Garyinla: From your original post, I take it that you are very new to the gigging scene. I sense that you have lots of good intentions, you seem very eager to play and willing to make compromises in order to gain some experience. That is all very good. However weather it's LA, NYC, Boston… you name it, the situation is no different. Everywhere there are non-union musicians and bands willing to work for cheap, and everywhere there are people ready to exploit them.
I started-out like you, willing to accept any condition just to get some "stage-time"
I ended-up fortunately representing a street musician association in my area. From that I learned that if you work for cheap, people perceive you as someone who works for cheap. It's afterwards that it becomes very difficult to scrape-off that image off of you.
There are many people around who have the resources, the contacts and the $$. Keep in mind that these people are businessmen; the less they pay for, the better it is for them. To try to persuade you, they will often tell you that they know some other guy who'd be doing the same gig for even less than what you ask for. Right?
Well fine! My answer to that is that you always get for what your money's worth. I've dealt with street musicians for the past 10 years; there are always too many willing to accept gigs that pay very little to nothing because they are desperate for stage time and recognition… they are still in the same situation after 20 years.
I've played on the streets myself for over a decade. However I have never accepted a gig that pays less than the maximum I can earn in an hour of playing on the streets.
I've met tons of people and have had tons of offers. People offering me to play at their bar or restaurant, in receptions, private parties… you name it. Well, by average I've deducted that 1 out of 10 of these offers are serious ones (The rest was just an excuse to have my phone number) :lol: But approximately 7 out of 10 serious offers end-up not working for various reasons. As for the 3 remaining serious offers, there is only 1 that pays decently.
I'm no professional musician either, I'm just semi-pro and probably will stay like this for the rest of my life. I've got more playing-time at home in the living room with Band in a Box, street playing and at jam sessions, than I have playing-time from actual gigs. I know plenty of the kind of musicians you are talking about. They all want me to join their band - I invite them over at my place for a jam session with me and my friends who are real professional musicians…That usually takes care of the problem as they either end-up: 1) paying me what I ask for or: 2) Never come near me again.
Finally, if you want to be respected, you have to respect yourself first. You alone know what you are worth. It doesn't have to be "union-price" since you are not a full time pro yet, but the price must be somewhere close to that. Yes, sometimes you must make some sacrifices, but learn to say "No" when it has to be, no matter how desperately you want to play the gig. Soon enough you'll learn that not all gigs are worth it. Stay away from amateurs. Surround yourself with the right people. Don't be afraid to be selective. And mostly, keep-up the practicing and the hard work 8)
another thing that I've found works, and I didn't do it on purpose, the more I tell people I'm not available, the more they seem to want me.. go figure.
I've got a lot of "irons in the fire" with the family, day job, indpendent video productions, voice over work, home remodeling projects etc so my playing time is extremely limited. I've been approached by several bands, and the more I tell them I'm unavailable, the harder they come after me. Even if they have never heard me play.
I'm in the same position. I play the blues jams and would love to be able to play full time. Nashville is full of great musicians waiting to be discovered. I just plan on practicing and perfecting my craft to where none of it is an issue anymore. People ask me to play or sit in all the time, and I can't because I have to make money. ICU/ ER nursing pays my bills and if people can't match my needed wages, they cost me money. I go to blues jams on my time off for entertainment and stress release and play for free. Bottom line: You have to feed the goose that lays the golden egg. For me that is being a nurse. I have to pay child support, a house note, high speed internet access etc. When playing the saxophone can give me what I need financially, then I will do that full time. I had an ER doc, who heard me play at a club ask me if I was offered a chance for fame and fortune to move where ever and play, would I do it. I told him I would but I would be sure and have my RN license for that state. I also refuse to give up time that I spend with my children which is every other weekend usually.
Here's a scenerio.
I manage two bands in my area and I am beginning to run into a problem.
It seems that every club owner wants to have a successful band as their personal "ace in the hole". Which means they are starting to demand that we play their club and not the competition down the street. Even to the point of bluntly stating that "If you play there, you don't play here". The conflict is between telling the owner "Thanks, but no thanks", calling his bluff, and possibly souring a good relationship. Or dumping the other gig down the street, tainting that relationship and succumbing to their demands. Both clubs pay well and we are treated fairly. Both clubs are typically busy when we play and we bring with us a large fan base. It is obvious to all that the owners are not suffering financially. It has been mentioned more than once that it is a buyers market and if we are not happy with the arrangement that we are free to find work elsewhere, and that there are scores of other bands that would gladly take our place for less money
I've seen this happen before, not sure what it's all about. My theory is laziness on the part of the club owners. They just want to book "their" band and be done with it. Kind of short sighted IMHO.
