The Musician’s Catch-22
As a general rule, my friends, family, and supporters see me when I’m at my best: On stage, loving nearly every minute, doing my job, fulfilling my dream. Yes, I get paid to have that smile on my face but I assure you it’s genuine 99% of the time. I would perform for free if I could. Performance is the bright, sunny tip of the iceberg that makes the chilling, agonizing depths of the job bearable. To whit…
I received an email last night from a venue I pitched. I originally sent this person an email query (and a phone call) on and about February 22nd.
Now, I have a vault of some 50-60 unanswered emails, calls and hat-in-hand begging. I average at least a couple hours each day November through May searching for possible venues, emailing possible venues, calling possible venues, screaming at the websites of possible venues, begging someone—anyone—to tell me that the silence doesn’t mean I suck.
So I’m geshrying and shpritzing since basically January because my next paying job is in May and the bank doesn’t seem to display the same devil-may-care attitude towards the mortgage that I do, when “lo, and behold!” What should my ISP deliver to me but a long awaited response to one of my emails?
It’s not exactly a flood, not quite the dam bursting. In fact, it’s more like a 90 year old man squeezing a drop at 3 a.m. but I’ll take it! The first sentence make me purr like a kitten: “Okay, you guys are awesome, for sure. And yes, XXX (ed. let’s not invite lawsuits, ok?) would be a good match with what you do.”
Can’t ask for better than that! Validation after so long. Nothing more need be said, right? It’s all there. Unfortunately, it DIDn’t end there, at the logical place. It barreled right on down the rabbit hole.
“Here’s the deal – XXX doesn’t have a built-in crowd for you to play for. You need to be able to bring in a decent draw for your show. You are paid the door (85/15 split) so it’s important to us all. Thoughts on this first?”
The sound you just heard was the gagging noise of my gorge becoming buoyant. It also closely resembles the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack and the Carmina Burana which began playing at the same time in my head.
You’re familiar with the term “Catch-22” no doubt, taken from the eponymous novel by Joseph Heller. My favorite quote from Yossarian, the main character, remains “I’m going to live forever or die trying.” Succinctly, a “catch-22 is a paradox from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules.”
I hope the light begins to dawn within you, dear music fan, but just in case…I will explain further.
This venue expects me to bring an audience. I can’t get an audience unless I get gigs at venues like this.
If only this was the first time I ever encountered this email. Sadly, this is but one in a long succession.
But wait!—as they say—There’s more! And, dear music fans, it concerns you directly.
Many of have seen my posts about my Patreon campaign efforts. Some of you have signed up to support me (and thank you again!). Many of you have not for various and sundry good reasons.
Boiled down to its furthest reductio ad absurdum level, my Patreon Campaign asks art consumers to donate a small amount of money per month so that the artist may be freed to pursue the art and not be mired in the bullshit. I hope you see it, as I do, as a new (well, recycled: patronage is as old as art itself) way of valuing and paying for art and NOT simply as another beg-a-thon. Either way is ok with me. If you see me as a beggar, then the heck with you: I haven’t lost a customer, I shed a critic. Amen.
No, this concerns you directly because of the callous and cynical view this venue displays towards you, the consumer. In fact, this person proposes to gouge you twice: Once to pay for my services (85/15 split of the door, Fred) and then for food and drink. Heck, folks, at least Patreon only asks you to sign up once.
My initial thought was “how the hell do you stay open if you don’t have a clientele?” In fact, a quick scan of their website reveals this statement: “XXX cultivated a strong and loyal audience” and that they are the “premier, intimate live music “listening room” in good old Minnesota.
Let that sink in a second. I’ll wait.
I don’t get paid unless I bring you, my friends, to the venue. Since I don’t already have fans in this town, I have to bring my own. That’s you.
You, my friends and family and fans, pay to get in the door (I get 85% of that and the venue takes 15%—they get 15% for doing nothing at all) and then you pay for food and drink (I do NOT get 15% of that; they take 100%).
In order of screwedness (screwosity? screwtasticy?), the audience gets screwed most and I get screwed slightly less. Though perhaps the resentment you might develop towards me for dragging you there (or begging you to go) could put me in the lead. Hard to say.
The fact is, as I mentioned before, that this is not an anomaly. This situation represents the standard business model for performing artists, especially musicians. No amount of bootstrapping or hustling will ever allow me to succeed in this model. The table tilts, you can’t beat the house. Which is why, dear friends, family, and fans, I urge you to check out my Patreon Campaign.
If you choose to see it as begging, so be it. I choose to see it as putting the power for supporting the arts squarely where it belongs: with you, the consumers, the friends, the people who have always said you supported the arts. I trust that over the course of this year you will come to see this as I do: A sea-change in arts support and a way of filling your own community with life.