[Dixielandjazz] Just when you thought it was safe to be a working musician. (was Big Band re-emerging?)

Elazar Brandt jazzmin at actcom.net.il
Sat Dec 4 05:52:15 PST 2004

[Longish rant, but hopefully fun. If you're not in the mood for it, delete now.]


Sounds like this system would work in a case where people are playing for fun,
but if you're trying to make it fly as a business, it's not enough.

* Decent players won't usually play for peanuts, tips or drinks, especially if
someone else is making anything on the gig.
* Venues and band leaders have to worry about ASCAP-type licenses, insurance,
taxes and accounting costs, in addition to making the music financially viable,
never mind good listening.
* I wish I knew where to get CDs for $1 a pop. Mine were many times that, and
you have to pay taxes on the profits from sales, which must also figure into the
cost per unit.
* Band leaders find themselves in an accounting and legal morass when trying to
collect and disburse money legally. You can't just split the door charge with
the house and then divvy up the band's share among the players -- at least not
in Israel.

My accountant gives me fits over trying to properly handle money I get from
playing, and it's sometimes half my income, and I'm trying to make it more.
Either I have to become an employer, take out taxes from each player for each
gig (and they're often not the same players from one gig to another), and pay
their social security and other benefits, or each player has to have his own
account with the income tax people as a self-employed artist. So the accountant
wants me only to work with the legally self-employed types. Fine. Go try to find
available players who can do the job, who also have their paperwork in order,
because most of them are not making enough at it to make the paperwork and
accounting fees worthwhile. And if I use my students on paying gigs, well,
they're not even pros yet.. Why would they open a self-employment account?

Add a couple of CDs or other merchandise (band T-shirts, etc.) to the mix, and a
couple of player/partners who share the production costs and perform with you,
but don't have their paperwork in order, and you have a veritable nightmare.
Copyright? Royalties? Don't even get me started!

In my case, my partners are students, and not yet liable for income tax, sales
tax, etc. So, on our CDs, I have to pay taxes on my share, but they don't have
to pay on their share. But we each put up 1/3 of the production costs.. Because
they are students and not liable for taxes, I have a legally marginal situation
when I get paid for a gig and then try to pay them.  I can give a legal receipt,
but I have to pay tax on the whole amount. Then I pay the guys, and I don't get
legal receipts from them and so cannot deduct their pay as a business expense.
So it looks like I made the money, which can increase my tax obligation. But it
depends on how many other gigs there are. I don't know by how much until year
end when we do the annual report, long after the gig and its pay are forgotten.

So how about just playing on the street for tips? That doesn't help either. I
don't know anyone else who does, but I report my income from busking. Why?
Because when you're self-employed, and you need a mortgage, the banks look at
what you report and pay taxes on as your income, and base their loan approval on
that. And yes, in my case the amount is enough to make the difference in getting
the loan approved. But technically I am supposed to give a receipt to each
person who tosses a shekel into my hat. So, do I hire a cashier to sit by me
with a computer terminal to process the tips and give receipts? That's what the
government would very much like to see.

Instruments? Oh, you can't just buy an instrument. You have to declare whether
it's "stock" for resale, or "equipment" for business use. I buy used instruments
and rent or sell them to students. Sometimes I find one I like, and I use it
until a better one comes along. Now and then I pick up a deal on a new one. How
the heck do I know at the time whether it's stock or equipment? But it makes a
difference on taxes. Don't ask me how.

Get paid to play when you travel? Or are you traveling to do a paid gig? Which
travel expenses are deductible and which are not? You have to fill out a trip
report and present all applicable receipts. If the trip is international, can
you work legally in the country in question? Can you do a paid gig while
vacationing on a tourist visa? Who cares? The people paying you have to account
for the money. The income tax people care, and maybe the immigration people. It
only takes a clerk wandering into the venue where you're playing to get a drink
after work.

I know of students who have lost their student visas for trying to make a few
extra bucks busking. And the government can lean on the school in question if
they want to as well. I was once turned down for an adjunct faculty position
because the school had had trouble with the authorities over students busking,
and they didn't want a teacher on staff who does it, even legally.

Why are there so few professional players? Because the bureaucratic cards are
stacked against us. No one in his right mind would bother to try to deal with
the system that can so easily come crashing down on you. One false move, and
you're toast.

So why do we do it? It's in the blood? Fire in the bones? Because we're nuts?
All of the above? Who knows? But it sure can be fun trying to make it work. Oh,
yeah, and you have to have a warped sense of humor. But that's OK. I'm convinced
that G-d does too.

Musical content: "Ain't We Got Fun?"

Elazar "trying my best to be legal" Brandt
Doctor Jazz Band
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-679-2537

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Trumpetom at aol.com [mailto:Trumpetom at aol.com]
> Sent: Friday, December 03, 2004 9:37 PM
> To: dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Big Band re-emerging?
> A couple of Monday night big bands that I know of do not exactly get paid.
> The leader sells CDs for $15.00 (his cost $1.00 each). But he buys
> the music and
> equipment. The house keeps about half the cover charge. What little is left
> from the cover charge goes to the band members for gasoline money. The leader
> may slip a few dollars of his own to a few band members. Is it that way in
> other areas too? Does OKOM work like this also?
> Tom Loeb
> California
> www.hotsytotsyboys.com

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