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Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)

09 Mar 08 - 01:53 PM (#2283712)
Subject: BS: Gigs
From: Juniper02

Hi Everyone. I have been playing for a lot of years and have noticed that my equipment has not aged as nicely as I would have liked. So, being broke, I have decided to start broadening my gig spectrum beyond the confines of the coffee houses to included nursing homes and such. Anywhere that I could make a little more than it costs to drive to the gig so I can save up for a decent guitar to replace my creaky Washburn.

Anybody have any suggestions for other venues I could approah that pay better than the coffee house scene?

09 Mar 08 - 02:10 PM (#2283728)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Sorcha

Well, I can tell you that nursing homes pretty much don't pay at all. They want volunteers. Anyway, the ones I play at do. They just want to give us an opportunity to 'share our music'.

09 Mar 08 - 02:11 PM (#2283729)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Mrrzy

Ah, someone has misunderstood the BS thingie... perhaps a kind elf will move this above the line?

09 Mar 08 - 02:13 PM (#2283732)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Richard Bridge

Rule 1. If you want to make money, almost any method other than playing music is more likely to succeed!

09 Mar 08 - 03:18 PM (#2283777)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Big Al Whittle

the scene seems to be totally different in the states. the last coffee house I played was The Shades in Reading 1965. I suppose Bunjies. Where there any other ones. Les cousins sold coffee, but of such disgusting quality that coffee house would have been a bit of a misnomer. If you've been gigging places called coffee houses, what can one say except, well done! Doubt if anyone in England has.

have you thought about giving guitar lessons? I occasionally fell back on that in what was laughingly referred to as my career. Anyway, me giving careers advice is like the captain of the titanic giving navigation tips?

Nowadays you could make a tuition dvd and and flog it on the internet. I fell for that one, once. Tuition for bass guitar from someone who could just about plug his guitar in.

Alternatively you could marry someone rich and motivated, who is attracted to the wild bohemian ways of musicians. Mind you for replacing a Washburn - that's a bit of an extreme move.

09 Mar 08 - 07:34 PM (#2283971)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Jeremiah McCaw

Re: nursing homes & such: Different places; different situations, Juniper02. Where be you?

Here in Ontario, retirement & nursing homes are required by their licenses to have an entertainment budget. No matter how much the activities director may plead poverty, they DO have money to pay.

I do know one professional musician (a solo act) who plays up to 30 such gigs in a month, in addition to whatever other work he has on his plate. He finds them to be relaxing, low-pressure events. They may not pay a lot, but it can add up.

Another duo I know from Saskatchewan schedules 'home' gigs any time they swing through Ontario. I know their fee for this sort of thing is around $150 - and they get it often enough to make it a worthwhile part of their tour schedule.

10 Mar 08 - 05:07 AM (#2284147)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: the lemonade lady

Where are you from? Uk or USA?


10 Mar 08 - 05:25 AM (#2284149)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Big Al Whittle

Well I made a fairly good living from gigging old peoples homes - the last six years of my working career.

Its not a quick fix though - to give value for money and do the job properly.

1) you need all the local homes on a data base on your computer. has to be local - because fees are small compared to gigging pubs.
I'm not sure it would work - distances between towns are so much longer in the States. I could comfortably reach major connurbations like Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leicester, Lincoln - with less than an hour's driving. I know petrol is cheaper over there - but the time involved in getting to gigs... well that's for you to figure out!

2) A fender pass port PA system - often you are in awkward rooms you need to put one speaker in one room - one in another. Move between the two rooms. always face your speakers to the wall - so that they are getting a reflection of the sound. the sound directly from the speakers is too harsh. Play at a very comfortable volume - never ever loud.

3) sets of lightweight clothes - the heating is always on to maximum in those places. You are going to be jumping round.

4) backing trax for songs that old ladies like. Ask them. But think Al Jolson Fred Astaire, Gershwin, Porter, Fifties Scmaltz - Franjie Vaughan and early Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink. These are expensive - they ain't run of the mill backing trax - you have to search like hell for them and they need to be in your key - or as mear as you can get.

4) a decent radio mike. Walk round sing to them individually. shake hands, make contact. Smile - sometimes its the friendliest face they will see all week. And be cheerful, you are doing a job you love - if you don't love performing - I can't imagine how soul destroying it might be. some people are very ill and can scarcely respond, but its brilliant when they do. beats anything!

