The Going Rate

For the last few months I’ve been doing solo piano gigs about once a week at the Carmelite Hotel in Aberdeen.  I took on the job knowing that the pay was rather less than the going rate for live musicians (the Carmelite pay £50 for a 3 hour performance) – but given the current economic climate, I considered myself lucky to be getting paid for something that I love doing.  It quickly became apparent that my role was to provide background music for guests and paying customers.  I was fine with this and have quite enjoyed the opportunity to create an atmosphere while people sit around chatting and drinking.  I would bite my tongue whenever someone approached me with a (usually awful) request – Sex on Fire, Mandy, Super Trooper…”anything by Tom Jones”….and resisted the urge to point out that the bar across the road has a jukebox.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to bash out a song or two if you ask me nicely – just don’t stagger drunkenly towards the piano and say “Could you liven it up a bit?  Go and play Gangnam Style!”  You run the risk of physical injury.

Anyway, I bit my tongue whenever that happened.  I also bit my tongue when I had to stand around for half an hour at the end of the night waiting for someone to pay me.  I nearly bit through my tongue when on more than one occasion I’d have to come back the following day because my cheque “wasn’t ready”.  There’s an image that I’ve seen posted on Facebook in recent weeks which draws a comparison between musicians and plumbers and points out the fact that both are (usually!) skilled individuals providing a service.  If a plumber came to my home and did 3 hours of work and then after being made to wait for half an hour I told him/her “come back tomorrow, your cheque’s not ready,” I can imagine what the response would be…

A couple of weeks ago the Carmelite’s manager offered me £75 to play on Hogmanay (that’s New Year’s Eve, if you’re not Scottish…)  I said that I wouldn’t play for any less than £150.  £75 for 3 hours of work might look great on paper, but keep in mind that most performing musicians live on an inconsistent income, have no contract and have to do a hell of a lot of preparation prior to a gig.  Also keep in mind that the going rate for a live solo musician to play on Hogmanay is around £200 for an hour and a half.  £75 is a slap in the face and a complete disregard for professional musicians.  Needless to say, I will not be playing at the Carmelite Hotel on Hogmanay.  Instead, I’ll be with family and friends who (as long as I’m sober enough) might just appreciate what I play.

So, next time you wander into a venue where there’s a musician sitting playing in a corner, remember that you’re ‘getting a free concert and that that they’ve worked hard to provide you with this entertainment.  A simple acknowledgement goes a long way.  And if you’re ever in the position of hiring a musician to entertain other people, please treat them with a little bit of respect.  Oh, and fucking pay them!


7 responses to “The Going Rate

  1. totally with you on this – our fee for hogmanay is over £300 per head plus half a dozen free tickets for the event – £75 for 3 hours is theft or extortion

  2. I agree with what you are saying however maybe the manager doesn’t know the going rate and with you playing for £50 for three hours he thinks this is correct. He then offers time and a half for Hogmanay, which to his other staff may be reasonable. You need to let him know the correct going rate (& what you’re willing to play for), along with the cheque to be picked up at the start of your shift or no playing. If you’ve accepted lower up to now, it’s harder to start crying out for minimum wage later.

    • It’s a fair point. However, the manager is well aware of what the going rate is. I’ve spoken to him about it as have several other people who have played there in the past. It’s not a case of him naively thinking that he’s being reasonable – it’s about him paying as little as he thinks he can get away with. This is why there’s such a large turnover of musicians at the Carmelite, and why I wont be playing there again.

  3. The entire live music scene has been wrecked by “open mics nights” and even to “pay to play “….and like so much else in life audience expectations have been dummed down to a level where all they want to hear is some celebrity dreck..meanwhile musicians who actually want to think and create are becoming more and more isolated.

    The one bright spot is that the generations which are growing older, do respond to good live music …if you can get them out of their houses…expensive drink and inefficient managers and bar staff wont do it..I am convinced there is a large and growing audience out there, its just not being tapped into. Down here in Moffat, musicians have put together something called Moffat Music Live putting on our own gigs…and selling out [financially and not musically!!] every time.

    There will always be a market for quality live music – it seems theres no use relying on third parties to supply it for you anymore. However, there was no “golden age” where there were enough good gigs for every musician who wanted to play..its a tough game…which is sad as many good musicians just arent that tough.

    Right…thats Dave’s soliloquoy for 2012…music – remember its meant to be entertainment..even the Blues.

    • A soliloquy very well put! I’ve found that there seems to be a greater effort at pooling musical talent outside of the city – Woodend Barn being a good example. I think Aberdeen suffers from a combination of having very little to offer, culturally and an overwhelming sense of apathy on the part of its residents – which is not to say that there aren’t people trying. The Sound Festival is really quite impressive in the standard and variety of artists that it attracts – it’s just embarrassing to see the poor turnout at those events. It’s a sad state of affairs when people would rather sit at home watching the X Factor than experience quality live music happening on their doorstep.

  4. Hey man, I used to do the exact same thing for Gary at the Carmelite, except I performed the three long hours for £40! Needless to say there aren’t many people willing to play for that long, and get messed about, for so little cash.

    • The sad thing is that people will still perform there because there’s virtually nowhere else for them in Aberdeen to play – especially if you’re a pianist. It’s not always easy making a choice between trying to earn some much-needed cash and retaining your integrity.

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