April Showers

For a number of reasons, April seems the most hectic month of the year, and showers are a major contributing factor – showers of paperwork.

Yes, the weather is definitely a culprit – “Hey, it finally feels like Spring!  Wait – what happened to the sun?  Why is it so cold, I’m sick of gray cloudy days…  SNOW!?! You’ve got to be kidding me, I just want to be out in the Sun where it’s warmmmm.”

Yes, I wish it was warm and sunny, but right now I’m dealing with a shower of  TAX paperwork which, along with monthly bills, budgets, webwork, etc., keeps me inside staring at a computer screen. Ugh. The joy of being a full-time self-employed musician means my income tax preparation is complicated and joyless.  There’s income from many different sources to report, 1099-Misc forms to issue to musicians I’ve hired, receipts and credit card statements to mine for deductions.  (Yes, I keep track throughout the year, but there are always some that I miss).  But thankfully there is also TurboTax!  Sure, a professional tax whiz could fill out the forms, but I’d still have to dig up all the information, and that’s what takes all the time.

But there are other paper showers, too: contracts and stage plots.  One of the things musicians really look forward to is performing at summer music festivals, out in the open air with big enthusiastic crowds that don’t normally go out to the nightclubs where we mostly play.  Arrangements to play at these festivals are generally made in January and February, but the paperwork is due in April.  This season’s paperwork includes 2 PSU Alumni functions, 2 Summers’ Best Music Fest appearances, 2 Arts Fest appearances, a couple Musicians Performance Trust Fund programs, and several weddings.

All these dismal showers shall soon pass, however, and there will be plenty of time to enjoy the lovely flowers.  I’ll see you out in the garden!


Musicians Kicked Off Gig Because of… Demographics?

Dancing With The Stars fires Longtime Band
Apparently a well-directed group of highly-trained musicians is not cool or hip enough for today’s younger TV viewers, who, according to highly-crunched data, polling algorithms, and ABC executive Lisa Berger, prefer machine-made dance music and DJs spinning mp3s. And there was also something about an 18-piece big band not being able to adequately cover songs by that ballroom dancing favorite, The Clash.

DWTS Will Sound Different in 2014
Trouble: Big Band Arrangements of Pop Tunes

Of course, I’m showing my age by using words like “cool” and “hip,” so the DWTS bean counters aren’t worried about my demographic anyhow. OK, so I never really watched the show, but I don’t like it when fellow players lose a gig for any reason other than doing boneheaded musician things.

Perhaps this is just an extension of today’s prevalent attitude that music should be free, that musicians don’t need to be paid to perform. Just give away the recordings, and we’ll buy the t-shirt. (Throw in a free sticker, too).

Should Bars & Restaurants Pay to Use Your Recorded Music?

The Music-Copyright Enforcers – NYTimes.com

LP record

Those who listen vs. Those who pay (Brian Rea)

Most places do, and it directly benefits me. My songs are registered with BMI, and whenever I play them in a public venue, I fill out a form on the BMI website stating when, where, and what songs I performed. Then, twice a year, I receive a royalty check from them – just like Willie Nelson and Lady Gaga.
Now if you bought a CD or downloaded an mp3 for personal use, then you’ve already paid for it – play it however you want. But if you’re a commercial establishment playing recorded music for your customers, it’s kinda like having musicians play all day/night long. You wouldn’t expect a live band to play for free, any more than you should expect a bartender or cook to work for free. And it’s good to know that some of the money paid for licensing goes not only to the superstars, but also to the little guys like me.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Sorry, this post is not about sex or politics – it’s about communication.

Twice weekly a small restaurant in my hometown hosts live music. Wednesdays a 4-piece all-acoustic group performs Classic Rock and Americana, Thursdays I play Piano-bar style Blues and covers. One weekend a year several Jazz duos or trios play there during a local festival. We’ve each been playing there since the restaurant opened about 4 years ago. Nice place, good food, good owners to work for.

So I was a bit surprised when the pub manager announced “Hey, we have two bands from Philadelphia coming up to play here next Tuesday. Be sure and tell everybody so they have a good turnout.” Bands? Ok, that’ll be different, but I’m all for live music, so bring ’em on.

Tuesday arrived and I was out doing errands – walking the dogs, delivering a piano to the Beatlemania show, going to the bank, etc. For the evening I planned on stopping in to see the Philly groups a bit, then going to hear Carlos as John Lennon play my piano.

Then the call came. “JT, the bands are here, but they don’t have any mics.” I knew right away it was more than microphones they didn’t have. No mics = no mic stands = no mic cables = no mic mixer = no PA speakers. The bands showed up expecting a PA system to be at the club.

Nobody asked, and nobody told there was no house PA.

So I threw some equipment into my car, drove down to the club, and proceeded to set up my PA system. In the process, the band requested a keyboard stand and amplifier. Yes, I have them, so I drove home and brought those back.

But there was a bigger problem here from the start. As soon as the bands walked into the restaurant, they said “Oh no…” They realized it was the wrong venue for the music they play – hard-driving college party rock. As the manager watched them carry in guitar amplifiers and drums she said “Oh no…” Did they have to use amps? The regular Wednesday band uses no PA, no mics, no amps. Thursdays I bring one speaker for my vocals.

Nobody asked, and nobody told that the venue was primarily acoustic music.

But the show must go on, however, so the bands set up, and trying to be quiet, started to play. As several couples got up and moved their dinner outside to the deck, the first band finished their first song, and the manager, apologizing, told them it was way too loud for the room (which it was). So the drummer stepped out, the guitarists turned down, and they proceeded to play uncomfortably for only a few more songs before taking a break.

After setting up the keyboard amp and stand, the second group took the stage (sans drummer). Having had time to assess the sound of the room, they played a little quieter than the first band, and delivered a longer more enjoyable set. They finished their set, the five of us listening applauded and gave a few dollars in tips. The bands loaded out their gear, everybody thanked and apologized to each other, then the musicians hit the highway to continue their tour.

Nobody asked, nobody told what to do except show up and play.

So how did this happen, how did a pair of rock bands get booked into an acoustic venue? Ari Herstand, who blogs about the music business, mentions this in one of his posts, Book Your Own Tour. When looking for gigs, “get a feel for how your project could (or could not) fit in the venue.” Clearly, this was not done.

Nobody asked, nobody told whether the bands were right for the venue.

So there’s a little blame to go around here. First the booking agent, who cold-called the club and set up the show. A gig is a gig, any chance to perform, right? Second, the club manager who agreed to the deal without knowing anything about the bands. Two bands for the price of one? What a deal!

No, it was a bad deal for all parties. The bands didn’t get to play for the crowd they hoped for, the club didn’t have a crowd to make any money from. There was no relationship established for future bookings, no recommendation for the venue as a good room to play. The only good is a little education was shared, the bands and the venue each got a horror story, and I got a blog post.

So – Do Ask, Do Tell. You may lose a good story, but you’ll have fewer of those “Oh no…” moments.