5) a little trolley to take your stuff round in..

I always used to plays guitar for about ten to fifteen minutes to give a break from the recorded sounds - during the show.

So you need to buy that lot to do a good job. Do a good job, you'll be using your performance skills and providing entertainment for people who don't have any economic clout - and therefore no radio station or tv station caters for them.

If anybody tells you ordinary folksongs go down well in those places - you have been listening to someone who is used to being ignored and doesn't mind boring people who are too weak to throw things at them.

best wishes


10 Mar 08 - 04:30 PM (#2284633)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Janice in NJ

Here are a few suggestions.

Schools, particularly primary schools (K-8, K-6, K-5 depending upon your local school system). They like musicians who can get kids involved, and they especially like those who can offer a thematic program depending on the time of the year. Speak with the principal or the head music teacher.

Retirement communities. The people are healthier than in nursing homes. Old standards go over well. So do pop songs, early rock and roll (Teenager in Love, Dream, Rock Around the Clock, etc.), even Beatles songs, Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul, and Mary stuff. Old spirituals and gospel songs (Joshua F'it the Battle of Jericho, Down by the Riverside, When the Saints Go Marching In, etc.) are always welcome. Depending on the ethnicity, so do Yiddish songs, Irish songs (the sentimental kind, not the rebel songs), Italian songs, etc., if you really know any. Don't fake it. Speak with the program director or the social director.

Senior citizens centers, Elderhostel programs, retiree chapters of unions. Same as above.

Public libraries. They love thematic programs, either seasonal or historical. Speak with the program director.

Museums, especially smaller museums. Similar to public libraries.

YMCAs/YWCAs. Also similar to public libraries.

Civic associations, benevolent associations, lodges, church fellowships. Also similar to libraries. Speak with the program director or the social director.

10 Mar 08 - 04:39 PM (#2284647)
Subject: RE: BS: Gigs
From: Big Al Whittle

That's an approach - but I wouldn't count on getting paid - not a fee that will put food on the table. If you put together a proper act you will work - three times a day throughout November and December. Regularly the rest of the year.

If all you've done up to now is stand there with a guitar, its a wrench. But they really need that thing of involving people - going that extra mile. And they are willing to pay for it.

Recently though I've retired I was asked to a 107th birthday party. Apparently I played at the Hundredth birthday party and her daughters 50th wedding anniversary. I knew the guy who was doing the gig. he had real trouble getting his head around it at the start.

But he loves it now and he has developed the act in his own way. they are wonderful audiences - the best you will ever find anywhere!

11 Mar 08 - 02:17 PM (#2285485)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie


This may not work at all for you--I don't know what kind of music you are doing--but another option is historical societies that put on anniversary celebrations of this, that & the other. Here in Calif., we've got the Spanish missions and any number of adobes & historical houses now under custodianship of the State. They're fairly open to getting musicians (and story-tellers) in for their programs. The good news is that they have a marginally bigger budget than schools, libraries and museums. (Sorry, I was a librarian for 11 years, & the thought of getting money out of a public library for something like that is quite amusing to me. Of course if you're talking some big research institution or something, that might work.)

Now the down side is that we not only confined ourselves to "period" stuff or reasonable facsimiles thereof, but we were also in "period dress," which meant everybody had an additional outlay for buying or making clothes that would pass for c.1850s. I thought that was a plus and one of the ladies thought making a flouncy dress with petticoats and all that was her idea of fun, but not everybody in the group was exactly wild about this part of it.

This isn't for everybody, obviously, but maybe some toned down application of the "historical" aspect would help you broaden your appeal.

And do a CD--surely somebody mentioned that. Sell copies at the gigs you do get, and then even if the host doesn't pay you, somebody might want a copy for friends. A friend of mine who's a really good blues man does the bit where you get your stuff on the web where people pay to download it. I think he said he now makes about $30 every month or month and a half. I'm not quite caught up on all this tech stuff & don't know how it works, but I know it can be done.

Good luck

Chicken Charlie

11 Mar 08 - 06:27 PM (#2285747)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Rabbi-Sol

House concerts are now the in thing.

Go to Fran Snyder's wonderful site, for a listing of all the hosts and presenters in the various states.

