We’ve been asked to do a free gig (one of several slots) for a smart burger/diner type place here in Yeovil. However, am I contributing to the demise of local musicians, original music and the niche occupied by local professional musicians? It genuinely troubles me – I know professional musicians who want/need to earn money yet there are people like me willing to perform free of charge. Professional musicians take a very dim view of this. Taking on paid gigs is something pretty new for me, so getting on my high horse and becoming indignant that a commercial organisation wants free musicians to help promote itself is not really something that I, personally, am going to be bothered with. I should be happy to play… but am I?

I remember having a debate with someone on a Facebook group a few years ago – he was having a right tantrum about the state of local live music and the low or non-existent fees that venues pay live musicians. My point to him echoes my business ethos: if you’re a businessman/woman and earning your own money then you need to respond to what your market sector wants and then provide the product and service they desire. It’s no good getting upset that the market will not invest in the way you want to sell your service and earn your money!
And, if you’re not able to earn money with your chosen profession, then you simply need to find other work. People who adapt and innovate will prosper. But is it as simple as that?

I’m not going to write a long essay and also I fully acknowledge that I write from an interested, amateur, inexperienced and probably na├»ve position – so I did a bit of research and found the UK Live Music Census 2017 (published in 2018). The keys points I took from reading it:

  • It’s very tough for venues – business rates, parking, access, local authority support, licensing all have an impact on venues being able to support/pay for live music
  • Promoters, large venues and organisers take the lions share of the money… that’s just a fact it seems!
  • Music has also become spread across a wider geographical area and festivals are now taking up a large space in audience destinations
  • And my own assessment: we live in an internet age where most kinds of media are free somewhere – it’s what many people have come to expect.

However, another really crucial part of the census is this: music contributes to the vibe, culture, ethos and spirit of the community and is thus good for the economy. Big cities recognise this and invest in music and venues. But what about smaller towns and villages. Am I not going to going to contribute because I’m not getting paid? Of course not – we love music so there are times when it is completely right to play. Hopefully I’ll get a free burger at this gig…