You mention that you manage two bands. Maybe you can find two club owners and persuade them to rotate your two bands between clubs? The benefits are that their regulars won't get tired of hearing the same band week after week, and they'll get different crowds of patrons - i.e. things won't get stale. At the same time, the owners won't have to worry about finding the next band, they know you've got one coming in. You might also explore what time interval makes them happy. Rotating on a monthly basis might feel more secure than week to week.
Some recent similar experiences to my prior postings:
"Jam night" advertised on a sign outside a bar/lounge in West Los Angeles. I stop by. I participate for about 3-4 weeks, i am attending only late evening for a few tunes, beecacuse they arent paying me. The house band (who gets paid-- bass, drums, guitar-singer, keyboards) keeps saying "it is great to have you hear, be sure to come back, you play great."
The bartender/manager is always after me to buy drinks. I try to avoid her ebcause i dont want to have to be FORCED to buy drinks (not even one) if I can avoid it at jams. I figure i play well enough i am donating my time-- everyone in the house band gets PAID and i dont get PAID and i play pretty good, so i figure i add value. The least they can do is not FORCE me to buy drinks (not even one.)
Sometimes i bought a drink, sometimes i didnt, once when pushed by her, i bought one for me and one for soemone else, finally one night i said "NO I do not want a drink. I am donating my time playing. I am a professional player and i am not being paid, and there are other jams i can be at tonight, and I am donating my time sitting in with the band, they have asked me to attend. They like my playing." Also i explain that other places in town waive any cover charges and drink minimums if i go there to sit in at the jams.
Then later, the bartender/manager talks to the leader of the band and he comes back and tells me that it is not his decision, he has no control, but if the bartender/manager says that is her rule, that all jammers have to buy drinks, that is the rule.
So then tell the band leader there are 2 other jams i can go to on that night, and if i have to pay to play (buy a drink) at this one, and the other ones i do not, i will go to those. He says it is out of his hands. So i go explain to the bartender/ manager that i am leaving because she will not waive her requiired drink purchase rule for me. She says she has to pay the band so jammers have to pay to buy drinks. I say i am trying to earn a living as a pro musician and if i have to pay to play to sit in at jams, i cannot afford it. I say it is her loss. She says why. I say "because now you do not have a sax player."
Then i walk out and i will not go back because i have set an ultimatum -- if i play at that jam, i will not be FORCED to buy drinks, she called me at it, and now i will not and cannot go back to play at that place.
They have no audience for the jam bceause the jam is not listed in any local music or entertainment newpaper or magazine. I think it is not listed for 2 reasons (1) they dont want to PAY for a listing, (but some listings are free) and (2) the band doesnt want a lot of errant jammers there, they would rather get the money for the gig, have as few (bad) jammer as possible and work on their original material as a band.
So i was one of few attendees (aside from 5-6 patrons playing pool or just drinking or playing darts, who do not care if the music is there or not.
So the bartender/ manager istrying to get ME to pay to buy drink(s) so she can pay the house band.
I am just one of the few people who saw the sign on the outside of the place and decided to sit in and play at the jam.
One guy who has a blues band who is a singer/ guitarist and gets paid to do gigs, low bad gigs in bars and restuarants, re-invites me to :sit in at any his gigs, anytime" (for no money. I did this once about a year ago, he never offered to pay me to play at any future gigs and i never went to sit in since i am not being paid. how many freebies will i give out?
He PAYS the band he plays with-- guitar-vocals, bass, drums and 2nd guitar or keyboard, but then he invites other people to sit in and flesh out the band for no money-- harmonica, guitar, sax, whoever he can get willing to do it who can play ok. so at gigs he has them lined up waiting to play. Everyone said i played good at the time i sat in, but nobody offered to pay me to play on any future gigs.
Antoher guy saw me at jams and said i can be in his house band at a blues club when he runs a jam on another night at another place.
The hosue band has guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and maybe a 2nd guitar-singer. I can be the house band sax player, he says. But he doesnt offer to pay me. I do this once, showing up late and taking breaks when i feel like because i am not being paid.
I am assuming the rest of the band gets paid.
In Los Angeles, at blues jams, generally the money is so low, that sax players do not get paid to be in the house band, they areoptional extra band members who sit in for free. As I said before, i know a guy who has been in a house band in a blues band at a blues jam at a nightclubin LA and he has done it for years and he doesnt get paid, while all the other house band members get paid. he explained to me he does it to get contacts and also to appease the band leader who gives him other paid gigs.
I have not demanded to be paid by these people who invite me to sit in for free. What i have been doing is more coy-- I show up only occasionally, i try to be purposely erratic, and do not stay or play for the whole gig. So far this has not gotten me anywhere in terms of getting paid offers from these people.