My house concert series, The Borderline, pays a minimum guarantee vs. a percentage of the gate.

It is a relaxed atmosphere and you get to keep 100% of all CD sales which can be quite substantial.

11 Mar 08 - 06:48 PM (#2285765)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: M.Ted

If you want good pay and steady work, resorts and casinos are the place. I haven't done it myself, but have known quite a few people who have-- it is actually possible to make a decent living doing this kind of work, and you can balance it with gigs that are more "artistic", if you want--

11 Mar 08 - 08:32 PM (#2285852)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Guy Wolff

Schools and Library programs are great .. Also playing at house parties for the weekend crowds can be a great income.( If you have a well heeled neighborhood near by )            An hour at a School or a party for 2 hours is usually around $300.00 without a pa . Sometimes a great supper as well .
          The program must make sense to the venue . I bring Banjo guitar concertina dulcimer and whistles to lower or middle schools . At a party i am considered "local Color".. If its a short evening I dont mind the tag but you have to understand the different audiences you may get . . All the best , guy

12 Mar 08 - 02:32 PM (#2286605)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Genie

Some good suggestions above.

I pretty much concur with the wee drummer's recommendations re gigging in senior citizen facilities. I've been supporting myself primarily via doing such gigs for 13 years and could have made considerably more at it if I'd gotten better organized a few years earlier.

Bear in mind that not all "old folks" facilities are nursing homes. There are independent living and assisted living facilities with mentally and/or physically high-functioning seniors, with broad musical tastes, as well as drop-in senior (social and activity) centers that cater to people from their 50s on up, many of whom are not retired.   

Drummer's right, it's not a quick fix if you want to develop a steady clientele.   You'll probably need to expand your repertoire and maybe acquire some versatile and portable sound equipment to meet various needs (such as playing in large dining rooms with people spread out all over the room, and trying to entertain audiences with mixed tastes in music).

I don't think the "senior circuit" will work unless you're in a good sized metropolitan area that you can get around in fairly quickly by car.   

The Fender PassPort PA system is good for large rooms, parties, dances, etc., and I like the tip about directing your speakers at the wall.   (Inevitably, when I have a speaker in a dining room, the person with the most sensitive ears and/or the most distaste for music will sit directly in front of the speaker. It's a law of nature.)

I find my Fender Amp Can - small wireless PA unit the size of a 3-lb coffee can -- just right for smaller gigs, such as sing-alongs in small dining rooms. A lot easier to set up than the PassPort, cutting the total time down to where I can afford to do some gigs for about $40 to $50 and still make it profitable.

I also find a wireless system with a lavaliere mic helps me "work the crowd," especially in facilities where part of my job is to get the residents singing along, dancing, clapping along.

I agree about the lightweight clothes.   The residents may not all want the temp 75 to 80 but way too often the STAFF seem to assume that it's some sort of elder abuse to keep the temp around 72 and have residents wear sweaters in January if they feel cold. But I digress.
My recommendation is to dress in layers.   I usually wear tank tops, but every once in a while I'll find the temp at a more normal setting.

I haven't yet started working with backing tracks, though I have a couple small Karaoke machines that I use as amplifiers.    But I have developed a large repertoire of classic country, show tunes, trad jazz tunes, and Tin Pan Alley tunes, plus selected frequently requested pop songs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s to complement my folk, international and Gospel repertoire.    It doesn't take too long to get a feel for the songs and genres with the widest appeal.

This point by wee drummer is key, in nursing home settings:   [[Walk round sing to them individually. shake hands, make contact. Smile - sometimes it's the friendliest face they will see all week. And be cheerful, you are doing a job you love - if you don't love performing - I can't imagine how soul destroying it might be. some people are very ill and can scarcely respond, but its brilliant when they do. beats anything! ]]
I am more in demand as a performer for the retirement home circuit than some people with better voices and better instrumental skills, simply because I'm a ham, I involve and energize my audiences, and I tailor my programs to suit those audiences -- partly by having a huge, eclectic repertoire and finding out what kinds of songs they appreciate.
(Usually it's things they've heard before, but not always.)

