[Dixielandjazz] Big Bands & playing on the cheap

TCASHWIGG at aol.com TCASHWIGG at aol.com
Sat Dec 4 13:52:01 PST 2004

In a message dated 12/4/04 9:44:56 AM Pacific Standard Time, csuhor at zebra.net 

> There's a big band (17 pieces, plus vocalist and a sound man) here in 
> Montgomery, AL that I play with--twice monthly rehearsals and maybe 15 
> gigs a year. There are several others relatively nearby, not counting 
> college lab bands, at Auburn, Pensacola, Columbus, Ga., Birmingham, and 
> a new one in Alexander City.I know $ info on only three of them 
> (including us), who play for free (civic/charity events), or  $50 a 
> person (pretty typical), 

$50.00 per man is typically considered "Expenses" which even nonprofit 
organizations understand fully, they pay theirs don't they, and even those of their 
volunteers unless the volunteers are foolish enough to donate the money to pay 
to volunteer.

Volunteerism is a wonderful thing folks, but it has been greatly exploited 
for the profits of many administrators and operators of many (not all) the so 
called nonprofit groups.

Or $100 when we know the hirer can afford it. 

If the hirer can't afford it then the hirer should not be in the business, 
they should be smart enough to prepare a cost expense budget and business plan 
for the event that makes sense and can at the worst have a chance to break even 
and pay all the expenses to put it on.  Musicians and bandleaders need to 
learn when and how to turn down a gig, because it may not be a gig at all, or at 
best turn out to be a terrible one.

Isn't it wonderful to throw a big party or celebration and send someone else 
the Bill whether or not you are competent enough to make it a successful 
> For combo gigs around here, the pay is usually $80-$100.

That unfortunately is about the norm all over the USA because of many of the 
things we are discussing herein and nobody taking the time to stop and 
straighten it out which was years ago purportedly what our AFof M union was going to 
do for the members, but we all know where that has ended in most areas.  It 
sounded like a good idea at the time, but was often unfortunately left to the 
wrong folks to administrate and implement it although they collected dues and 
membership monies to pay themselves for doing the job.  But that has been 
discussed on the list before and their are pro and con union guys and I say if it 
works for you more power to you and I don't hate any of you who choose to remain 
a member or join, it's your money and if you think you will get value from it 
so be it.  You can also join ASCAP and BMI and spend more money chasing the 
illusive dream of fame and fortune.  Or you could just buy a lottery ticket.  
Personally I like the odds better on the lottery ticket and I don't buy them 
either, so I guess it's save to assume I will never win it no matter how hard I 
pray to do so.  :))

There's something in the argument that most hirers can't afford a big 
band at $2400 in our area, so the lowball of $50 has long been accepted 
by our members.

That is simply not true, it is a musical promoters myth to avoid paying the 
people that the paying customers are actually coming to see and hear.   Let 
them try telling the Sound and Light operators union that BS,  or the stagehands 
union, or the stage rental companies for outdoor events, mobile PA companies 
who provide services, they all get their rates folks, Why?  because they won't 
bring the stuff out and pay folks to set it up and operate it for free or lose 
money because the promoter is simply to inept to budget the event correctly 
and set the admission prices accordingly to the public to recoup the legitimate 
costs of putting on the event.  If they are seeking sponsorships and 
donations from Corporate sponsors and or State & Federal grants to put on the event 
then they should budget the legitimate costs of the acts into the financial 

The truth is however in many such cases that they know the musicians will 
roll over and play dead and play for free for the exposure and a chance to play, 
at least those that do not have a big enough name or their business savvy 
together enough to fight for what they are worth.  To do this however you damned 
sure need to know how much you are really worth and can't go overprice your act 
just because it is a big event, that too can drive you out of the gig.   

If you work normally for $100.00 a gig ( 3-4 hours) then don't gouge the 
promoter for three or four times as much money to play the same music on a Sat. or 
Sunday afternoon in the park, just because it is going to have a lot of 
people there.  

