May 21



In a recent blog KEEP YOUR COOL AND KEEP THE GIG I was talking about paying attention to details to hold onto the gigs we have as there are fewer and fewer gig opportunities.
I have been hearing along the musicians grapevine that in some areas of London there is a PAY TO PLAY music culture. I’ve also been hearing that there are so few pubs left in the U.K. that still have live music, as the copyright licenses that the pubs need to pay are astronomical.

I have been looking around Europe to see where there were still vibrant live music cultures, and finding that the harsh reality is that with the exception of a few touristy pockets, live music is hard to find. In many places the reality is that if you are a professional musician it means you are a music teacher (No disrespect to the teachers as this is an honourable profession) Are we seeing the death of live music?

I have been spoilt in the last few years. Most of my work has been entertaining a more mature age group. People who love and appreciate live music. Audiences who do all sorts of dancing from Ballroom to Line dancing. If there are a group of people in the audience who are talking too loudly, the others will tell them to be quiet or leave the room. To show some respect for the entertainer. A few weeks ago one old man turned on his ipad. Five old ladies attacked him and insisted that he turn the iPad off immediately.

By contrast, the last two Sunday nights I have been entertaining young Dutch families. ( Don’t get me wrong, what I’m about to say is not because they are Dutch , but rather a generational thing.) The average age of the adults is 25 to 35. I experienced something I have very seldom experienced in 25 years of being a musician. A total indifference to what I was doing.  At the end of a song, silence……… I’m not used to being ignored at the end of a song. As I look across my audience I see the lights of iPads and iPhones. The vast majority of people in the room are totally engaged in their electrical devices, and totally disengaged in what I am doing.
Let me clarify. I’m not talking about people taking photos or videoing the musician with their ipad/iphone, as this is engaging with the musician. Im talking about people catching up with their emails, checking their facebook accounts, playing a game, watching youtube or tweeting their friends. All this while the musician is playing his heart out.

Some years back we experienced a similar problem in the music venues with the advent of large screen T.Vs and digital sports channels. The owners of the venues were expecting us to play with a football match on, with the sound turned down. It was a battle we as musicians could win and did win. It had to be music or football. Not the 2 at the same time. The reason why the musicians won this battle, was because It was a fair battle. Musician against venue owner. Today’s battle is not so fair. Musician against every person in the audience with an electrical device.

Does anyone have any suggestions, or comments to make on the subject?

I’ve been thinking about a silent but visual protest. If we had a poster on the stage that read:LIVE MUSIC ZONE….THEREFORE A VOLUNTARY ELECTRICAL DEVICE FREE ZONE……..OUT OF RESPECT FOR MUSICIANS.

Hey, this could be a new international movement!  Thousands of musicians around the world displaying the same poster on stage.
Here is a challenge to GRAPHIC ARTISTS who are fans of live music Could you design a poster that we as musicians can display on our stages, (with your logo in the corner) A poster that you give us as musicians the right to use, and we can make it a free download and print poster.

Heres to a return to RESPECT

1 comment

  1. Rob 'Windstrel' Watson

    As an amateur folk musician for many years until I retired and turned professional busker, I experienced a lot of pay to play. In fact, it is the norm, I would suggest, in folk music pub sessions across the UK. Sometimes pubs will give the session leaders a 1st free drink or some food in the course of the evening but many pubs are struggling to survive these days and, unless they are sure of extra pub trade as a result of live musicians (probably unlikely if not well known and popular musicians), in my view, the reality is many can’t afford to pay live musicians. For this reason, when I retired on a small pension, I decided to become a busker rather than chase gigs. Busking is simple, straight forward and, although it has many downsides, means there is at least some money in the bag whenever I perform.

    In the past, I have seen many musicians and especially singers trying to get an audience quiet so they can perform, without much success and the audiences mainly carried on talking after a brief quiet period. However, I have also seen some musicians and singers commanding such a presence that a noisy room became totally quiet for them without any intervention apart from them starting to perform. I’ve even seen this for quiet unaccompanied singers and relatively quiet acoustic harpists. There does seem to be a star quality some performers have for some audiences. Whether these performers grab the attention of all audiences, I have no way of knowing. Neither am I saying that a performer that doesn’t grab the attention of their audience is not performng well. Clearly, some audiences are a lost cause.

    Perhaps, though, to some extent, it is about the distinction between a performance and entertainment. I have seen many excellent musicians and singers perform to a high musical standard whereas, from the audiences point of view, they had little entertainment value. Being able to play an instrument well or sing well, it seems, is only the first step to capturing and keeping an audience’s attention. I’m sure we can all think of successful performers who had little musical ability but kept their audiences rapt attention (particularly comedians). Another example might be a brilliant opera singer who may have little success in a jazz bar or a pop musician in a folk club. So getting the music genre right is important too.

    In business, there is a common saying that the customer is king. Professional musicians are as much a business as any other and their audiences are as fickle as any customers can be. But customers are customers and businesses that can’t satisfy their customers usually quickly fail, however good their products are objectively.

    One last thought, in a world where accessing music of the highest quality and variety is as easy as switching a switch, the one thing that is missing is interaction. A CD doesn’t relate to its audience. A radio doesn’t allow for interplay with the performer. Only live musicians can engage in dialogue with people they are entertaining, musically or verbally. Engaging with an audience seems to get and keep an audience’s attention.

    Sometimes, after a couple of hours busking, I know it is pointless carrying on because I have stopped relating to the public. Eye contact has gone. There is no repartee. Although I am still playing good music, I’m not aware of them and they are not aware of me. When this happens, I know I’ll make little more money and it is time to stop … Of course, only until I’ve had a rest, recovered my performance energies and the next time I go out again to find and please my audience :-)

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