Monday, March 13, 2017

Music in the Clouds, Gigs in the Basements...

I'm reflecting on the value of "gigging" in days gone by and the future of it all. Yes, a few of you can relate..
For most young musicians, they have no idea what the life of a professional musician was like before I-Tunes or Muzak.
To my musician friends. Remember 40 years ago when we proudly paid union dues and ASCAP or BMI or SEASAC. Royalty checks were more than $16.00 We had no chance of affording health ins. or dental ins. (We didn't think it was owed to us and so we just stayed as healthy as possible and took fewer risks... right :)
Few were smart enough to even think about a retirement plan. Road gigs were the yellow brick road; even if they ended in a dumpy band house in St. Cloud or E.G.Forks. A savings account was a vintage amp or instrument. Taxes were something you debated if you even needed to file every 5 years... A day job was giving up and losing the right to call yourself a musician. Opening a personal studio was the only other option outside of opening a music store or venue..For this was long before someone figured out how to game the Govt and subsidize "music" education schools with no chance for real jobs.
And where are we all now. Who's laughing now?
I took great pride for many years in saying I never missed a gig 6 nights a week for over 20 years. Regardless of sickness or health or family or personal, never missed a gig. All my years alone with my trailer and truck on the road from coast to coast, flying home on Sunday and Mondays to be with my family and then leaving again.
Raised my children as a full time musician. Never had a W2 job. I took so much pride in that. Multiple houses, nice cars and vacations in Europe were part of the drive to continue the grind.
And as pop music changed, you had to change yearly. Outside of pop music, you could hone in on one style and rotate your gigs but likely this meant a day gig or teaching on the side.
What did it teach us?
Self-Reliance, Re-Inventing Ourselves, Balancing Responsibilities? Or did it teach us to be Enabled, lost, bitter, broken, divorced and addicted folks who still are holding on to our youth in one way or another?
For those who held out and didn't migrate to a trade, How do you move from there to todays economy?
What skills have we learned that make us valuable and marketable today in this economy where live music has lost it's value?
Men and women musicians today silently making "maybe" 500. a week without any life, health, dental or business insurance,  trying to find a way to continue in their craft and passions and stay off WIK,  Govt. assistance or living with some family?    Now folks at Walmart and Home Depot and fast food joints don't make 500. a week, and there's nothing wrong with those jobs till they are automated and go away,   but if you're young and in your prime, you choose a horse and your ride it hard for all it's got. The music business has become like playing penny slots. Now you don't know this yet, but, you can only ride a horse hard for so long and the thrill of pulling penny slots will wear off, even if one in a million makes a million and is deified in media as your role model. 

