During this busy last week leading up to Christmas, I thought I’d post a bit about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I’ve seen other musicians post about this topic in the past, but felt strongly enough to write about it myself.
I’m mostly prompted by a recent experience that I dealt with earlier this month with my business, Olde Towne Carolers. As you can guess, we are very busy during the holidays and we have many singers out on many gigs most days in December. I won’t go into specifics, but on a recent gig, the client had the singers stay longer, and once all was said and done, refused to pay for the extra time. When I contacted them to let them know that they owed more money for the additional time, they turned it around and said “How sad at Christmas time a $ sign has to be put on everything” – basically trying to make me feel guilty for asking for the additional compensation. And again, refusing to pay the extra money. It was literally only $50 that we were talking about here, so it’s not worth pursuing legal action to try to get it, but I’m just truly dismayed by the entire situation. Why do people seem to think that trained professional musicians should just do what we do for the sheer joy of it? Yes, we love music, we love to sing – that’s why we went into this business in the first place. It certainly wasn’t to get rich. But is it wrong to want to be paid for the work that you do? I can tell you that Christmas spirit is all good and well, but it won’t pay for your car payment. Or rent. Or phone bill.
I’m also surprised sometimes when people inquire into our services and are shocked when they realize they can’t get carolers to sing for their event for $100. Most people are polite about it, so I am not complaining about those people in any way, shape, or form. But there have been people with nasty attitudes in the past when they get our rates and find out it’s more than they were willing to pay.
Let me enlighten those who might not know what goes into the performance you just enjoyed. First, let’s talk about training. Yes, almost all those singers went to college for music to learn to sing that well and to be excellent musicians. Unlike what the media and American Idol would have you believe, raw talent takes you only so far. All the rest is years and years of hard work and training. Many professional musicians, like myself, also have Master’s degrees that also cost quite a pretty penny. (If you knew how much student loan debt I have, you just might have a coronary. And I’m not alone – most singers are in the very same boat.) Those same singers also have to pay for continued training in the form of lessons and coachings to maintain their skill level. And on an immediate level, they had to pay for the gas money to get to your venue to sing for you. Some of them actually drove an hour or more just to perform at your event. And because they were able to sing for your event, it means they weren’t somewhere ELSE working and making money. The time they took to rehearse and prepare all that music? Oh yeah, that was also time when they weren’t somewhere ELSE making money.
And on the business end? Well, there’s the hundreds of dollars spent on costumes – just this season. Victorian costumes do not grow on trees. And music expenses – sheet music also doesn’t grow on trees. And hours of time spent running the business; in addition to the hours and hours it took my mom and a good friend to sew together costumes from all that nice fabric we bought. Running this business is a full time job in itself, but I also sing a lot of the gigs. (And still try to maintain a teaching schedule at the same time. And continue doing the whole travel agent thing.) Should I not be compensated for all of my hard work? I wish I was independently wealthy and could just do this for the pure joy of it. But alas, that is not the case.
If you want good musical entertainment at your event – the really good stuff that your guests will be talking about for years, you’re not going to get it for free. But if you understand that excellent entertainment has value and that the musicians making it happen deserve to be paid for their work, then you will be rewarded with the best performance possible!
As for my singers who did that gig? I will be paying them out of my own pocket, as they deserve to be paid for their time and shouldn’t be made to suffer for the rude insensitive attitudes of others.
Music has worth. Entertainment has value. It brings joy and happiness to the world. The people who make it happen have value and have worth too, and should be paid just like any other professional.