It’s been an uncommonly busy period for a band that normally gigs so occasionally that our typical performing schedule could be plotted on a chart of geological time (probably showing fossil remains of Plaedagigghan Noephuccasaurus). In an unprecedented burst of activity, we’ve actually gigged every week for the last month (the strain being so much for Paul that he had to take a holiday…) and, in an even more unusual turn of events, we’ve even been paid. Twice.
Really, I think that there may have been a distant roll of thunder as I typed that.
I’ve been examining my thoughts on the issue of payment for musicians – fans and regular readers of this blog will be no strangers to regular examinations of their heads – prompted by the coincidental appearance of stray groats in the Layers coffers and this meme that’s popped up recently on Facebook (and probably lots of other wordless social media streams used by scoffing touchscreen technorati that think blogging is so last century)
I feel able to comment on this particular comparison because in both the fields of plumbing and music I’m a barely competent amateur but willing to have a bash for free if it makes my friends happy. I’m going to examine both sides of the argument.
Firstly, I don’t think that it’s a terribly fair comparison. For one thing, calling out plumbers after 6pm is overtime. I know a few plumbers, sparkies and other allied tradespersons and most of them get up at the crack of dawn and work their arses off. Secondly, playing music is fun. That’s why you do it. I’ve done a few minor plumbing jobs and, although I like helping out friends and manual labour makes a nice change of pace from my everyday life, I couldn’t describe it as fun. I had to call out an emergency drain guy a few weeks ago for a backed up sewer and I have to say, that looked a very long way from fun. You see a guy playing guitar in a wedding band and can bet he’s not thinking “I wish I was up to my elbows in other people’s shit.” Thirdly, if you think a plumber’s too expensive, you can’t replace him with an iPod and have half the people at your party not notice the difference. Finally, a plumber doesn’t expect to be applauded, told he’s great and to have the pick of the single women at the, er… drain blockage.
OK, time to stick up for the musicians.
I’ve written before about the issues around being paid for music, as have others who are actually professional musicians. I wouldn’t for a second denigrate the efforts of the people that I know who make wonderful music and take it seriously enough to dedicate their professional lives to it. I went to see my friends The Black Feathers put on a show a couple of nights ago and there’s no way that they should be that good and stony broke from it. Go and see them, they’re heart-stoppingly wonderful.
The thing is, a wedding band is the thing that you have to do as a musician to pay for the music that you love to make. The people who moan about the cost of a wedding band are, like the musicians, victims of a screwed up system of values. We live in a world that’s been tricked, bullied and manipulated into thinking that it’s stuff that matters: shiny gadgets, logos, brand names – that the only stuff worth paying for comes from some shiny Hollywood-high-tech dream factory. Somehow, walking around the corner and putting a few quid in a hat to see wonderful local musicians is a waste of a couple of quid but staying in and paying a premium rate phone line to vote for a warbling, melodyned twat or a dancing dog on the TV is value. Or as my friend Brigid observes, 99c for an iPhone app that makes fart noises is value but 99c for a well-crafted song is a rip off.
We’ll put our hard earned gig money into recording our new album. We’re lucky, though, that we’re able to make music purely for fun. We have jobs that we’re good at and we get reasonable recompense for them. The music’s a hobby – any of us in The Layers would be amongst the first to admit that when you listen to us, you’re listening to amateurs. If we were plumbers, when we finished a job at your house you’d flush the crapper and water would probably come out of the light sockets. We could only expect to get paid for that if you were planning an avant-garde dinner party and in need of a conversation piece and we’d have to gracefully accept whatever payment we might be offered. That’s about how we market the music. If you’re a crap plumber, you don’t expect to become minted for fixing a Khan’s khazi or a billionaire’s bidet. If you’re a crap wedding band then you’re ripping people off by gouging them for a couple of grand on the most expensive day of their lives.
Professionals who do a good job deserve to be paid a fair rate for what they do. We choose a trade, we choose how much work and practice we put into it and we have to accept that demand for our services may vary. There should always be a chance for a good plumber or a good musician to earn a living wage but that won’t happen in a society with such a messed up set of values as ours. We can help, though. Next time that you go to a bar and see a great band for free, offer an extra quid for the CD or offer to pass around a hat for the musicians. Every pound in the hat is a pound less in Simon Cowell’s pocket, for a start. If we all work together, we might bankrupt the smarmy wanker and he’ll have to become a plumber. There’s no one I’d rather see groping around in a U bend.
Tales from the recording studio soon – we hope the new album will be available for Christmas. It’s six thousand quid a copy. What’s wrong with that?