Sometimes a professional musician plays music by himself for himself. Today’s live music scene has created a lot of musical masturbation. In just about every town in America, the paying musical gigs have dried up for the past thirty years. Back in the ‘70s, in my small home town in Indiana, there were six or seven places to go every week night for live music and dancing. And what was really cool, there was live country, live rock, live jazz or blues. On the weekends there were at least 14 live music venues, in a small town. When I visit my home town now, there are zero bands playing on a weeknight and maybe three or four places featuring live music on weekends. What happened?
Three things happened. A large group of bar owners saw the liability laws change in the early ‘80s and suddenly they and all their employees became legally responsible for illegal actions committed by customers that had imbibed in their establishment. That group of bar-owners shortened their hours and quit the late night music and dancing scene.
Secondly, disk-jockeys suddenly were mistaken for a one man band. Their talent was basically playing records and talking to the crowd and getting them to dance and have fun…cheaper than a band, and no years of music lessons and practice-practice-practice.
Another huge change was good old karaoke. We stole the idea from Japan. (Kara means “empty” and oke is the short term for orchestra)…Karaoke means empty orchestra. It was immediate fun and not being able to carry a tune in a bucket didn’t mean you couldn’t get up and sing and get applause. Look in your local paper’s entertainment section right now and you will see “karaoke” is everywhere from local pizza parlors to large hotels. It’s cheap, fun and keeps the customers drinking.
So, many musicians, who used to make music every night and make a very good living, have day jobs, possibly teach private music students and hope to play some gigs on weekends. That is the current paradigm for most local musicians in most local communities.
Oh, and the money is laughable. If you see a local bank playing in a restaurant or club, believe me they are playing for peanuts. When you count the time to set up, play and tear down, it’s a minimum wage job, if you’re lucky.
On a personal note, I had three gigs this week that were mind-blowingly different. After taking a few months off with no live music making, along comes three totally different music jobs. Sunday I played keys with three incredible musicians from Fresno and the repertoire was Jimmy Hendrix to Credence Clearwater to The Ventures. On Friday, I played a duo with a wonderful old-timey sax player and the newest tune we played was Hello Dolly. Saturday night it was back with my regular band, Fat Daddy Blues Band, and obviously we were playing the blues, eating BBQ and having great fun.
There is nothing wrong with making music for the sheer joy of using a talent for personal pleasure and sharing it for free with whomever. Just don’t try to steal a painting from a local artist and tell them they need to share it with the world.