One of the things I’ve noticed in these months is that there isn’t actually much of a market for freelance musicians.
Yes, you read that right. The thing is, being a freelance player or singer implies someone else is going to organise a group of some kind – either a temporary one that will include you, or a longer-term one which you will temporarily be added to or cover for someone else in.
In harsh economic times (certainly for musicians of all stripes), margins are getting squeezed including among the middle(wo)men. Which produces a greater desire for musicians to organise themselves and just provide a ready-to-perform product, because they probably won’t charge extra for the time spent sending emails, organising rehearsals etc. which you’d have to pay an admin assistant to do otherwise.
The same factors (plus, on the classical side, some complications to do with orchestras tending to change from employers to co-ops) mean musicians are leaving their seats empty to be filled by deps less and less. Bluntly, they need the money and the reputation for commitment and reliability. And hiring extra hands is an extra overhead that is generally avoided if there’s any way (including more conservative repertoire choices) of getting round it.
So there’s not much work for unattached individuals. The jobbing musician struggles, quite genuinely, to find work.
The work goes instead to the prepackaged standalone acts. They might be soloists of course – guitarist/singers, background music pianists, singers/sax players/violinists/etc. who use backing tracks – but the point is that they provide a single point of booking musical services. And the more they can provide, the better, hence the increasing number of bands that will DJ between sets, acts that own their own PA so they only need a venue to provide power sockets, ceilidh bands that will also do generic party/function music after the called dancing wraps up, etc. etc.
Of course standalone acts are an investment. They have to be rehearsed and promoted; recordings (audio and video) made, photos taken, websites and business cards made, clients and client agencies contacted and impressed – there is a lot of paying in before the project is likely to pay out. And unless you do go down the solo artist route, you can’t really go anywhere without a varying number of other people on board.
This is somewhat daunting, and succeeded in keeping ideas about forming a money-making group (to alleviate the lack of freelance pay going) at a pie-in-the-sky level for – well, about seven months.
However … behind-the-scenes work on putting together a string quartet now seems to be paying off in taking real shape. There’s a lot to do (and it often makes me feel tired already!), but the potential benefits are big and there’s certainly no point wussing out now. Watch this space for when we have anything fit for public consumption!