Have we lost all hope?
I was having coffee with a fellow freelance musician friend of mine and we were talking about the business at the moment. Having to drive long distances, playing less than musically satisfying gigs and getting very little money for the pleasure seemed the theme.
I chalked up my feelings to maybe having done it for so many years and …well..just being tired and a bit grumpy. My friend however is 20 years younger than me and felt the same.
This led me to ask the question what happened to the world we once inhabited where playing and touring was a pleasure not a chore? I remember looking forward to turning up to a gig and discovering new life-changing music.
Now I feel after a day of playing the same music week after week (more often than not the ‘popular classics’), playing for sometimes around 50 people in the audience and coming home with about £60 after expenses at the end of a 12 hour day (including travel etc) really demoralised.
So what’s changed?
It has been widely written that audiences in the UK seem to be of a demographic which to be frank, are dying off. Our pay has stayed roughly the same for 30 years and touring is reduced to the basic amount of time on the road so no overnights etc. Those problems have been there for a while and as much as we bemoan lack of money and audience I can’t see us getting a pay rise in the current economic climate and with dwindling audiences so what do we do?
I was speaking with another friend who said they enjoyed going to see a ‘popular classics’ concert but what spoiled it for them was the bored expression of the orchestra players (they were close enough to see it.) Yes people come away from those events happy and that is after all why we are there in the first place. I just can’t help but feel how much more excited they would feel after a performance where the musicians were actually enjoying and really getting into what they were playing. Perhaps all we need to do is play music we are really excited about and the knock on effect will be that our audiences become engaged along with us and grow to love the music as we do and our income will grow as well from this increased popularity of concerts. Easy right?? I say ‘all we have to do’ but in the meantime we still have to pay the bills and it will take some convincing of promoters and the orchestras themselves that programming works other than the ‘popular classics’ is really a good idea.
Getting a day job?
This brings us to an almost taboo subject which many non-musicians may find hard to understand. It has been in the past death to your career if you admitted having another job other that teaching to supplement your playing income. Somehow it was a sign that you weren’t dedicated to the profession or that by taking another job you were somehow ‘failing ‘ and not a successful freelancer. Actors do it all the time and it’s not seen as a bad thing so why is it such a bad thing to us?
Just to throw it out there but perhaps doing other work not only gives us other aspects of our lives to explore but it also frees us up from having to take playing work we don’t want to do to pay the bills and lets us bring out the more creative side of us which led us to becoming musicians in the first place. Maybe by not doing those gigs we would be fundamentally happier in ourselves and with our craft.
I have seen friends of mine start their own ensembles in their local church and turn a few gigs into a flourishing concert series because their enthusiasm for what they are performing translates to their audience and keeps them coming back and bringing new people with them through word of mouth.
Maybe by freeing ourselves a bit financially we can get back to what hooked us on to music in the first place…new musical experiences, spending time with friends…taking our new found enthusiasm on the road to experience new adventures. Those things are still possible and maybe the classical music world will get a new lease of life. It just may mean changing the way we look at how we work and patience to make it happen.