(apologies for the gratuitous The Prisoner reference there – if you didn’t get it, watch the original series, it’s gret. Not the remake)
Do you have friends who play gigs / concerts? Or even read poetry in public, act, dance etc.? Have you noticed how about half of all their contact with you is multi-channel invitations to gigs? Do you perform yourself? Do you find that you seem to spend more time on the marketing campaigns than the rehearsals, let alone the gigs?
Yeah, me too. Too some extent any vibrant cultural scene becomes self-defeating: there is so much on in my adoptive home city of Oxford relative to the number of people who live there, regardless of the proportion who want a full cultural life, that there simply isn’t really enough audience to go round on any given night. The majority of open mike nights are played to the people performing that night, the bar staff and maybe the performers’ girlfriends. (Sometimes not even them.) If you want a decent audience to your gig, you really do have to promote it properly – Facebook event (which most people won’t read the invitations to), emails, text messages, posters, work noticeboards, etc. And it is time-consuming and it is exhausting and musicians don’t on average have any more interest in marketing than anyone else so most of us don’t enjoy it. But it’s the only way I’ve found to get a vaguely decent number of people to anything. Even then it can feel like more of a reflection of how many friends you have and how loyal they are, rather than how good your set is.
But if you don’t, you basically won’t progress beyond playing for free, which if you work hard at your music (let alone your promotion) is frankly frustrating (and makes buying gigging kit a much more questionable invention). You won’t make anything on the door if you’re getting a cut, and if you’re being paid a fee without a door charge and the venue don’t make a lot more money at the bar than they would have done without you playing, the venue won’t ask you back. So if won’t be a marketeer, you almost certainly literally will be a free musician. Also, even free gigs can be empty, and whether money’s involved or not, I have to tell you playing to a nearly empty room is one of the most dispiriting experiences available in any performing art.
All of which doesn’t, I think, in any way diminish the feeling that someone else who isn’t playing should really be doing the promotion and that it’s frankly a stretch for the hobby you enjoy and so do alongside the job that pays the bills to involve you taking up another hobby you don’t enjoy. It can feel essentially like exploitation – that someone, presumably the venue / gig organiser, is using you as free marketing labour. It doesn’t make my feelings about music more straightforward when playing helps my mind but stress and disappointment don’t. But it’s either that or go back to the bedroom jams, unless you’re very lucky.