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The cost of our art


November 30, 2017

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It’s nearly midnight. I’ve been enjoying a live music session at GeeDa’s Table when the artist for the evening, 19-year-old Juliet Muldrew, steps away from the mic and asks if I’d like to sit in for the last song or two. After we sing a couple, she finishes up the set, and we begin to chat as she starts packing up. “I’ve got to be at work at 5 a.m.,” she tells me. As we talk more about what she’s up to, I hear a familiar story.

 

 

For me, it’s a few writing gigs, bartending, constant marketing and involvement in professional productions at performing arts venues, as well as the occasional church service, wedding or community event. For most, it’s a full-time job, rehearsals on the weeknights, and shows on the weekend. For Juliet, it’s an early morning clock in after a late night of performing. When it all boils down, there’s a sense that music must often takes a secondary place in the lives of local musicians. Regardless of skill or talent, there’s always been the unwritten understanding that artists must “pay their dues.” I have no idea who came up with that idea, but I’d like to kick him in the shins.

 

While it’s true that hustling to make a name for yourself as a musician builds character and weeds out the truly dedicated from those chasing a fleeting whim, it’s also true that there is some genuine talent being overlooked, underpaid and under-supported. There’s a conundrum in this digital age that we are beginning to see. More and more people are being told they have the power to live their dream, and technology makes digital music production and marketing available to even the greenest novice. The market is becoming saturated with musicians. Young hopefuls are putting their best foot forward to start a career, older folks are trying their hand at pursuing a dream they have long buried, and retired hobbyists determine to finally do something with those skills they honed over the years. Perhaps it’s because it’s my job and I intentionally surround myself with musicians, but it seems the number of musicians aspiring to make a living with their art grows every year — which only makes the challenge greater.

 

Is it possible to stand out in the crowd? Can a would-be musician actually earn a living in this market? Each year it gets harder to actually make a living as a musician. The average pay for a four-hour show is $100. At first blush, that seems like a pretty sweet deal. Twenty-five dollars an hour is a nice little paycheck. But wait, what about the hour it takes to load in and sound check, or the hour to tear down and load out? Alright, $17 an hour still isn’t bad, right? Of course, there is also the mid-week rehearsal time. That will take at least two hours. Plus, we have to include the individual rehearsal time. Let’s assume our musician is really talented and only needs an extra hour or two per week. That leaves our musician at $10 per hour. The final blow to our musician’s hourly wage is the time spent promoting and scheduling. In order for a band to be successful, they not only have to keep a crowd, but more and more venues lay the onus on the band to bring in a crowd. While that backwards concept is one I’ll likely address in a future article, we’ve now added another four hours per week for marketing on social media, e-mails and websites. Leaving out other considerations and assuming that this is an average amount of time invested, our musician is making about $7 an hour — hardly a livable wage for an adult with a household to support.

This is the cost of art in our area. Performers work tirelessly for the love of their fans and their art. So where does all of this leave venues and patrons? Well, that’s easy. Venues who want to support local artists need to be willing and able to pay more, especially for artists they believe are a cut above the rest. Venues can’t support artists if the patrons aren’t there for them. As music lovers, we simply must be willing to make the small effort to get out and support the music we love. I won’t tell you that music will die without it. That would be a lie. Musicians are a rare breed who have no choice but to share their  passion, and they will do it wherever and whenever they get the chance. However, part of what makes Statesboro a wonderful place to be is the talent we have in this town. We can keep those talented performers here with enough support. When we show up for concerts and live music in town, “the powers that be” take notice and provide more opportunities for those talented folks to share their gifts. When we attend shows, interact with bands and artists on social media, throw a twenty in the tip jar, and invite more friends to follow them, artists feel the support and gain the momentum that helps them continue in their path. Whether it’s a hashtag or an article or a one-on-one conversation, “Support local music” is a phrase that we should all get behind in order to make the cost of our art one that we can live with.


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