PLAY­ING REAL GOOD, FOR FREE

Guitar Techniques - - Talk Back -

I love your magazine. I al­ways buy it ’cos, even at 62 and still on the road (200+ gigs a year), there is al­ways a new lick or ap­proach to learn. This old dog can learn new tricks!

I want to com­ment on ‘open mic’ gigs. Like many of us, I have done them but the down­side is – and this hap­pened in LA – that bar own­ers rather like free entertainment and may even­tu­ally only book those acts that don’t charge.

It’s a prob­lem, and I re­ally hope that it does not turn out that way. But even here in Scan­di­navia where I live, I have no­ticed a lot of folk are do­ing gigs for free, and get­ting paid is be­com­ing harder each year. Play­ing free can re­sult in pro and semi-pro mu­si­cians not be­ing able to make a liv­ing in the long run. What do you think? Of course ev­ery muso wants to try out be­fore an au­di­ence, but can I sug­gest they play free at school dances, fam­ily get-to­geth­ers and such? Steve Webb (Ex Jess Ro­den, Gary Farr’s Lion) Most of us didn’t get into mu­sic to be paid for it at all – we got into it be­cause learn­ing the guitar was the great­est thing since, well, any­thing! Then, of course, we got good enough to play in bands, got semi-pro gigs (or lived in squats and ‘went pro’) and ended up earn­ing from it. Some took it far enough to make it their liv­ing; per­haps in ways (like me!) we could never have imag­ined when we fum­bled that first one-digit G7 chord. And yes, it’s hard when you watch venues cash­ing in on all those play­ers (of wildly vary­ing qual­ity) whose de­sire to per­form in pub­lic means they’d hap­pily do it for free.

I don’t think it’s the per­form­ers’ fault; nor in­deed should we sim­ply cas­ti­gate venue own­ers, as they do need to earn a liv­ing. But surely a half­way house would be that venues pay for reg­u­lar acts but put on open-mic nights, too – maybe once a week. If they had any sense they’d see that the next raft of great play­ers, singers and so on, is au­di­tion­ing be­fore their very eyes, and if the pun­ters like them they’ll hap­pily pay a few pence ex­tra on a pint when said new ‘artist’ (who would then not be al­lowed to play for free in the same venue) is booked back.

It’s great that peo­ple want to play; but the clo­sure of mu­sic pubs and clubs means there are fewer venues, which means less op­por­tu­nity to play, to form bands, and to make mu­sic that peo­ple want to hear, in venues they want to at­tend. By bring­ing in stupid laws that pro­hibit places from putting on live mu­sic (which has al­ways pulled in pun­ters), we have cre­ated the self-ful­fill­ing prophecy of hun­dreds of closed-down pubs up and down the coun­try. It’s very sad.

I was in a band with some amaz­ing lo­cal play­ers; we’d do pubs and they’d say, “You’re the best band we’ve ever had in here; can we book you back? Is three months okay?” Well, no! Back in the 80s I played in pub bands and we had weekly res­i­den­cies, as did oth­ers; that means we got fans that came ev­ery sin­gle week and we lit­er­ally packed the places. If peo­ple know that ‘so-and-so are on at the such-and-such ev­ery Tues­day’, they can make it a reg­u­lar haunt and mu­sic, and venues, might sur­vive. I may not have an­swered your ques­tion, Steve, but I’m glad of the rant, so thank you!

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