Originally published in the Chestnut Hill Local.
There is a great store up the street from my apartment called
Mango. They sell this adorable "Philly Girl" shirt,
one that can be bought elsewhere around the city but locally it is a
Mango exclusive. Imagine a man or woman who go into Mango and
informing, not asking, but informing the staff that
they needed the shirt yet have no funds in their budget for the
shirt. It's okay though because when people saw them wearing
the shirt would know that it was from Mango. The person wearing would
even keep some business cards from Mango handy to give out.
Sounds inappropriate, right? It is something that I deal
with multiple times a year as a full-time musician. What is
even more amazing is that these requests for free services always
come from groups that have members whose yearly income is double what
I make as an independent artist.
I am not sure if a monetary value can be put on the training I
have had. A couple hundred thousand dollars of higher education
followed by years of performing six days a week in and around New
Orleans honing my craft. Add to that a few hours a day I
currently spend practicing, composing or arranging new material.
Then there is the maintenance on equipment, upkeep on my physical
appearance (you gotta look good if you want to get hired), hours - I
mean hours - on the phone booking new venues, meeting with potential
brides and grooms to help plan their big day, plus dealing with
hotels, township offices (if the performance is outside and a
variance is needed), the list goes on and on.
Did I mention that in order to stay competitive and be able to put
bids in for jobs that I need to have the same liability insurance
coverage that a caterer or general contractor has? Places like
the Highlands Historical in Ft Washington won't hire me without it,
and it isn't cheap.
A study from 2015 found that the average yearly income of a
full-time musician in the United States is around $20K. I
mentioned earlier that, in my experience, those looking for free
music are wealthier than I am and always white. When talking to older
musicians I am told that $100/man was considered a fair paying gig in
the early 1960's. Why then am I fighting to get $150/man in
2017? And remember: $150/man doesn't include what I need to put
aside for my insurance. And taxes. Don't forget the tax
man. As I said: I am a full-time musician. That also
means Uncle Sam gets about 23% of what you are paying me.
Suddenly a $100 gig becomes $77, which becomes $50 or less once I
take care of the insurance bill. I need gas to get to the venue
and that brings us down to $40. Am I performing downtown?
If so: parking garages are about $25 or $30 for a weekend night,
right? So at the end of the night I may have $15. $15 for
three or four hours of work.
Why then, time and time
again, am I approached with "Our group is hiring a few musicians
to entertain but we don't have music in our budget"? If
this is the case then (1) you aren't hiring musicians
at all and (2) you should focus on what actually is
in your budget.
When I am asked for something for free from people who make more in one
week that I make in one month is insulting and borders on indentured
servitude. What is amazing to me is that when I am asked to perform
for groups from lower income areas (ie: West Parkside Business
Assoc, various community groups in Germantown, Mt. Aity, etc) my
price is never questioned and a generous tip is almost always
included. Why does this issue seem to be native to Chestnut Hill,
Philadelphia's “Garden District”?
Don't think I don't do "freebie" gigs. I donate my
time and talent to a number of good causes. There are a few
children's charities that I contribute a silent auction item of a
performance in your home, and many time I will perform for free at
the auction itself. Occasionally my band mates join me and the
auction item becomes a jazz trio for a house party, etc. It
always comes back around in the end. A child gets medical bills
paid and you get some great music in your house. But asking
musicians to play for nothing more than "business card
placement" is despicable.
I am a firm believer that live
music makes any event more memorable. If you feel the same and
don't "have it in your budget" then ask your
members/friends/neighbors for help. If you have 25 members and
they each contribute $20 then you have $500 for music, which - in
2017 - is a fair price for a duo to entertain for 3 or 4 hours.
Music for nothing? That's called stealing.