Author: Campbell, Bruce

High Expectations

Musicians occupy a strange place in the hierarchy of job respect. More than almost any job, when we do it well, it elicits a primal joy. People get genuinely delighted when the music touches them, and they react viscerally and spontaneously – smiling, laughing a clapping without event thinking about it. You would think purveyors of such joy would be treasured. Sometimes, they are..

Other times, people show astonishing disregard for the worth of the lowly troubadour/minstrel. We’ve become accustomed to being asked to load in at country clubs through the service entrance. We grow inured to being offered a special menu at places where we play – choosing sandwiches or “snacks” at establishments that serve fine food to their patrons.

Event planners always know what to budget for catering, lighting, flowers, and photography. They will gladly pay dearly for the ice sculpture, and the chocolate fountain. Then it’s time for the live music, and they expect a feeding frenzy of bands vying for the chance to play for “exposure”.

Honestly, I think musicians are victims of their own magic. When a caterer is working hard, you see people in aprons rushing around, beads of sweat on their foreheads, setting food out, picking plates up – they’re obviously working hard. Musicians just stand there and play and sing – they get to enjoy themselves and garner attention. Why would someone want money to do that?

Playing music IS fun – and it looks like fun, too. But the performance does not directly show the hours of rehearsal, the long hours driving, nor the schlepping of gear in and out of vehicles or up flights of stairs. It doesn’t reflect the costs of fine instruments, or the thousand different things that are necessary to deliver a consistently high quality performance, regardless of where the band sets up.

Sometimes, it’s flat out ludicrous. I’ve had gigs where they expected a 5 piece band (with PA) to set up in a space about 6 feet square – 200 feet from the nearest electrical outlet! Sometimes, bridezillas will provide a wacky “wish list” of songs they want performed at the wedding – it’s always fun for bluegrass bands to try their hand at Tony Bennett covers! Then there’s always the drunk guy(usually the groom’s brother, for some reason) who “used to play” and deems it appropriate to ask to borrow your guitar for a few songs – and asks you while you’re in the middle of a song!

I’m also often amazed at the lead time for booking gigs – it’s not unusual to see requests to play at events halfway across the state, within a few days. Maybe those are last minute efforts after their original bands had to bail out – but I think just as often it’s just naiveté on the part of the person hiring the band. They picture piles of musicians, sitting around, with nothing to do, cars full of gas and families that don’t mind when they jet off at a moment’s notice to gain some much needed exposure..

Geez, when I read the preceding paragraphs, it seems suspiciously like self-pity. Honestly, if it were that awful, I wouldn’t do it. The zaniness is really just part of the fun. Most quality people who want quality music are willing to pay for it, and provide a quality audience to enjoy it. That makes up for everything – the weird stuff just makes for good stories!
Posted:  3/14/2012

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