Mudcat Café message #143278 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #15779   Message #143278
Posted By: lamarca
01-Dec-99 - 02:50 PM
Thread Name: When should you be paid for performing?
Subject: When should you be paid for performing?
This is a divergence from my question "When should you make a recording?" I'm looking for a philosophical discussion of the ins and outs of charging people to hear your music, with these questions:

1. When and how do people decide they're "good enough" to ask other people to pay money to hear them?
2. What do you feel you owe your audience when you ask for money?
3. What kind of material, repertoire and skill do you feel justifies asking people to pay to hear you, versus playing and singing and sharing music with friends?

We have been part of a wonderful group of musicians here in DC and up and down the East Coast, who get together at small festivals and gatherings all through the year to sing and play and share songs with each other. Some people in the group play professionally; others like us are "living room" singers and pickers.

To me, charging money is a big step. You seem to be saying "I am better than the rest of you at what I'm doing, and you should pay to hear me perform." When your social group is a bunch of fellow musicians of varying skill levels and musical abilities, this can be a source of divisiveness, envy and hurt feelings.

This is where the social aspects get murky - there are undercurrents of competitiveness and egos that you get anytime you get a group of talented people together (It was like this in all the community theater groups I've been a part of over the years, too). Whenever someone in the group decides to "go pro", there's always a bit of grumbling and kvetching from some of the amateurs (who are frequently just as talented) about chutzpa, and "Who does he/she think he/she is?" That's where I get the message that charging money is a value judgement.

The ability to start performing for money depends not only on talent, but on your ability to travel, time available, the ability to market one's self, who you know and your connections and a host of other factors that have nothing to do with how good a musician you are. Yes, musical talent is going to be necessary to attract and hold an audience, but if you have an 8-hr/day day-job, 3 week's vacation and a limited travel budget, it don't matter how good you are.

What you have to offer in repertoire is important, too. My husband's and my repertoire is composed mostly of songs we have learned from other people's recordings. Some of the songs we have arranged differently to suit our voices and to do as a duo, but we are not out "collecting" new and unheard material from books or primary sources. We pick songs we REALLY like, done by people we like and respect (like Art Thieme and Norma Waterson and Chris Foster and Daithi Sproule and Peter Bellamy and Martyn Wyndham-Read etc.), and try to do our best with them. I just don't think that we have enough "new" traditional or contemporary material that isn't already available done by other people to justify charging to hear US do the same songs.

My personal feeling is that you should be very good at what you do, have something unique to offer and be willing to invest your time, energy and enthusiasm in practicing for public performance before you can start asking people to pay money to hear you. I know old pros who stop bothering to practice, or get up on stage drunk, and just expect folks to spend money to hear them because their egos say "I'm so good I don't need to work at this..." (Is this more common in the popular and folk music field? You wouldn't catch Itschak Perlman or Yo Yo Ma saying "I'm good enough, I don't need to rehearse!")

How do those of you out there who get paid for doing what you love (see, I'm jealous already) put together your repertoires, deal with envy and backbiting, decide when something's "ready for prime-time" and just plain decide that you've got something to offer to a general audience, not just your friends and fellow musicians?