If I do not go, sooner or later some other sax player shows up to take my place, to sit in for free. It seems that when i am there playing the other sax players do not generally try to sit in so much,beause it is my territory but if i am gone for 2 weeks straight it seems, suddenly other sax players pop up from nowhere to sit in for free. This is the way it seems to me. The sax players are all looking to make contacts to get paid gigs, so they sit in for free. There arent that many of these sax players doing this in town. Of course established pro plaeyrs do not play at jams or bar gigs so i dotn seem them at these places, but some good working sax players show up sometimse to play a couple of tunes but they dont make a pracftice of it.
The strugglign up and coming serious jazz sax player do not go to these blues jams, they feel it is beneath them since it is blues.
(Not that they have jazz gigs, they might get paid jazz gigs once or twice a month if they are good.)
the club owners or the band leaders, if i show up at jams and sit in at their request, cannot and do not complan or ask me why i am not there later or earlier, or complain too much to me abotu my absences, if i attend erratically, because they all know the score too-- they are not willing or prepared (or maybe able) to pay me, so they have no right to complain about when i attend or how long i stay or when i take breaks, etc.
If i was being paid i woudl make sure to be there early and stay the whole gig and not take any unpermitted breaks.
One club owner is annoyed at me because i generally only come and sit in at the jam and play for free one night, but not the other jam night when it is crowded with customers (it is a zoo then) and not the nights when it is not a jam where she wants me to sit in with the house band (who get paid) for free on the weeknd nights. She cant complain because she doesnt offer to pay me.
It is like a dance, between me and the club owners and band leaders, which is not getting me anywhere. My erratic attendnce does keep me out there for contacts, but paid gigs in blues on sax in Los angeles are hard to get.
It doesnt seem like a good moeny making oppty for me as a sax player.
The working bands i know get paid so little, they do not want to hire a sax player in their paid gigs to spit the gig moeny another way.
If a good sax player wants to sit in for free, maybe that is ok.
LOL, Gary, you sure are a prolific writer if nothing else. I think you once said you were in the legal profession. Well, you can't expect the blues scene to operate with the same set of rules. I used to live in LA, and was active on the blues scene, so let me see if I can help you understand some of what's going on.
First off, LA is loaded with musicians looking to get a foot in the door and willing to play for free to do so. The advice never to play for free only works if everybody else in town honors it. In a place like LA, following that advice will keep you home instead of playing. I've played in LA jams at funky clubs and had guys with Top 10 hit records show up to jam. If they aren't getting paid, you shouldn't expect it either.
The benefits of participating in a jam in a club are entirely yours, not the bar's. You get to network with other musicians, be seen and heard by other musicians who may come to jam or just check things out. The more musicians you know, the better the chance you will meet someone who will offer you a paying gig. Depending on your skill level, you may be having a learning experience as well, learning how to play with a band and practicing soloing and impromptu section work.
The club owner does not care two cents if you show or not, so don't expect them to be greateful. In fact, you need to do whatever you can to fit in at the club and be a welcome presence. This is true of any playing venue. When you hang around a bar waiting to sit in, you're taking up a barstool that could be used by a paying customer. So buy drinks, and tip the server, instead of being antagonistic. They'll remember you when you need a favor from them, like stashing your horn case in the back room. If they get to like you, they may even slip you a free beer now and then, but you can't expect it.
Sounds like you're learning that some band leaders are unscrupulous (sp?) when it comes to bringing musicians in. A lot of them like a horn section on the stand, but as you observe, can't afford to pay one. Get it clear up front whether you're being invited to jam or offered a gig. If you're jamming, show up after the start time, and don't stay on the stand all night unless things are really rocking, you're having a good time, and the band seems to want you there.
You're right, the whole thing is like a dance, so you better learn the steps or you'll be tripping over your own feet.
Most of the club owners do appreciate me being there. THey waive the cover charges, do not require me to buy drinks (unless i choose to) and sometimes give me free drinks. This one club owner did not.
After this one episode where we got into a direct confrontation about whether i should be required to buy a drink or not, i have decided at jams that if someone comes around to ask me to buy a drink, i will buy one drink, it is easier and gets less potentially negetaive attention on me.
I am not looking just to get drink and cover charges waived anyway, so the cost of the one drink is not critical, I am looking tomake contacts for paid gigs.
If there is no sax player in the house band (if they cant afford to pay one) and I am specifically requested to attend repeatedly by the house band, and complimented, and when i am not there the patrons say "where is the sax player" then at some point i become more like a guest performer than just an amateur jammer, and the rules change (or should change?) where any cover charge is waived and the managemetn offers me free drinks rather than making me buy drinks like a regular patron.
In general, I believe ALL of the jammers are of value to the establishment, if they are attracting a lot of non-playing customers to the club (some jams attract a lot of non playign customers, some do not.)
