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Hiring musicians?

Editorial | January 30th, 2014

*This editorial is targeted at no single person, band or place.

Musicians, promoters, bar and restaurant owners and music fans: Please take your blinders off for a second. We need to get on the same page about live music.

I recently saw a post, “HIRING A MUSICIAN?” on Facebook that has more than 64,000 shares and 36,000 “likes.” It was one of those “what you think you are paying for/what you are actually paying for” types of posts.

According to the post, musicians’ Internet bills, music lessons, instruments, sound equipment, insurance, living expenses, rehearsal spaces and even income taxes are just a few of the charges that promoters and bar owners “are actually paying for.”

Hmm. This post is very misinforming. Obviously, musicians can’t expect to get paid based on how many guitar lessons they have taken, how many hours they have practiced, nor how much they have paid for their instruments, sound equipment and insurance. How could the promoter possibly figure out a fair price under these conditions?

Essentially, what the post’s creator is really suggesting is that musicians who work hard deserve fair pay. And unfortunately, that won’t always be the case. Shows, even with wildly popular bands, simply flop from time to time.

Then are musicians truly victims of their hard work and desire to make fair pay, as the post suggests?

Perhaps we are victims of ignorance if we think we’re entitled to great pay based on hard work alone. Just like in any industry, hard work will only get you so far, as it logically should, considering it satisfies only one “professional musicianship principle.” There are several.

Musicians who want to go far in this risky industry or leave a good impression on their music communities must learn to be creative, self-assured, transparent and fearless. They need to recognize when they are truly being taken advantage of (it will happen) and take responsibility themselves. Have some know-how and don’t complain via the Internet or to your band mates and fans, who have very little power over the situation.

The same goes for promoters. Putting on a successful show includes treating musicians as they would their best customers. Not many do.

Also, promoters and bar owners must not expect musicians to do all the work themselves to promote their own show. Many do.

Bars and venues that do not update their websites or Facebook pages with live music announcements are doing a massive disservice to their patrons, their employees and the bands they hire. Especially considering how easy it is. With double (maybe triple) the amount of people making efforts to promote, it’s a guaranteed way to increase turnout, sales and overall enjoyment. The bars and restaurants with the best turnover rates are ones with consistently great pay from consistently great turnout.

Yes, our music scene is doing well. We wouldn’t have venues like The Aquarium/Dempsey’s, The Venue, Shotgun Sally’s or Windbreak Saloon otherwise. Bands like The Roosters, The Blue Wailers, San Haven Chuckle and The Moody River Band perhaps would have quit or moved elsewhere long ago if our scene didn’t love and support them. Artists like The Avett Brothers, Five Finger Death Punch, Dwight Yoakam, Sharon Jones, Bassnectar and Justin Timberlake wouldn’t come to Fargo unless we demanded their presence. Neither would smaller touring acts like Evergreen Grass Band, Wimps, Rogue Valley, Dessa or Josh Hardy.

Let’s continue to nurture and grow the already awesome music community we have. That means clapping and cheering loudly when you like something you hear, attending each other’s concerts, getting out on the dance floor, collaborating with other musicians, promoting fearlessly, developing good relationships with promoters and sound engineers, not sneaking your way into shows with a cover, creating and recording more original music, and bringing positive energy to the stage. The list goes on.

Maybe someday we can have a Fargo Music Festival. 

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