Ever heard of a Policeman or Fireman charging by the size or nature of the 
fire or crime, or the plumber charging by anything other than the hour, or a 
carpenter by the length of the board?  think about it. we are selling Musical 
TIME  and we need to establish and know how much it is worth, the better and more 
popular you get the more you can make, but just because you play an 
instrument does not mean you are gong to earn as much as any other musician or that you 
are necessarily worth what he or she makes or is worth.  There is simply a 
lot more to assessing the true value of your services than that.  The sooner we 
all learn how to asses those values and stick to them, the sooner we will 
become successful musicians and bands etc.

Try finding a Heart Surgeon and offering him $50.00 an hour to fix your 
heart, or a Dentist to do your root canal for $50.00.  If we are going to be 
Professionals and expect to be treated like Professionals we have to walk like one, 
talk like one, look like one, act like one, and charge like one, and then and 
only then, by God we can BE ONE.

So be a Whore if you must, but do not take your pants off until you have the 
money in your hand.  :))

Rather go there with the idea of promoting your band and music to "THEIR" 
crowd containing many folks who have never seen or heard of you and your band.  
This is a way of getting paid in the future for what you put into the gig.  
Insist upon publicity and to be included appropriately in all forms of 
advertising so that people get to hear your name.  It will pay off greatly down the road 
for you and help you build the popularity and reputation of your band, Big or 

Look actively for opportunities to book paid or better paying gigs at every 
performance, rather than sitting around sipping beers waiting for the break to 
be over, interact with the audience, pass out the BAND's Card sell CDs if you 
have them.  Cash in on the thousands of dollars of promotion and publicity 
that the chamber of commerce or whoever is putting on the function.  That is also 
very valuable payment for your band, that you are paying for with nothing but 
your time on an afternoon when you don't have a gig anyway or you would not 
be there unless you paid to get in and hear someone else.

If you absolutely have to accept less money than you normally would earn, at 
least make them sign a contract for the full amount you would normally charge, 
you can agree in it to donate back whatever amount you wish as a tax 
deductible contribution to their organization, either as a direct donation or payment 
for promotion and publicity of your band or whatever.  There are many 
legitimate ways to accomplish the same thing without dropping the published price of 
the "WHORE."  Once you start giving it away to benefits and such organizations 
that are in the professional BENEFIT promotion business who always pay their 
own expenses and salaries with your money usually, the only calls you will get 
are to do Benefits.
If you must play for free to build a reputation and a following for your band 
there are many ways of doing it by and for yourself so you can measure your 
efforts and usually take in more money than those who wish to continually 
exploit you for their own bottom line and financial and egotistical benefits.

Nothing wrong with being a WHORE but for god's sake charge sufficiently for 
it and be a good one.  Everyone likes them but get the real thrill out of the 
experience by getting away with not paying them, whether from a legal 
standpoint, moral one or whatever.  Bottom-line get paid or services or something of 
equal value to the services you are providing.

Here and in Urbana, Ill., where I lived for many years, jazz groups 
(mostly modern) have often played for the gate and tips, amounting to 
peanuts, which bugs me but it has become the tradition.

There is nothing wrong with that either provided the band is out promoting 
themselves and making the club owner at least pay for the advertising and 
promotion to attract people to the venue to spend money to keep both of you in 
business.  However the band who is willing to go play at a club for the gate should 
not do so unless and until they are certain that they have enough of a 
legitimate following of fans to come to the club and pay to hear them.

If you don't have such then you are better off throwing a party of your own 
at your house and letting them come there for free, why take them to some other 
guy's business and have them spend their money to buy his alcohol and food 
without his compensating you proportionately or letting you take the cover 
charge.  If he does not promote the event and the fact that you are going to be 
appearing at his club then how can you or he expect to draw enough people to pay 
the overhead for your being there.

It is simple business sense folks, if we treat it like a business it will 
treat us like one if not you will soon find yourself have more fun and enjoying 
it less.


Tom (Show ME The MONEY) Wiggins  and I 'll show you more fun than you can 
handle. :))

Usually you can 
play whatever you want in such situations, and the smallish audiences 
dig it, but as many of you have pointed out, the profession suffers. 
Many players show up at jam sessions for free, again playing what and 
when they choose. I think that's a little different, but I'm not sure.

Charlie Suhor

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