There are all different rules i have seen for jammers at different clubs, some charge a cover of non playing patrons, but let jammers in for free;
some charge a cover charge to PLAy but not to sit and watch (I thought that was strange); some have a cover charge and a drink minimum but waive it for some (and not others) of the musicians.
Interesting topic. Another approach that has worked for me over the years is this: Instead of trying to get hired as a sideman, why not hook up with some like-minded players and start your own band? Do some private parties for friends, some low-pay club gigs on off-nights, etc. A weekly rehearsal is a must to keep it going. Do some originals and plenty of cover tunes. Play as many styles as you can with this band to open up new opportunities at different types of venues and functions. It is WAY more fun and productive to do this with a band then as a sideman. Music is like any other business: If you want to make more $, be your own boss, and it is always easier to run a biz with like-minded partners than solo. Fact is, as a band, you can offer more value to customers than as a sideman. I've always found that my best sideman work has come as direct result of having been a founding member of a band, because once you are gigging regularly people will call you since you are a proven commodity. Plus, think of all the fun it will be choosing the band name, and the outfits, and the business cards, and who's truck you'll use to lug the PA! :lol:
Ask in advance if the gig is paying and how much. If it is not paying, ask what action on your part can make it paying. If it will not pay at all, ask what leads to paying gigs it will generate. Make your decisions based on what your inquiries tell you and what you want to do. If professional opportunities arise, be there early, help set up, help close down and don't be under the influence of anything while there (before, during. or after the gig). Sketchy, brief attendance at jams seems unlikely to lead to gig offers from the group you join briefly for the night as they will not see you as a team player and reliable contributor. If you want to sit in slightly with a group to see about becoming a paid regular, discuss the business plan for such a decision with the band leader in advance.
If the gig is at a business, the business has the right to set their rules for the gig or jam as they see fit. Some business models work well and some don't. You're not in charge of whether a cover charge or drink minimum applies to you, but you are in charge of whether you are there or not.
There are a lot of sax players in LA, I'm one of them. They are easy to replace and cheap to obtain. So, I run my own jazz group and handle the business side of negotiating gigs and paying the players. More satisfying work and more choices are the result. I get to play with people I respect every gig and I get to pick whether to accept the gig. It makes for a very pleasant activity away from my regular professional work. I don't do it anywhere near enough to be my main income source.
Maybe some of these thoughts will help reduce what sounds like a sense of frustration on your part.
"Sketchy, brief attendance at jams seems unlikely to lead to gig offers from the group you join briefly for the night as they will not see you as a team player and reliable contributor"
This is a catch 22, if they do not pay me and offer no indication they will pay me, they cant expect me to have the same responsibilities as a house band member. Generally the whole thing is economic based, the bar bands cannot afford to cut a sax player in on the gig money.
The workign musicians in the bar bands cant afford to divide up the money another way.
But actually, i have gotten SOME gigs out of this sketchy attendance practice.
And there is another sax player i know whose sketchy attendance at jams leads to a lot of excitement and attention when he shows up, but he is a very advanced player. He clearly has a plan where he has decided if and when he attends jams it will be purposely erratic, he doesnt show up predictably and he doesnt stay for very long. Also even when he does gigs he doesnt hang around betwen sets available to the audience. He limits his public appearances. Last time he appeared at a jam i was at, he came in, he played a few tunes, he left, and the club owner was left saying "that is one bad young man on sax" (in a good way.)
Mos pros when they attend jam sessions (if you are local, for example Susie Hansen, who i saw at a couple of jams long ago, she plays jazz violin) are there for only a few tunes, and are in and out and they also try to get announced by the emcee as making a special guest appareance if possible. Then like the Tonight Show, they cant stick around because they have purported other professional engagements they must run to (maybe they do have them.)
I will be holding auditions at ... between the hours of 6 and 8pm. Please reply ASAP with your availability during these hours so I can schedule a time for you. Musicians should bring their equipment (no amps needed) keyboards, bass guitars, jazz guitars, brass/wind instruments (if you play more than one please bring it). Drummers need only bring their brushes/sticks (drummers -playing with brushes is a prerequisite for the gig). Also please bring your Real Books and Fake Books as we will be playing from these, as well as from my charts. I will be auditioning for the recording session and also for future paying gigs that I have already booked. If you are not interested in donating your time for the recording, then please let me know, as I will be giving preference for paid gigs to those that assist with recording. Please get back to me as soon as you can so I can proceed.
***Also...if you are not a proficient jazz player, with credits and a lot of experience in this genre, then please have the courtesy to inform me so as not to waste my time, and especially to waste yours. Thank you very much for your interest in working with me. I look forward to meeting you all soon.
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