So, where were we before the severest part of that interruption?
On Sunday afternoon, I did something I generally don’t do in principle: I played a gig for free.
I accept open mics obviously don’t pay, that’s part of the nature of them being open to anyone (including, it would have to be admitted, some spectacularly bad performances!) and equal, friendly experimentation spaces.
But in general, I want to make money out of music. Because if I can’t, I’ll need to go back to full-time employment, ditch a lot of the music I’m doing at present, try and find a desk job I can stand more than the current one … it’s not the most appealing prospect to be honest.
And there’s two ways of going on from there. One is the moral argument that musicians perform a service, you’re actually paying for all the practice time, the learning of the skills, the investment in hardware, the self-promotional activity, etc., you wouldn’t expect a pub to give out free booze for the exposure … all of these arguments can be seen rehearsed with considerable ire on several Facebook musician-finder groups every week. And I agree with them, I’m just not going to repeat them in detail here as they show up so often.
The alternative viewpoint is simply that if I want in general to get income from music, then I will have to not make music available for free (at least not in the live performance form that I want to charge for it), and encourage others to not do so either. Otherwise I will get priced out of a market where too many sellers are willing to sell for nothing (which is already a real risk, especially in sub-sectors like originals bands).
So, coming back to the start, why did I break that rule on Sunday?
Well, partly I had nothing particular better to do with an hour on that Sunday afternoon, and it took very little effort for me to throw a set together (I think I did about an hour’s practice, biked to and from the pub with my fiddle on my back, and played and sang by myself – all very good folky grassroots stuff). And the organisers had lost a couple of acts to illness, and I’m really excessively vulnerable to the white-knight appeal of helping a young woman out of an awkward situation. (Sickening, isn’t it?)
But finally, I am in a privileged position among musicians. In terms of sheer saleable skills, music isn’t the only thing I’ve got. If it was completely impossible to make any money from music, I would still be able to the editing/writing/proofreading sphere, and probably some purchasing and admin stuff too. The reason for wanting to earn from music is chiefly that other options are proving psychologically ill-fitting, not that they are practically or financially non-existent.
And in that case, there’s no point me actually doing music – paid or not – if I don’t enjoy it, or at least if I wouldn’t rather play than not. And every so often, I just need to touch base with that fact when I’ve got my eye too firmly on the next recording or technical slog practice or new song to learn, or I’ve been so exhaustingly searching for work that I haven’t had time or energy left to actually play outside of rehearsals for days. Remind myself that my enjoyment is part of the picture.