Open mic nights at clubs are a perfect way for beginning musicians of all kinds to get a chance to break their cherries so to speak, to see what it’s like to play in front of people and to play with others as well. They provide a great opportunity to gain experience in front of a supportive crowd that is usually made up of friends, friends of friends or people who do not care so much about musicality and appreciate people trying to do their best. I have played at many. Often it is out of convenience.
As clubs are hiring live music acts less and less I would also like to point out that open mic nights can indeed be detrimental to professional musicians as they give clubs free entertainment and no reason or inspiration to hire or pay musicians who actually play for a living. Club owners are getting packed with people who are buying drinks and food and the musicians get nothing. They are basically pimping out beginners and keeping all the cash. They tell us they are “promoting us” and this is the exchange.
These same people that want us to play for free while people eat their food and buy their drinks would not come to your party or event and supply food, beverages or energy to “promote themselves”. It is a one way street.
The owners, managers and promoters have figured out that we musicians are so hard up to play that we will play for free. But I think this needs to stop. Saying we play for love is true but since they know this they exploit this.
I understand that the entertainment,restaurant and night club industry is struggling and it is hard to keep a afloat. Most places don’t last and go out of business. At the same time I do feel strongly and believe we need to support live music much more. The people asking us to play should also find a way to pay us for our time and services. It is a fair exchange and the way our country runs.
The more we play for free, the more people are going to think they do not have to pay us. It will continue until enough of us put a stp to it. It means speaking out and educating people.
Most of the time they will be surprised. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for what you think you are worth. They are going to be taken by surprise because they thought you would come for free. This is where you get a chance to nicely educate people. Explain to them about your music, your instrument. This is the education part. Many people don’t know that your conga drum is not a “bongo”, or that your djembe drum originates from west africa and not from a drum circle.
I am a musician, I practice, I put in hours just like any other musician. And if it is your profession, don’t be afraid to tell them so. Think about this and see how you relate to this information. We al have chances to explain what we do, what the music is about. we can do it in simple ways, too.
I recently was asked to sit in for a drummer at a west african dance class that was being taught by someone “not of the culture” the dance and drumming was from. I say “not of the culture” because I believe that when we are not of the culture we are all students.
When I asked for gas money the teacher said she was not willing to pay! All I wanted was gas money. She wanted me to drive a total of 90 minutes, play and lead the drummers and do it all for free. Meanwhile she get’s paid! I understand this is how she makes money, pays the rent. But I also feel like she needs to understand that with out the drummers and good drumming there is no class. At least not a good one. Find a day job and pay the drummers properly if you have to.
Or put out a tip hat, at the end of class explain to the students who don’t know what we do, what we put in to it and ask the students to leave tips. They will! All it takes is communication and someone caring.
I do go to traditional dance classes and play for free as they are a learning experience and I do want to help out those who are from other places and have mastered their art form. This is all they have, there are not other choices for them.
I am not in it for the money and at the same time, there does need to be a respect that i feel is just not there sometimes. And because people know we are not in it for the money, because we drum or play music out of love, they take advantage of that fact in what I feel is a greedy way.
We need to not only respect the music we play, the instruments and other people but we need to respect ourselves as well. Please dont be scared to ask for what you feel you need or deserve. And if people are not willing to pay or respect you then play somewhere else.