   If you're nearing retirement with a home paid for (or not).. , an extra $2,3,4,or 500. a week at $50 to 100. A gig may be all you need to survive.  And in that, if you hustle, heck, you just might be able to play till you die and help keep money for gigs down. That is unless all the new kids getting out of music school are willing to play for 25 to 50. a gig because they are living at home on someone else's dime with free  health ins., food, lodging, phones, cars, ins., utilities, wifi and a place to store their gear for free as well.  I'm not down on youth and pursuing your passions, I'm just saying it is a horse that tops out at 25mile an hour for most regardless of what MTV and the few owners of the music system push.
Every seasoned musician knows having a partner with a good job is 50% of the game. How many full time musicians are alone today thriving on their own efforts? They are the musical Marines. (The few and the proud) Semper Fi' and God bless each and every one of you.
40 years ago we hated the words "get your teaching certificate so you have something to fall back on". That was a cop out and incited us to trying harder and living leaner.
We'd quietly say that those with public and govt. jobs playing on the weekends were not "real" musicians, they were "silent sell outs" who were under cutting real musicians only to play for $25. and beer, thereby keeping wages lower. Well, looks who's retired with State and Fed. pensions now Mr. and Mrs. Rock Star. :)
Today I look at opportunities for our next generations of musicians. Honest opportunities.
Kids being enticed to spend 25 to 100k a year to learn music, or digital mixing or light design, or performance art or ...? For what?
To keep the institutions open for the non gigging musicians to survive?
Certainly not for the kids with 50 to 300k worth of school debt and virtually no opportunity to pay it back other than tell the govt. they should absolve it because... well, we're special.
And there was the newer churches, places where for the last 30 years musicians could serve and lead and teach and mentor and mix.   But,  pop culture like culture is speeding up and is taking a 30yr career and making it  15 years of viable pop service followed by "what do I do now" with 10 chords and a capo.?
Bleak? Yup, I'd say it is. But that's ok, Those with the curse of artistry and creation will pursue it regardless, just like the painters and dancers and street performers thru the ages..
I guess that's it. There was a window once. One of opportunity to play and sing and dance seven days a week if you chose.
And it's closed now. For the new breed of restaurants are chef based. Their visions and prime costs realities do not factor entertainment in their slim margins and increasing costs.   Old bars in cities with paid off brick and mortar, well, they will continue to use those wider margins to hire musicians for beer, a dinner and $25. and the door.
New places will have music at the expense of the owners and investors who love music until they can bleed no more. God bless them, I hope their losses don't completely destroy them or their investor and that in the end they are proud of shifting their wealth to feed a few starving artists.
And the European model I saw in Germany 40 years ago? The one of players just getting together in every local pub to play for beers and soul fulfillment? Well, that just may be our future outside of Disney,Branson,Vegasland.
And God bless "The Voice" and those few outlets that keep hope alive for the children and grandchildren with gifts, to be inspired regardless of their ability to live from their gifts. 
So now I still say in 2017, yea, pursue your passions. If they are music? beware and be realistic.  Ask your mentors and teachers what the chances are of you making anything in the business... really?
How best can we really help our next generations of future artists and musicians? 
Garage bands will always be important. Parents sacrificing their basements and personal space and sanity to help a child grow.  That outlet is as important and valuable as local sports fields paid for by property taxes to keep kids busy and active. And listening to a garage band is no gauge of talent. Imagine all the great writers who couldn't sing or play well who changed music. How many of them went to music school anyway unless it was to study jazz or classical?
Now certainly, Govt.'s role was never to be our musical sugar daddy, nor should they be.  I guess every dollar made and ripped off of poor artists and writers by Youtube, Google, FB,  Apple and every other music service should put 10% into a non profit fund to re-fund the arts. Those billions might help in creating musical outlets for youth without Govt. intervention.
And like in days of old, Church could step up for the arts,  but it's to caught in the pop culture of top 100 of CCM and staying hip enough to keep folks from going to the next cool hip church and leaving them bankrupt that that that ain't gonna happen.  Classical arts have endowments and old money, but that's gonna go away when those funds run out because baby boomers are not investing in classical endowments...  Unless the classical instruments are somehow infused back into pop music and arrangements in a way that the need for a real musicians over great samples is viable?  They are pretty much left in the key of F'd.
On a bright note :), "I always think F# is the brightest triad". 
No really, I heard this morning that the new ACA for all the doom and gloom being shoveled about, may, I say MAY give tax credits for health insurance to self employed people.... Really? Musicians might actually be able to have a portion of their health ins. covered in tax credits applied to a health savings acct? Well, this socialistic thought sure sounds nice to all of us who didn't have a spouse with a good plan, or to kids now living at home at 27 who have to actually begin to pay for something... And gee wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to pay the first $4000. of your medical bills before any of your ins. kicks in? What a joke this has become for the poor, and all for the evil of votes... :/
Well, I've been in construction mode for months now. Away from any music. Away from that hook and always dreaming of a dry fly hook.  My studio has been silent for almost a yea,r other than software updates and private use and an occasional late night narcissistic keyboard session. Well, I am refilling my creative barrel slowly.

And I see my musical friends around the country struggling more than ever before. Fighting for the same 10 gigs and fighting an ever more difficult grind to survive. Putting up more and more FB posts for fewer and fewer interested people to show up for fewer and fewer live gigs over fast food and 2,000 HD cable channels with Surround sound.
So what's the future look like for 99% of the musicians who don't develop some new "thing" with music and make a ton on the cloud?
I know it sounds stupid to many, but I'm sounding old now.
Find, Develop and get a trade job. Become a tradesperson. Work with your hands and be creative and play on off nights with your friends. If you're that good, you will have your measure of success regardless of your day job.
And look and pray for a life partner who's not crazy creative, but happy to have that steady job, and kiss their feet on occasion, or wash them if you're of that ilk.

This began as a FB post some time back and it's not here from requests to have it somewhere where it can be re-located by link. 

Today in closing, i'd say that not one of my friends would trade their journey of musical experiences for anything.  Like the military, the things you serve with passion in become precious, even if the memories are divided.

The phrase "thanks for the memories"? Well it is truly apropos when it comes to remembering the early days of our lives on the road.  They are priceless.  And the phrase "what happened in Vegas"?.  Well, only the NSA, Jesus and road managers  know those things.