I agree, "ordinary folk songs" don't go over well, but I do get good response a lot of the time to the popularized folk music of the Weavers, KT, PP&M, Carter Family, etc. And in theme programs (e.g., "Around The World" or a St Pat's Program) I can throw in a folk song or two that they haven't heard and most will appreciate it.

13 Mar 08 - 12:05 AM (#2287088)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: reggie miles

I tried a few of the nursing homes and retirement places but found that they were not my cup of tea. I think these places could be a great alternative musical/entertainment outlet but they lack one thing, an interest in really providing adequate support for the entertainment event. At the few venues I attended I was mostly relegated to being mere sonic wallpaper, human muzak.

They seemed to offer no advanced notice to their clients that I was even going to be there. Hence, the experience was met with a lackluster response by the residents. The performances should be advertised well in advance so that residents can plan to attend the event.

If these venues got their collective act together these kinds of presentations could really become a wonderful highlight in the daily lives of those reside in such places. The places I played offered only a small amount of recompense. I wouldn't have minded that so much if I weren't treated at times like I was just in the way of the resident's dining experience.

With only a minimal amount of effort these establisments could organize an adequate space within the facilities to host such activities where the focus could be more directly placed on the event. Every little thing you do to highlight an event like this will make a huge difference in the kind of experience it will ultimately become and the kind of response that it will exact from those attending. If you treat the events as though they're nothing special, that's how folks will respond to them. If you treat the events as a very special activity, folks will respond accordingly.

I simply could not provide what was needed with the environment as it was. It became more work than I wanted to commit to doing for the financial reward. Now, that's not to say that I didn't reap a great and rewarding feeling from having met some of those folks via my time spent there. There were a few that were absolute treasures.

The hurdles in the way of really making an a noticable impact seemed almost insurmountable. I know that this whole idea of asking the facilities to do more is like asking the sun to shine on a cloudy day but it seems to me to be the best place to start.

Alert! Thread Drift: There are wonderful parallels to this whole dilemma in the bar/coffeehouse scene. Some bars, pubs, cafes and coffeehouse really know how to accommodate the addition of live entertainment to their offerings. A small stage, a simple PA, some minimal stage lighting, and dimming the room lights is all that most venues need to add in order to see dramatic results. These places are then able to cultivate a quality listening and performance environment to offer both patrons and entertainers alike.

Unfortunately, there are those who try to offer every conceivable form of distraction to their patrons and never get why their live music scene just doesn't seem to hold the attention of their audience. They just don't get that the more distractions you place between a performer and his audience the more distracted that audience will become.

There's no need for for tvs to be on when you're paying to host live entertainment. There's no need to have pool tables open with balls clacking through the best efforts of those who you've paid to be on stage for those two or three hours that evening. There's no point to having darts games happen when you've elected to have folks playing music. The dart boards and pool tables, gambling machines and televisions, juke boxes and all the rest can be offered as a means to entertain cutomers during all of those other hours of the day when the establishment is open for business and live music isn't happening.

Okay, I'm drifting off.

13 Mar 08 - 12:10 AM (#2287091)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie


Wow! You have my deepest sympathy. I thought putting up with espresso machines in coffee houses was bad. What you describe sounds like The Gig From Hell on Rollerskates.

All I can say is, not all retirement homes operate that way. The three times my group played those venues, everybody expected us, nothing else was happening, and we were very well received. All I'm saying is, that was a bummer, but they all aren't that way.


13 Mar 08 - 01:53 AM (#2287120)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Genie

Chicken Charlie, I agree, not all retirement communities (or activity directors) are the same. My experiences with them run the gamut from sheer hell to sheer exhilaration.   

Reggie, I can well relate to what you posted, though I'm glad to say it's not always that way.

One of the most exasperating and infuritating - not to say pretty humiliating - experiences I have, from time to time, at a senior community is this: Some inconsiderate (and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word) staff member(s) interrupt my presentation and upstage me -- AT THE EXPENSE OF MY AUDIENCE, which is THEIR OWN RESIDENTS --. and if I say anything or in any way express chagrin or disappointment, the staff react as though I am putting myself out there as some sort of 'diva.'    My view is that, when the residents are in an activity -- whether live entertainment (or music therapy) or an educational activity or even just watching a movie --, it is rude to them to thoughtlessly and unnecessarily interrupt the activity.   The staff at many senior facilities, perhaps unthinkingly, treat the residents as though they were incapable of attending to a concert, lecture, movie, sports event, or whatever -- as though whatever activity they have going, be it music or church service or news broadcast, is mere fluff and filler and doesn't merit consideration.

