I really do not understand where this negative attitude towards musicians started, but I am sure that in no other industry would one find this sort of disrespect than in the music industry. I get that some bands and band members have behaved badly occasionally, particularly in the 60s and 70s but is this really what continues to cause musicians to be viewed with sceptism by so many. Other professions like attorneys, doctors, estate agents, brokers, bankers and even the ex-president of our country, are all repeat offenders, yet musicians remain the bottom feeders…WHY?
I’ve had the honour to have performed in most formal venues throughout South Africa with my band, for most of our top 100 corporate companies, at numerous weddings and birthday celebrations over the past 30 years. Many have been amazing and truly beautiful experiences that has filled me with gratitude and still brings me great joy. Conversely, some have been unnecessarily terrible experiences and has taken a large amount of maturity and inner strength for me to get through. What we as musician’s experience is often shocking, disrespectful and downright disgraceful from clients that hire us directly or via event coordinators / music agents.
I suppose many people reading this blog would have hired my band – Sans of Time in the past and they’d be thinking, “But we loved them, and we never treated them anything like he is describing”. This blog is about those who simply treat us badly but was also written to celebrate people like you. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
So why not just shut up about this topic and live with it cos there will always be an ugly side to every industry. Music has not been spared and has its fair share of way too many self-important, opinionated nasty folk. Strangely, most of the time, these nasty folk, know little or nothing about performing, music or instrumentation and if this little blog makes just one of them rethink and reconsider the way they view musicians & bands, then I have achieved my goal. The below scenarios have really happened to my band and I am sure every musician that reads this article with resonate with it to a greater or lesser degree.
Dear Restaurant Manager / Wine Farm Manager / Event Co-Ordinator / Wedding Planner / Music Agent / Hotel Manager or whoever you are that hires musicians)
Here are some simple facts you need to know…
Musicians eat, breathe, drink and do pretty much all the same things you do as a human being – we are the same or similar as far as bodily functions are concerned! I never came here to visit you, I have my own friends…The food and drink you supplied me (or didn’t supply me) is generally not yours – you are only an employee (the hired help) just like me. If you are the client, and have hired me directly, I have included food and drink in my technical rider that was signed by you and agreed upon before-hand. Often, we perform in remote areas and food is not easy to get too. We do pack food that lasts for a few hours, but we are not going camping and neither have you provided a facility to store food, so it makes sense to add it to my technical rider. Suddenly nobody knows anything about feeding that greedy band that’s been here from 10am this morning to setup, sound check, do dress rehearsals and everything else that happens before a gig. It’s now 22h00 and we are starving but the master whom has hired us, is demanding we perform. How dare we be hungry, after all, he is paying us a fortune to be here! I wasn’t also randomly sent to you to steal food or drink, so telling the waitrons in front of me to “watch that the band doesn’t steal food” is just juvenile, downright rude and disrespectful.
Dear Poppie that is the event co-ordinator / arranger of stuff / organiser – Nobody, and I really mean NOBODY, is going to care whether the baby-breathe flowers with extended ferns and the large proteas in that massive orange vase you’ve just placed directly in front of the stage which now completely hides our female vocalist and our guitarist, is purple, yellow or pink. Décor is great and important but please understand that after 15 seconds of entering the room, no one looks at it again. Oh, but thanks for hiding half the band with your amazing décor!
Breaks in between sets
To that same Poppie – We need a 20-minute break between performances not because we are lazy, but because its tiring and takes huge amounts of energy doing what we do. Whilst I do not expect to be seated or eat with the guests, it would be basic courtesy to provide us with an area with chairs where we could sit when we are not performing. Standing from 10am till midnight is not fun. Also, please decide who oversees us for today. Often both the event coordinator as well as the venue manager gives us conflicting instructions.
Why I’m Here
I was hired because of my specific talent and my specific repertoire of songs – We do not know every song in the world and we are not a terrible band simply because we do not perform “Who Let the Dog’s Out”. It is not a song we will play this year, last year and every year for as long as I shall live. I wasn’t sent here to irritate you because we have different tastes in music – It’s not about you and the songs you like or dislike, nor is it about me and what I like or dislike. I’m here to perform to the guests and for the client that hired me. I am not here to entertain you. It’s about those clients paying both of us.
May I also mention that the 70’s is over so I am not a drug addict nor an alcoholic and I promise not to have casual sex anywhere within your venue so you can stop treating me like I might have a disease or as if I’m weird cos I’m actually wearing a shirt, jacket, tie and even shoes.
A Strong Appeal to every person hiring musicians…
Whether you decide to hire musicians directly or via agencies or an event coordinator, please ensure that they have dealt with musicians in the past and whether they have preconceived ideas of how musicians behave. Make sure they love music and people. If you pick up anything to the contrary – RUN.
Consider this – musicians are sons, daughters, parents, grand-parents, uncles, aunts, leaders and followers, but mostly, we have the same challenges as everybody else has. We have bills to pay, loved ones to account too, we hurt, love, laugh, cry, eat and drink just like everyone else does, yet far too often we are still requested to perform for “exposure” or for free! Would you consider asking a plumber or an electrician or any other working person to fix, repair or provide a service for “exposure”? Why is it in South Africa that this kind of disrespect still exists so strongly. In my 30 odd years in the industry, I have been asked on numerous occasions to perform for free. I simply do not understand why and I suppose this is the crux of the matter and is the actual pain that has led to my writing this blog.
So what are you actually buying?
Musicians are the people who help you create your tangible memories that you take with you to your grave. Those warm and fussy moments when you first fell in love, danced with your husband/wife at your wedding, that 1st dance with your mother/father at your 16th birthday, when you danced with your daughter before she becomes another man’s wife, when you dance with your dad at his 60th birthday, when you say farewell to a lifelong colleague, when you celebrate those magnificent business achievements…and the list goes on. So, when you lie on your death bed and your life flashes before your eyes, it’s those very moments that will jump into your mind first when you press replay. It’s those moments you will long for. Can you ever really put a price to those moments…can you buy them back! Throughout our lives, we spend copious amounts of money on so many worthless items that we could recall even if we tried, yet, if I asked an 80-year-old man what the name of the song was that the band played at his wedding, he would immediately tell you.
So, in conclusion, I say this…That musician that some are reluctant to feed at prestigious events, and others feel brazenly confident to pay as little as they could and whom many speak down too and some blatantly disrespect. That musician that makes his art seem easy to execute and you may feel as if he / she is being paid to have fun which detracts and somewhat devalues the skill to the paying client. That musician is often unappreciated as he / she may appear to be unsophisticated, a fun person without a care in the world also making him / herself an easy target for abuse…That very musician has been adding the colour and the sound to your priceless memories. Removing the music from your memories would be like extracting it’s colour and sound.
When you pay a musician, you are buying beautiful memories…its as simple as that.