Local musicians: 30+ years…80% less pay

You gotta give musicians credit these days. Because “making it” as a musician (whatever that means) has never been harder.

I’ve talked to guys who played in bands in the 70’s who said that getting $100 per man for a night of playing – as well as food and drink on the house– was standard.

$100 dollars a man for a band of hardworking pros is still the norm today. Sounds reasonable. But here’s the kicker. $1 today is worth less than 20% of what it was worth in the 70’s. So guys playing gigs in the 70’s were making more than $500 each per night in today’s currency.

Do you know of any profession that has undergone an 80% paycut in the past 30 years?

And that’s just the hardworking musicians in your neighborhood bar. If you look at the bigger animal of the record industry, the guys who end up with so-called “record deals,” they’re not so great either.

Because a “record-deal” isn’t a deal at all. It’s a loan, money given with interest to musicians to create and promote a record. And the artists are required to pay it back.

There’s no shortage of musical horror stories out there. You hear about bands that break up still owing huge sums to record companies. One of my favorite bands from Boston played for years only to lose all rights to their name and their music when their label was shuttered. One of the most famous examples is the Goo Goo Dolls. Though commercially successful now, at one point they had shipped 2 million records without seeing a cent in royalties.

It’s no wonder that Hunter Thompson wrote:

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.

Full-time musicians who live off their craft are today’s idealists. Because they keep doing what they love, despite the diminishing financial incentives and uncertain future of the industry. So let’s not forget this next time the tip jar is passed, or we hesitate to pay a $5 cover when shelling out $12 for a martini is no problem …

And some of these musicians are doing some really creative things to keep that craft going.

Like Shane Hines and the Trance.

Their music is high-energy stuff you’d here on alternative and adult contemporary radios stations. Like many musicians, they have no record deal. So they invited people to finance their band.

And it worked. According their Web site, they raised $34,000, which helped them produce two full-length albums and buy their own 15-passenger van.

This support also helped them get on MTV, as well as an invite to join a live broadcast from the most famous recording studio in the world: Abbey Road (where the Beatles recorded nearly everything they ever did.)

And they are still out there. Playing next month at the Peachtree Tavern in Atlanta. Taking a swing through Tennessee, Virginia, Indiana and Florida. And in-between shows they’ll go through the situations like the one described on their Web site

… we’re in North Carolina and all I have is three dollars and some change to get something to eat. We’re at the gas station and I’m debating whether or not I eat a pack of peanuts and a bottle of water or if I should indulge in a banana and maybe a chocolate milk. All of a sudden Shane says, “Hey I’ve got ten bucks.” Then Mindy says, “I have five dollars…” Bam! Instant upgrade to a Subway 12″ chicken breast, diet coke, and change for a snack at the 7-11 on the way home. Anything you can offer is an enormous help to us and we have great incentives to also show our appreciation.

So here’s to supporting the last idealists out there…your local and full-time musicians.

The gig pays one-fifth what it paid 30 years ago, but that doesn’t keep them from getting out there to make music happen.

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