PLAYING REAL GOOD, FOR FREE
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!