I have been a professional level musician for over 20 years, but still need two part time jobs to sustain myself and my family. I have invested thousands of pounds on instruments, equipment, insurance and upkeep, my parents invested thousands of pounds on lessons and examination fees and as a registered self employed musician I pay tax and national insurance on all my earnings through music. If I could, I would be a full time musician, not because its fun (although it often is), but because it’s my skill, my talent, my love – in the same way that a doctor heals, a plumber plumbs and a builder builds.
The level of training and expertise I have reached is at least comparable to other ‘professionals’, yet the perception is that I just do it for fun. I’ve played in venues where the bar staff have been paid more than the band has, even though the wet sales the venue has made has been far more than the door take which the band have had a percentage of and has made the venue a tidy sum on a night which otherwise would be deafeningly silent. Yet we have been expected to be happy with a couple of beers and enough money to pay for the petrol.
As for it being fun, if you have a gig or a recording session and feel unwell, you still perform and are expected to perform to the high level required by either the studio which has booked you, or the crowd who have put their hands into their pockets to see you and you must behave professionally. And it’s not always fun, but it has to look like it (unless you’re Van Morrison of course!) and very few professionals throw diva tantrums if the blue smarties are left in the packet and there are no vanilla scented candles in the dressing room…..
I would love to have the time to hone my craft even more, but I have to work two other jobs to make ends meet, limiting my practise time and leading to exhausting weekends gigging and travelling followed by a normal working week like everyone elses.
I think next time I book a plumber, I’ll tell them I’ll watch them fix my sink, stand back, applaud them, tell them they’re the best plumber in the world and then tell them I’m a charity. I wonder if they’d turn up for the booking?
Don’t misunderstand me – making music is one of humanity’s greatest pleasures and everyone should be encouraged to play or sing. I firmly believe it’s one of life’s greatest gifts and brings people together like no other art form. And I am lucky enough to play at venues and for promoters and festivals who respect my professionalism and show that through the fee I’m paid. I just hope it is remembered that some of us rely on it as part of our income and that should be respected by people or venues making money using our talents. Especially when their profit is thinly hidden under the title ‘charity event’.