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!