i was asked to play a three hour set of background music for compensation in burritos at a burrito joint on newbury street. this is what i wrote in response. in the email it was mentioned that “[they could] compensate us in the best way [they knew] how…. free burritos!!”
and seriously, i like to write strongly, but this intended to be sarcastic and educational, not cruel. i’m coming from a place of understanding, with no anger involved. just frustration that too few people are standing up for musicians in this sense, and while it references one opportunity in particular, it is in response to the problem as a whole.
and it goes like this:
I appreciate the offer, but you’re asking us to invest a lot of time and on top of that, some cash (taxis, the gear we own for gigging), to perform for free at your restaurant. As a recent music college graduate trying to make a living playing, recording, and writing music, I feel it’s my duty to stand up for music and work to increase it’s perceived value. So check it out, and from here on out I don’t mean anything personally, just trying to get to the heart of why this sounds unfair to me.
A lot of people seem to think that because we musicians are pursuing what we love as a career we shouldn’t have a problem doing it for free.
I perform for free all the time for the fun of the music at jam sessions, charity events, friendly gatherings, etc. And a free meal is always appreciated! But being asked to perform for free by a profitable major restaurant chain during business hours in exchange for a couple of burritos is a logically defunct proposition, and if you were to take that same sort of payment paradigm to other lines of work that require the expensive tools and education that us musicians have invested in, you wouldn’t get very far. This is a common mindset that equates ‘exposure,’ ‘pleasure’ and ‘free food’ as lifelines for musicians. But, like every other working professional, the real lifeline is money, or at least some sort of equivalent trade that takes into account the industry wage and cost of living. Because while your customers are smiling to our jams and thinking positively about your business, your hired band is sharing their craft for little more than a full stomach.
Musical Thursdays is a collaborative effort between musicians and local restaurants to bolster business and create a weekly destination for music. That’s awesome! But if traffic increases as a result, which it surely will, shouldn’t the musicians earn a share? And if your company gains positive exposure while profiting in cash money, why shouldn’t musicians be able to experience exposure and income simultaneously?
We can earn $20-30/hr/musician in tips by busking on the street corner without worrying about the 70dB limit (trust me that’s not very loud) or the musical limitations set forth in the contract, so it’s tough to give up that sort of flexibility for three menu items for three hours of performance time. And you say this is the best way you know how to compensate us… But I doubt that’s how you pay your employees.
I know the world loves and needs music, and nobody feels the addiction more than the musicians who live for it, but it takes a healthy symbiosis to continue providing music for the world. We can’t get by on our love alone. And while I love burritos, burritos don’t love me quite the same as a stable 3 to 4 digit number in my bank account, at least not as long as my landlord refuses to accept a gift card to your burrito joint in exchange for the roof over my head. Musicians don’t love money as much as they love their job, but they certainly need it if they’re trying to afford an education, housing, and who knows, maybe even the occasional burrito.
With that said, I’d be happy to make you an offer – $50 per musician with the option to have a tip jar or $75 per head without. This is cheap for three hours! I’ve played for much much more at other local restaurants but I’m happy to compromise because that’s the only way we can begin building a healthy relationship between the businesses on Boston’s retail avenue who want good music and those hardworking student professionals who can provide it.
Strong tones aside, I mean well. I’m not trying to bring anybody down, I think you’re running an admirable local business. I’m just working towards a better cross-disciplinary relationship. I want you to know that we would love to play, but a bigger incentive is needed to get this show on the road, and I’m sure I speak for all the musicians in the community and abroad. Thanks for listening! I’ve been meaning to put these thoughts into words for a while, so I apologize for the lengthiness.
The Yesberger Band