(Yes, the quote automatically changes daily: No, I don't check it for quality.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Momma, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Musicians!

From today's email bag:

Dear Kevin,

This jazz trio wants to charge me $1,200 for just TWO HOURS! Isn't that incredibly expensive?

Anonymous Economist

Dear AE,

This is always disheartening to hear from folks. But today, I thought I'd write a thorough response. It's a little testy, but I hope it's useful for people to read.

The question above is one professional musicians hear with some frequency, and represents an implicit view: that playing music is a hobby, and not a viable profession. You might be right, but if you don't mind, here's a bit of analysis:

If the trio's leader is paying himself for doing the job of marketing and managing and contracting the equivalent of one person's income, that's four persons who need to get paid. Let's say it's the piano player (who by the way is bringing his own, $2k setup (keyboard, speakers), and he also runs the gig, start to finish. Making all the phone calls to find those musicians - you follow? And managing the musicians, from advising them of the attire, to making sure they get fed.

So that's $300 each, ergo $1200. As the guy doing all the extra above tasks, the leader would walk with $600.

And is that really for two hours? Not so much. That's two hours of performance time. But not work time. For me, from the time I packed the sheet music, sound system, instrument, and drive there, unload, set up, play, and then the reverse, no gig is less than six hours of work. I only got paid for two of them, and apparently, at that, too much.

$300 is what many of the better waiters at any good restaurant makes in SF every night, five nights a week. They didn't spend $20k learning to do it, nor 20 years of practicing. And they got paid while they were learning at a lower rate.

And they work every night.

If that doesn't make the fee seem a tad more reasonable, how about this: you are offering grown adults the same wage somebody makes in about three days at a minimum wage job (when you factor in health care), and that most lawyers in San Francisco bill for hourly.

Hope this gives some perspective, and some insight into some the awkward silence that ensues when asking adults to work for insufficient compensation. It is, forgive the pun, quite maddening.

Best of Luck,