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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Money for Nothing and your Chicks for Free

Last blog, I talked about Amanda Palmer's recent hoo haa in the hornet's nest - caused by her attempt to cadge free musos on her world tour. Could be she's simply not high enough up the rockstar ladder to get away with it. I had the chance to examine the relationship between celebrities and money close up, this one time at band camp...

It was the late '90s and Bryan Adams was on a world tour. In each city he played he would recruit half a dozen models to strut the stage with him in his opening number. At the time, I was working as a cover band singer, six nights a week in Japan. An American model friend of mine invited me along to her casting and a few hours later I found myself stalking along the catwalk of the Nagoya Entertainment Centre in front of thousands of people with one of the most popular rock performers in the world. (I phoned my own band and begged for forgiveness - I'll be a bit late for my gig tonight because, well, I've got a show with Bryan Adams.) Bryan personally made sure we girls were very well looked after throughout, even sitting down with us for a dinner provided by his personal chef. 

After prancing around during 'The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me is You' we were asked to gather on a set of bleachers set up behind the band and just jump around and enjoy ourselves - thus providing 'colour and movement' for the show. The crew were very friendly and one, knowing that I was a professional singer, gave me some headphones. I was now listening to the same live mix Bryan had in his in-ear monitoring system - cutting edge technology at the time. After the concert I told Bryan that I might need a late note for my own show and so he  - along with his entourage, band, crew and the posse of models - agreed to come to my gig as proof of my excuse.  I've got to admit to never being a particular devotee of Bryan's brand of rock but my Japanese band were fanatical about it and we had at least six of his songs in our repertoire. All of which got trotted out in front of our hallowed audience, once the shock of his entrance had subsided (they hadn't believed a word of my excuse until that point). Some of Bryan's band even got up and jammed with us. When we performed his hit tune 'Everything I do I do it for you' Bryan gave us a standing ovation and yelled out, 'you do that better than me!' 

Did I mention how much we girls got paid to work as part of Bryan's show that night? Now I appreciate I am no professional mannequin but even the kosher models felt the same as I did. What we got out of the whole Bryan Adams experience was worth so much more than any dollars or even yen, the thought of being paid anything at all never crossed our minds.

I talked about currency in my last blog - it's not always the hard stuff. Bryan and co. gave us memories (and bragging rights!) far more valuable than any paypacket and at no time did we feel shortchanged for working for 'free'.

When Bryan and his party left my club in the wee hours, they said their goodbyes and glided right past the cash register where bills, including the $60 entrance fee per person, is usually settled.  I tagged Bryan's manager as he left and he stopped, smiled and shrugged, saying, 'Sorry, but Bryan doesn't pay to get in anywhere. Just the way it is.'  As the rarefied atmosphere of the rockstar party disintegrated, I was faced with the ferocious glare of my boss through the club's everyday smoky haze. His finger was angrily stabbing at the - not inconsequential and not paid - bill. 

To give you an insight into my sudden change of fortunes, let's just say that rumours abound about Yakuza-ownership of nightclubs in Japan.  I don't know for sure if that were true in this case, but a lot of my club owner's cohorts were missing their full complement of fingers. My usual mediocre grasp of the Japanese tongue now completely deserted me so I just gaped at him. I then realised my boss had been outside the main part of the club the whole night and probably hadn't even recognised Bryan. I started singing 'I got my first real six string...' pointing at the receding backs of the entourage as I sang. By the time I got to '...was the Summer of '69' I was thanking God and even some Shinto deities, that music is a universal language. And Bryan's star did shine particularly bright in Asia. Some suitable Japanese words tripped back on to my tongue and in no time my boss was clapping his hands with excitement and looking at me as if to say 'Ah, well why didn't you say so?!'  And I still have all my fingers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Want Money to Make Music? Pah!

Hi there,

Indie goddess Amanda Palmer really put herself in it, didn't she? She raises $1.2 million for her tour through crowd funding then puts the word out that in every city on said tour, horns and strings players can perform with her...for no pay. After a massive outcry she has changed her tack but it still goes to show how common that expectation is - you play music, it's fun, so don't expect to get paid for it! Never mind the years of sweat, blood and practice that goes into getting good enough for it to look like fun.  How many jobs could you do that require massive amounts of training and proficiency to arrive at a point where you're good enough to actually sell your skills  - only to be expected to do it for free? Hey I'm in need of a kidney transplant, any surgeons out there free this Friday - there's a slab of Tooheys in it for ya?

I am the first one to demand that people get paid what they're worth but sometimes there are better things than money. When I started performing my own original material, most of the gigs worked like this: a local venue would let you use their stage as long as you promised to bring 30 of your friends willing to pay $10 to get in the door. The bands got paid by splitting the door money. You probably shared the gig with two other bands. The sound guy would need to be get paid, as well as the door person. If you had to pay players to accompany you, you would be lucky to finish the night with $5 in your pocket. Now this is not necessarily about the venue being stingy, it's about market demand. It's very difficult to get people in to see original music, particularly if they've never heard of you. Pubs need punters, so this is their way of trying to make everyone happy and keep their business afloat. 

The problem for the bands is, they're screeching to the converted - their audience is filled with only friends and relos. Well I got jack of doing these kinds of gigs, and my friends got jack of paying $10 to see my band over and over again. How could I play a venue where everything was provided but the door entry was free? So that new potential fans would be willing to take a risk on experiencing my music without having to part with the readies? 

I started a night called PopTarts. It was a series of weekly events that female indie artists could use to showcase new material, network with other artists and sell CDs. It was free to get in, so people off the street weren't shy to pop their heads in and the bands got to increase their exposure beyond Auntie Ethel. As a music artist I am happy because I get to air my new songs at a well organised, publicized event. The pub is happy because there are more punters drinking, which also pays for the sound guy and a bit of promo. Sure the artists don't get paid in cold hard cash but money isn't the only currency there is - opportunity is worth its weight in gold. You use gigs like this to build up a great fan base so that you can put on your own show for which you get paid handsomely. So, playing your music for money? Fabulous. Getting your music to a new audience? Priceless!

P.S. PopTarts' live shows aren't running at the moment but you can check them out in the PopTarts TV Series that ran on TVS and C31. 
The whole series is here:

Keith Armitage runs a great series of similar nights around Sydney called Songwriters Live.