Of course, patrons and even proprietors of bars often act exactly the same way.

But my view is that, while some interruptions are inevitable, whatever the venue, senior citizens deserve, as much as anyone else, not to have their activities unnecessarily interrupted. If anything, because many suffer from greater distractability, they need to have even less distraction than a younger audience might.

13 Mar 08 - 09:38 AM (#2287300)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: KT

Interesting thead. I have to echo those who've stressed that not all retirement communities are the same. As a musician AND Activity Director, I've seen it from both sides.

Years ago, believing strongly in the benefits of music therpy, especially for older populations, I approached the administrator of such a community, with the idea of providing music for the residents. I was told in no uncertain terms that there was NO budget to pay for musical entertainment. At the time, I didn't believe it. Once I became the Activity Director, I realized that what he'd said was true. I think a lot may depend on whether it's private or not, but again, not all places are the same.

Regarding Genie's exasperating experience above, just a thought for assited living entertainers to consider.

The staff knows the residents. They know their abilites to attend to an event, how much assistance they may need to engage, thereby deriving as much as possible from the experience, what particular behaviors or tendancies a resident may have, which, left unchecked, could cause greater disruption to a performance. They know how to read their residents and can oftentimes recognize and anticipate needs that a performer couldn't possibly know. Sometimes what may seem like an interruption or attempt to upstage, may in reality, be a proactive measure to circumvent a problem or assist a resident in participating more fully. I have, on many occasions, requested of a person leading a sing-a-long, to change direction, or to repeat a refrain, because I see something in a resident that she did not, or could not, in her role. What may seem like an interruption to the one providing the entertainment, may in fact, be for the benefit of the residents.


14 Mar 08 - 02:32 AM (#2288027)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Genie

KT, you're right that in nursing and even assisted living homes interruptions may happen, for very good reason, that could be misinterpreted. Nurses passing out meds, for example.

What I'm talking about, though, is the sort of rudeness that, while common in a pub, is not common in, say, a school setting or even at a concert at a drop-in senior center.   A program is in session and things like this happen:
- dining room staff shout instructions (or chit chat) to each other across the room instead of approaching each other to speak without yelling
- a family member or staffer strikes up a conversation with a resident, seemingly oblivious that they are making it hard for the others to hear the program
- staff members engage in loud personal (non-resident-care-related) conversation during a program of unamplified music (or even a movie or other program)

That's the sort of thing where, occasionally I've had to politely ask people if they could talk a little softer. When that request is met with disdain, as though I and my music were the issue, it tells me that the needs and rights of the residents are not being considered.

Why point this out here? Only because there seem to bee some (too many, I think) people who wouldn't cavalierely interrupt or upstage a lecture or church service or a house concert or school class but who think nothing of doing same in a program for old folks. I do think that kind of dismissive attitude exists and is something you have to cope with in such venues.   
In fact, if it were not for that kind of interruption, I would not need my amplifier and mic in many of the nursing and rehab centers and retirement residences where I do gigs.   The rooms and audiences are often small enough that if you didn't have to contend with side conversations, announcements over the PA, etc., an acoustic guitar and one voice would work just fine.    But because of the common extraneous noise I almost always do use amplification.   

(There's more I could say about the types of interruptions/interference that are peculiar to nursing homes, but that's probably better left to another thread.)

Today, while doing dining room and room-to-room music in a Jewish retirement resident, I found out that one of their residents, a Persian-born lady who speaks Farsi and Arabic but not English or Hebrew, is 106 years old.   Her son told me she's "going downhill very fast," and he also told me she speaks French.   He asked her for me if she would like to hear a French song and she said yes, so I sang "La Vie En Rose," and her eyes lit up and she smiled at me.   That's one kind of thing that makes doing music for the "elderly" so rewarding, even if I could make more money doing something else.

The other thing about music gigs in senior facilties is that they're usually during the day, seldom ending after 7 or 8 PM.   For many musicians, this means being able to work the coffeehouse or bar gigs in addition to, not instead of.

