What rotten luck!! Last week as I was putting down some new floor boards in my daughters bedroom I drilled into a gas pipe. The unmistakable smell and the dreaded HISSSSSSS. FUCK! SHIT! COCK IT!!! I ran downstairs to shut off the gas only to discover that I need a step ladder to reach the gas mains. WHERE’S THE EFFING STEPLADDER? As I was hurling items out of our cluttered cupboard in a desperate attempt to find the 2ft step ladder I had visions of my daughters room slowly filling with gas. Got it. I ran downstairs, shut the gas off, called a plumber then sat down and waited for my arse to contract.
The plumber arrived and fixed the problem, it took less than 20mins. For payment he was happy to receive a cup of tea. I also promised him I would advertise his services on my facebook page and on my twitter, a reach of some 600 people, I said that there could also be the prospect of future work and I’d give him a call if anything else comes up. We shook hands and I bid him a fond farewell.
Sound familiar? No it does not. Do you know why? Because there is not a plumber or tradesman on the planet that would work for a cup of tea. And why should they! It takes 18 months, a shit load of cash and hours and hours of on the job training to become a certified plumber. It takes 3-4 years to train to become a doctor and on average 7 years to earn a black belt in any given martial art. I have been playing guitar for 16 years and I’ve been playing professionally for the last 10 years. And yet I’m still asked to play for a free drink and ‘exposure’.
This is insulting. Degrading. And only serves to perpetuate the idea of the ‘Terminally short of cash’ musician. Because we love what we do, should we work for free? I say no. With the exception of Jam nights, open mics and maybe showcases.
When you see a band, even a really bad band, you are looking at collectively days, weeks, months and years of hard work. (If they’re REALLY bad you might only be looking at a few hours work) I’m willing to bet most people reading this tried playing an instrument but gave up. The main reason? it was too hard. Getting Fur Elise to sound less like a monkey playing one handed and more like it ought would quite literally consume you. Playing Wonderwall in it’s entirety without your ring and little finger screaming in pain would take longer than the 15mins promised to you by your guitar teacher. Nailing the drum pattern in Stevie Wonder’s Superstition would cause you to loose sleep. These songs are standard tunes. They’re easy. You ask any working musician and they can bust these tunes out at 4.00am with a hangover after attending a football riot.
In short, becoming a musician consumes your life. From the age 17 – 24 I had NO social life. I would come home from work stick on an album an play along to it. Even if it was wrong. I’d spend hours and hours learning 10 seconds of music. I’d spend days learning 1 song. And later in life I’d spend weeks and months learning 90mins of music. To an outsider this amount of work for it’s fruits must seem insane. But to musicians it’s what we have to do. It’s lucky we enjoy it.
So when I’m offered a gig that pays 1 pint of beer and ‘free advertising’ I respectfully decline. And when agents/venues/pubs/clubs scoff at the price of hiring me, or any other musician, for 90 mins I say only this:
What you’re paying for is loading into your venue that doesn’t provide suitable access. You’re paying for that parking ticket because your venue doesn’t have a car park. You’re paying for every callus, blister, sore throat, splinter, cut and bruise. You’re paying for the friends that abandoned us during our musical quest. You’re paying for every boy/girlfriend that ceremoniously dumped us because they thought it would be cool to date a musician. You’re paying for every single piece of equipment we’ve had to buy over the course of our career. But most of all you’re paying for the blood, sweat, tears, heart, soul and passion that goes into being a musician…The gig is free mate.