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Is Jazz Worth It?
Old 12-23-2010, 07:57 PM   #1
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Is Jazz Worth It?

My trio had a firm gig of every first Friday of the month at a nice restaurant with a piano, but when I called to confirm, the owner said that the other partners are considering discontinuing the music, and the gigs are up in the air.

This kind of thing is the major source of stress in my life, and I'm just not sure it's worth it. I'm essentially playing for free (the pay usually doesn't cover the car expenses), and as a musician, I'm usually treated as a second-class citizen (calls not returned, pianos not tuned, etc.). I quit the nursing home gig because they wouldn't even keep the piano tuned.

Just venting.
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Old 12-23-2010, 08:05 PM   #2
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Your story is a familiar one around the bbbamI abode.

The running joke is if they get a gig at a coffee house...any coffee house, it goes out of business. The last gig DH played paid $150 (for each musician); when he got home the check wasn't signed. We're still waiting on a new check to be sent...hopefully signed.

He puts up with so much crap...but he keeps on playin'. He loves music.
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Old 12-23-2010, 08:17 PM   #3
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I know of "rehearsal bands" that just rehearse once in a while and build a repertoire, evolving over time. If a special occasion or a good lead comes up, they'll consider doing it for free or for pay, depending on the gig. Expectations are low or nill, but it keeps them playing.

BTW, to me, the restaurant not keeping the piano tuned (where they use you to build their business) is different from the nursing home where you might be the bright spot in many residents' lives. I can live with an out-of-tune piano in that situation. Maybe a tuner can do it as a charitable deed.
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Old 12-23-2010, 08:26 PM   #4
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IMHO, jazz is worth it. You love music as I do. Perhaps it's time to find a different way to express your musical soul T-Al. I know you got the music in you and have been very generous to give your gift to others. I really like that about you.
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Old 12-23-2010, 08:29 PM   #5
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Just doing the math for a restaurant (4 musicians X 150)/ 25% profit margin = 2,400 in gross sales for break even. So an owner could question if having a band brings in that much additional revenue.

Maybe the people on the board can come up with some creative ideas to make it work for the owners and the band.

My suggestion would be barter. Suggest to the owners that if they give you x$ in his restaurant gift cards your band will play for one night. You then to pay for you then need to barter them for car repairs or such or sell them on Craig's List.
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Old 12-23-2010, 08:56 PM   #6
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My son works as a theatrical sound designer and picks up extra gigs to set up and run live shows, from small theaters to live bands in small venues. Sometimes the pay barely covers gas and lunch. Once, the check bounced. When it's a charity event he knows his work is his donation but it's painful when you work for pay and the pay is barely worth it.

Finally, for Jan-April 2011 he has good paying contracts with a reliable college theater department. Each round trip costs him about $7 in gas but that will save him more in mileage deduction off of his business income.

Al, I bet that if the music disappeared the diners would miss it. Many restaurants have recorded music but a live band is so special.
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Old 12-23-2010, 08:59 PM   #7
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Instead of live performances, would there be more satisfaction/revenue in recording tracks and releasing them on the Internet, even on iTunes/

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I quit the nursing home gig because they wouldn't even keep the piano tuned.
Dumb question, but did they know it was out of tune because you asked them to tune it?

I wouldn't be able to tell if a piano was out of tune until it was waaaaay out of tune.
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Old 12-23-2010, 09:20 PM   #8
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Unless it's a fairly high-end place that is serious about the music, I doubt you can expect them to keep the piano tuned and in good shape. It's just not a priority for them.

With the quality of the electronic pianos these days, I think you need to count on bringing your own keyboard/amp.

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Old 12-23-2010, 09:31 PM   #9
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My trio had a firm gig of every first Friday of the month at a nice restaurant with a piano, but when I called to confirm, the owner said that the other partners are considering discontinuing the music, and the gigs are up in the air.

This kind of thing is the major source of stress in my life, and I'm just not sure it's worth it. I'm essentially playing for free (the pay usually doesn't cover the car expenses), and as a musician, I'm usually treated as a second-class citizen (calls not returned, pianos not tuned, etc.). I quit the nursing home gig because they wouldn't even keep the piano tuned.

Just venting.
Can you take a break for a few months? Maybe after a break it will seem to you like a lot more fun.
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Old 12-23-2010, 11:51 PM   #10
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No, jazz isn't worth it. You gots to switch to da blues.
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Old 12-24-2010, 09:33 AM   #11
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Playing out means staying up past my bedtime, dealing with drunks and druggies (and that's just the other band members), playing "Sweet Home Alabama", which you probably don't have to do on a jazz gig, and generally being an animatronic juke box.

Though for $150, I might do it. Not for $50.

I cure my music jones by writing music in MIDI, then practicing/jamming along on guitar. No drunks (well, maybe ONE), no lugging of equipment, no getting home at 3am, and no Skynyrd...
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Old 12-24-2010, 09:59 AM   #12
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Dumb question, but did they know it was out of tune because you asked them to tune it?

I wouldn't be able to tell if a piano was out of tune until it was waaaaay out of tune.
Correct, the activity director says she's "tone deaf." The piano is not only out of tune but has other problems (with the damper, etc). I actually would pay for the tuning myself, but I got ticked off with the director's attitude (a curt "it's not in the budget").

My feeling is that even people who don't notice that a piano is out of tune will still notice that things sound better when the piano is in tune.

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Just doing the math for a restaurant (4 musicians X 150)/ 25% profit margin = 2,400 in gross sales for break even. So an owner could question if having a band brings in that much additional revenue.
I agree, and I think the restaurant is going out of business. In this case, the math is 3 musicians * $25 plus 3 "bar" meals. I know, pitiful. Plus I have to drive a total of 60 miles. That's how it is out here in the boonies.