14 Mar 08 - 03:24 AM (#2288031)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: KT

Gotcha, Genie. That's a different ball of wax. And I agree with you completely, that those kinds of interruptions should be minimized, if not eliminated. Concert ettiquette should be practiced for the quality of experience for the residents and out of respect for the performer. To have interruptions like the kind you describe, is not only disrespectful of both performer and audience, it diminishes enjoyment of the experience, and in some cases, can actually agitate an audience member for whom the extraneous noise is too overstimulating.

It may be worthwhile to meet with the activity director to discuss the problem, with the focus being on the residents' enjoyment. If he/she is competent, then the best interests of the residents should be first and foremost. Maybe arm yourself with some research to support your cause, and present it as a point of interest. Then you could present your cause.

Music is SO beneficial for the aging's a shame to have opportunites missed because of unaware or uninformed staff.

Genie, how many hours a week do you do this work?

18 Mar 08 - 03:59 AM (#2291389)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Genie

KT, when I started doing this work full time in the mid 1990s, I generally had between 15 and 20 gigs a week, most of them 1 hour.   I was paid anywhere from $20 to $60, but mostly $30 to $50. Around 1998 to 2002 I was grossing over $30,000 a year doing this.   (Mind you, there's a LOT of REAL overhead, such as buying equipment, auto expenses, various kinds of promo and publicity and office expenses, and, in my case, air fare to San Diego from Portland. Still, I'd say I cleared about $18k to $20k, in addition to being able to write off a good portion of some ordinary expenses that you generally can't when you work for an employer.) My fees have increased, as have my expenses, and now most of my gigs pay $40 to $65 for an hour program.

But things started to get tighter around 2002, and I kind of dropped the ball (for reasons having to do with my personal life) in terms of client contact and publicity in 2003 - 2005, and it's been hard to regain all the ground I lost. Plus, frankly, I think I've been experiencing some age discrimination in the past 3 or 4 years.   (Sounds odd to say that when you're talking about "old folks homes," but a lot of activity directors and other staff are 20-somethings or 30-somethings, and sometimes they do show a preference for musicians closer to their own age. And some "elderly" people also seem to prefer being entertained by the cute young ones too.)   It's hard to tease out the impact of the various factors, though I think the rotten economy is the biggie.   When times get hard, entertainment and activities budgets are the first to get cut. That means fewer gigs and sometimes it means the pay doesn't keep up with inflation.   

BTW, KT, I have discussed the issues we talked about (unnecessary interruptions of resident activities) with activity directors who are receptive, but often they tell me they themselves have the same problems when they're trying to call Bingo or do an educational program or show a video.   One of the most blatant acts of rudeness I've encountered, in fact, was when a woman was pounding nails into the wall of the lobby where I was doing a concert/sing-along, and the activity director told me, "I'd say something to her, but she's the administrator."   (Sigh)

But you're right, a music program can be much, much more beneficial to the residents -- in terms of stimulating memory, emotion, learning, social interaction, etc. -- when the setting allows for minimal distraction than when it's treated as unimportant.

18 Mar 08 - 04:18 AM (#2291398)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: pavane

Mrs Pavane has been doing nursing homes, respite hotels, day centres for some years now. She finds it a steady income, not too much strain, and easy to fit around the rest of her life.

I agree with the points made earlier:

4) backing trax for songs that old ladies like. Ask them. But think Al Jolson Fred Astaire, Gershwin, Porter, Fifties Scmaltz - Franjie Vaughan and early Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink. These are expensive - they ain't run of the mill backing trax - you have to search like hell for them and they need to be in your key - or as mear as you can get.

4) a decent radio mike. Walk round sing to them individually. shake hands, make contact. Smile - sometimes its the friendliest face they will see all week. And be cheerful, you are doing a job you love - if you don't love performing - I can't imagine how soul destroying it might be. some people are very ill and can scarcely respond, but its brilliant when they do. beats anything!

5) a little trolley to take your stuff round in..

but professional backing tracks for old songs are quite easy to find, from a few well known suppliers. Not cheap, but not expensive either, 3 to 5 each. And we get them as MIDI files which we can transpose to whatever key is needed (As an Alto, she rarely finds tracks in the right key). It does help to have a good MIDI player or sound card, we use Roland.

As a guide, she asks 40 to 45 for an hour's singing (includes mileage). We know some people ask (and get) more, though.

