Taken from an advert for an extra band member:
Unpaid at start. Once we get some money, we’ll split.
Of course I know what they mean. But a significant number of musicians alone, let alone anyone else concerned with musical organisation, seem to think it’s terrible to want, or need, to make, or indeed make at all, money out of playing music. Recently someone left a Facebook group for dep/session musician adverts in a bit of a huff, after being told the group was there for paid gigs rather than seeking extra members for his amateur orchestra (which I think is a fair distinction, and there is not a shortage of facebook groups where unpaid gigs and amateur orchestras can be advertised), with the wonderful words:
In that case I’ll leave. I enjoy playing whether I’m paid or not.
Now I enjoy playing whether I’m paid or not. But I have yet to find that bus and train companies will accept my enjoyment in lieu of hard cash when I wish to buy tickets to, say, travel to a rehearsal or concert I’m playing. And I have yet to find that enjoyment will enable me to do without food for protracted periods of time (in fact, being type 1 diabetic, if I tried to do without food for more than a day or so I would probably be in a coma not enjoying anything).
Of course this is partly the English embarrassment about talking money being vulgar. But it’s also to do with some vague notion (actively supported by people that want musicians to play for free) that practising an ‘art’ is its own reward and therefore there is no need to pay for it. I asked a showcase organiser recently (whose ad was a bit vague) ‘Any fee?’; he replied ‘No, no fee, just the chance to play your music in front of a great audience for free!’. It is frankly bizarre that any performer or craftsperson should be interpreted as meaning ‘Will I be charged to do what I do?’ rather than ‘Will I be paid?’
I don’t say this often, but I do somewhat respect hip-hop culture for not pretending its artistic ideals (somewhat odd as they may be) are compromised by earning high incomes from music or considering commercial considerations when creating. If you’re minded to argue that this is not the pure flow of the art that compels you to create whether you wish to or not and that nothing should detract from absolute godlike creativity, please consider that the vast majority of Mozart’s entire collected works were commissioned (and he miserably failed to make a living without some kind of musical day job); and that Bach was always employed as master of music to one aristocrat and his chapel or another, even the Brandenburg concertos being written as an application portfolio (he wasn’t hired).
Give us a break here. Lots of people have hobbies that look similar to jobs, from builder-like DIY on upwards. It doesn’t usually compromise the expectation that if you get a skilled, experienced professional to do work for you, you pay them as a professional not a hobbyist. Most of the explanation for why it’s difficult to get paid as a musician is down to market economics in a crazy imbalance of supply and demand (which is why, if you want to make money, learn the viola); but let’s none of us try and pretend that’s justified by late-Romantic ideas about music being different to any other craft or trade that can also be a pastime.
By the way, ‘filthy lucre’ is also what we’re going to call the Filthy Spectacula merch stall. Of course …