don’t get gigs. I turned it down. There’s a good reason.
Let’s flash forward a couple years.
Herd immunity is on. Vaccines are distributed. Venues are back to fairly normal capacity. A venue calls a musician for a booking. The guy says “sure! My fee is $1000.” The venue owner says “well you played for $300 last year, why the increase?” In the venue owners mind, he’s saying “this guy clearly survived for two years on 30% of his pre-pandemic income, why is he asking for all this money? He clearly didn’t need it before. Looks like he was over charging us for years.”
Devaluation. That’s how it works, and we are currently pushing ourselves in that very direction. A dangerous precedent is being set right now and proves what I already knew. In the survey below, after 40 years of work, practice and sacrifice, I am less important than a fucking telemarketer.
The federal government has even leaned in that direction. Trudeau, whilst doing a bang up job on most things right now has offered not one provision for career musicians or anyone who is a contractor in the industry. No assistance. No backup plan.
It’s ironic that some of these venues are large businesses. They are eligible for grants, loans, all sorts of things to keep their employees on tap and their monthlies paid, while the musicians who normally keep their doors open have been left now to their own devices, without even a mention from anyone really.
Not all venues will behave this way, but mindsets are contagious. Buyers who would never treat an artist this way may be pushed in the wrong direction by industry pressure, and looking around at what everyone else is doing.
It is a fact (sadly) that seeing a musician perform live in person is the rarest form of entertainment on earth right now. When anything else becomes this scarce, its value skyrockets. It’s the basis of our whole economy. Supply and demand. Yet, musicians instead are being told they’re worth even less now that only 200 people at a time can come see them. Most venues only hold 50-100. That’s a pretty rare ticket. Why is it worth nothing?
Another darkness has arisen through this as well. Some venues that “present” online concerts FOR an artist ultimately end up in possession and control of the footage. It can then be edited, altered, repackaged and then monetized again by the entity, all without paying a dime to the artist. I’ve had buyers actually admit that they were going to do this with my performance if I accepted their initial gig. It’s almost as if we have to re-educate venues as to the contents of the Canadian Copywrite Act. What they are proposing is actually illegal, but because the platform is the internet where there are no laws and intellectual property rights are virtually disregarded, they don’t see a problem with it. It’s like “we can, so we do”. Meanwhile, the artist slowly becomes insolvent trying to service debt load he/she brought into the pandemic, on wages they couldn’t live on supposing they had no debt at all.
This is the “reopening” of the economy for us, the working artists.
So what is the bright spot in all this?
The folks who have given their hard earned money to keep our mortgages, car payments, and grocery bills paid for decades. The ones who speak of you as a cherished family member even though they’ve never met you. The ones that credit you and your art for saving their lives during their own personal trials.
They’re still out there.
They still want to support you and BE supported by your music and your person.
As career musicians we MUST reach out to these people and connect. They need us, and we need them. It’s always been that way.
The only way to do it is online. And thank God, they are more than willing to meet us there.
I have made a comfortable living for the past three months almost solely through YouTube. My fans have come there to watch what I am doing and help me craft future broadcasts, and have donated very generously to all my work. They’ve never let me down, and I can repay that by creating as much content as I possibly can to keep them happy, occupied, and take their minds off the shitty condition of the world right now. I love them, and I’m realizing now how much they love me. If I hadn’t started this process on day one of the pandemic, and put work into it prior, I would already be bankrupt. They have saved my life and career.
The take away from this is that each artist has these people. Hundreds of thousands of them. If you don’t reach out and play for them and accept their help, you will fade away, or worse, be eaten alive by the “reopening” of the industry whenever that happens.
If you don’t know how to do this, I will help you. I’ll show you the model that’s worked for us. Message me, call me, whatever. We’re here to assist any artist who needs it. The truth of the matter is, the very medium (the internet) that completely decimated the record companies by making music basically free, is now a major lifeline for us AND our fans and supporters. I do all my concerts for free will donations. I never ask a hard ticket price. If people can’t afford to give, then they don’t and they are just as welcome as those who do. I believe at this point in time, the audience should decide your worth. It is them that you’ve been trying to impress your whole career. They should ultimately decide how to help you if they want to. Give everything you can to them and they will do the same for you. It’s a fair commerce and it works.
Lastly we need to feel obligated to our audience. They need the healing and happiness of music in their lives and a safe way to access it. We owe them that. Our relationship with them is sacred. Music is not a luxury or some accidental byproduct. It is woven into the very fabric of our existence. There is nowhere in daily life where music doesn’t exist in some form. It is definitely NOT non-essential. Imagine what life would be like without music and the arts. It would be a dark place indeed.
The people who were polled in this article and put us as the most expendable and useless career choice, obviously don’t understand that.
Love and safety to all of you.
The year of Lubec's Bicentennial - a ton of stories in this alone.
From top left - Michael DeLalla, "All Day Music" at the boat landing, the Pink Capos, Chris and Ally, the late Warren Foley, Maryann Price, and Jon Watt, Adam Nordell, Deb Cowan, Susan Ramsey, David Mallett, and Michael Burd, Schooner Fare (Chuck & Steve Romanoff), Andrew McKnight, Rod Picott, Kara McCrimmon, John Viselli, Jim O'Neil (O'McCrelli), Radoslav Lorkovic, Karen Mal, and Ronny Cox, Steve Erwin, Daphne Nichols. Away Downeast, and Slim Chance & the Can't Hardly Play Boys.
Special Friends - the Visual Arts