She uses TWO radio mikes, a cheap one one to hand to the residents so they can sing along. It is surprising how many want to, and she has found more than one trained singer or musician in her audience. It does help if you like people.

As for songs, anything up to the 1960's or even 1970's, but also old songs like Daisy, Daisy, and I'm forever blowing bubbles, which they sing along to.

Here in Wales, a few songs in Welsh also go down very well, and are appreciated by the Welsh speakers.

18 Mar 08 - 04:20 AM (#2291399)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: pavane

Just one more note: Careful about what songs you choose, nothing about mortality.

Avoid titles like 'Killing me softly'!

18 Mar 08 - 07:17 PM (#2292105)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Jeremiah McCaw

Old songs can be very popular. On the other, one friend doing his first 'old folks' gig, wasn't sure if he should radically alter his repertoire to suit. He decided to stay with his normal choices. Well-received, but the neat thing was having a couple of folks come to him afterwards, saying "Thank you so much for NOT making us sing 'You Are My Sunshine'!"

18 Mar 08 - 07:46 PM (#2292146)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Maryrrf

I understand what Genie is talking about. We had a St. Pat's day booking in a retirement home yesterday. The gig started at 3:00 but a lot of the residents were in their seats and waiting for us at 2:15 - they were so looking forward to the program. It went very well and the audience obviously enjoyed themselves, but the concert was next to the dining room and the staff there talked loudly as they cleaned up - even shouting across the room to one another. It was an annoying distraction.   I don't do retirement homes that often but over the years I have experienced a variety - most of the time I really enjoy it and the gig goes well. A couple of times I've been told there was a sound system provided and when I got there there wasn't (now I bring my own along just in case its needed). It is rewarding work. Oh and good point that was made earlier about dressing in cool outfits - the place I played yesterday was stifling and they had the fireplace going. My banjo playing partner showed up in an Arran sweater and was miserable!

19 Mar 08 - 02:53 AM (#2292383)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Genie

Pavane, re not singing songs about mortality in nursing homes, I refer you (with tongue firmly in cheek) to this thread:
Songs NOT to sing in nursing homes

; D

Seriously, though, when I first started doing "old folks" gigs, a rather young activity director gently scolded me for singing "On Top Of Old Smoky" -- a song which is very popular among US elder folks, by the way -- because of the verses that say a false-hearted lover will lead you to your grave and then the grave will decay you ... .   I discovered soon thereafter that it's not the elderly who are bothered by references to death. They're more realistic about, and generally more accepting of, the mortality of the body than younger generations. You don't want to be morbid, but I don't think you need to go out of your way to avoid songs that refer to death.

What I DO avoid is songs like "Maids, When You're Young, Never Wed An Old Man" or "I Don't Look Good Naked Any More" -- songs that take the obvious fact that we get less attractive as we age and rub it in.    E.g., I will not sing the line "Nobody wants you when you're old and gray" - in the song "There'll Be Some Changes Made" - at a retirement home. That's just too insulting.   On the other hand, songs like The Weavers' "Get Up and Go" and Steve (?) Walters's "The Memory Song" or the parody "(I Can't Recall What Was) The Last Thing On My Mind" go over very well -- especially if the performer is also not a spring chicken.

19 Mar 08 - 03:01 AM (#2292384)
Subject: RE: Gigs (that pay better than coffee houses)
From: Genie

Jeremiah, your friend's experience is not all that uncommon.   I often get a few residents thanking me for introducing a few less-familiar songs when I do. ("Ripple," for example, usually gets a very positive reaction, as does "Proud Mary," even though most residents are not very familiar with those.   In St Pat's programs I usually do "Star Of The Country Down" with good result.   Yanks are usually not familiar with it.)

Still, a lot of residents do respond best to songs that they are somewhat familiar with, even if they would prefer that not all entertainers do the same songs.   (You Are My Sunshine is still probably the most requested song in all my senior gigs, though.)   

I would add that if you play instrumentals, you can keep the audience interested and involved with a much wider array of music, familiar or not. Especially if it's upbeat and catchy.
If you sing in a language the residents don't understand, or if you sing lyrics they don't know, you may lose a lot of them.   But if you sing no lyrics at all, they seem to care a lot less whether they know the song or not.