But the thing that bugs me is that the owner had committed to those gigs. The drummer had to give up another gig because of our commitment.
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:08 AM   #13
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Dunno. How about for ragtime.

My old haunt about 25 or 30 yrs ago, was called the Stonehouse in Orangeburg NY. Was an old stone building with three foot thick walls. Great acoustics, especially after a few. Can't remember the food, rarely ate there.

I think the building is still there. They had a ratty old upright piano, some players used to bring their stroboscope to tune it their liking. One exception was a fellow originally from Belize, he just tweaked it bey ear, if he felt like it. Once in a great while, if a picky pianist insisted, the joint would spring for a piano tuner, their tune only lasted until one of the regular players re-tweaked it.

A good time was had by all, the tip cup was never overfull but used to make it worth their while. About three or four different piano players worked the joint for many years.
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:11 AM   #14
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and I think the restaurant is going out of business. ...

But the thing that bugs me is that the owner had committed to those gigs. The drummer had to give up another gig because of our commitment.
If the restaurant is truly "going out of business," chances are the owner is even less pleased than you are.
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:18 AM   #15
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Correct, the activity director says she's "tone deaf." The piano is not only out of tune but has other problems (with the damper, etc). I actually would pay for the tuning myself, but I got ticked off with the director's attitude (a curt "it's not in the budget").

My feeling is that even people who don't notice that a piano is out of tune will still notice that things sound better when the piano is in tune.



I agree, and I think the restaurant is going out of business. In this case, the math is 3 musicians * $25 plus 3 "bar" meals. I know, pitiful. Plus I have to drive a total of 60 miles. That's how it is out here in the boonies.

But the thing that bugs me is that the owner had committed to those gigs. The drummer had to give up another gig because of our commitment.
It is more of an urban thing, but a good piano player with a pleasing personality can do pretty well in a busy piano bar. He has to like interacting with the customers, and know a lot of standards. The pianos have appeared to me to be quality, and kept repaired and in tune.

It is a wonderful atmosphere for the cuctomers, who tend to be happy and relaxed and reasonably affluent. And people go to these bars 'cause they like the musician and atmoshere. Nevertheless, my favorite downtown one closed during a hotel remodeling and never re-opened, and I wonder if some of the proliferation of Happy Hours is that more people would prefer to drink more for less, than to hear Misty played for their companions.

Ha
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:18 AM   #16
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In this case, the math is 3 musicians * $25 plus 3 "bar" meals. I know, pitiful. Plus I have to drive a total of 60 miles. That's how it is out here in the boonies.
Al, at $25/night plus a "bar"meal, minus the cost of gas, it sounds like you are not doing this for the money so much as for the fun of it.

If playing this type of gig becomes annoying or no fun, then one wonders if it might not be a better idea to play for free at places that appreciate you.

Alternately, maybe you could take more one-time gigs like at parties and such, instead of regular gigs where they begin to take you for granted. (?)
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:39 AM   #17
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It is more of an urban thing, but a good piano player with a pleasing personality can do pretty well in a busy piano bar. He has to like interacting with the customers, and know a lot of standards. The pianos have appeared to me to be quality, and kept repaired and in tune.

It is a wonderful atmosphere for the cuctomers, who tend to be happy and relaxed and reasonably affluent. And people go to these bars 'cause they like the musician and atmoshere. Nevertheless, my favorite downtown one closed during a hotel remodeling and never re-opened, and I wonder if some of the proliferation of Happy Hours is that more people would prefer to drink more for less, than to hear Misty played for their companions.

Ha
Last time I went to a dueling-piano bar, after the patrons were adequately inebriated, the entertainers starting playing one college group against another, in this case UT, TAMU, and OU. I'd bet they collected a couple thousand dollars playing school fight themes, based on the tip volume...
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:43 AM   #18
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Al, at $25/night plus a "bar"meal, minus the cost of gas, it sounds like you are not doing this for the money so much as for the fun of it.

If playing this type of gig becomes annoying or no fun, then one wonders if it might not be a better idea to play for free at places that appreciate you.

Alternately, maybe you could take more one-time gigs like at parties and such, instead of regular gigs where they begin to take you for granted. (?)
Yes, that's pretty much my plan at this point.
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Old 12-24-2010, 10:46 AM   #19
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We went to the Sacramento Jazz Festival this year with an Elderhostel group. They had Big Momma Sue do a program each morning, she brought Eddie Ericikson and Chris Calabrese. We learned a lot about the business of jazz, as well as much history and the musicianship behind it.

Based on what I learned the best route financially is to do local party & event gigs. The festival's don't pay much at all, a loss if you need to travel.

She has developed relationships with event planners as in her area. For your group I would add wedding planners.

There seems to be a big difference between what I think of as an 'entertainment group' such as Sue's, or singers like Rebecca Kilgore vs a jazz trio/quartet. An entertainment group commands the attention of the audience. If musicians have a wedding reception gig they are in a supporting role.

Your group needs to figure out what you like to do and who would pay enough to make it worthwhile. Keep the group small enough to be affordable for your customer. Sue appears to work with one other musician, two at the max.
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Old 12-24-2010, 11:46 AM   #20
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I agree, and I think the restaurant is going out of business. In this case, the math is 3 musicians * $25 plus 3 "bar" meals. I know, pitiful. Plus I have to drive a total of 60 miles. That's how it is out here in the boonies.
And that's how T-Al has no taxable income.
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