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We asked Australian jazz/blues singer/bassist
and band leader, John Leigh Calder
to answer the following question...

John Calder

June 2010

What's wrong with the music work scene in Australia?

by John Leigh Calder share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

When I was asked to write an article for this website I thought to myself what would be a good subject that most musicians could relate to? The subject that sprung to mind was the live music working situation or the lack of work musicians are faced with today particularly in Sydney.

The subject that pops up when musicians first meet seems to be that there is not much work around, the question is whoís to blame. I suppose the fact that there are so many other entertainment options for people to tap into today explains in part the reason for this.

When I first started playing in the early 1960s there were no computers, electronic gadgets, DVDs, good eating venues, varieties of sport programmes just to name a few and life was a lot simpler. Also relative to the cost of living musicians money has not increased for over 20 years in fact in some cases it has decreased not to mention a lot less work on top of this. Over the years the music industry has become a real business and for a lot of artistic and creative people this is not a natural blend to try to cope with being creative and on the other hand running a business. However, we must not forget why we play music, which is our passion and drive. I donít know anyone who started playing music to make money. The first time most musicians heard the wonderful sound being created via their instrument they knew this was something they were compelled to follow and improve upon.

I run a regular group these days in Sydney and have found that most of my recent work over the last 10 years has changed in many ways. The main difference I have found is there are fewer agent bookings around these days. Most of the work I get is by direct contact with the venue owner or manager. I think band leaders or musicians in general should give more information and publicity to the venue re posters, gig guides, facebook, emails etc. Letís be honest the venue is not going to do this in most cases. As most of us cannot afford to pay a manager we have to try and take control of our own situation more and think a little bit more out of the square in terms of getting work. For example we could look at local councils, market places, theatres and running our own events possibly by co-operating with other musicians and groups and selling a package to these type of potential clients. This might sound a little too much work but sometimes this is required to move forward. By doing things collectively it is easier to sell a package, this is sometimes more beneficial than doing this by yourself .

Recently I was walking past a small venue in Surry Hills and the manager was putting up an advertising board which included live music.
I chatted to him about the possibility of playing at this venue and he asked how much we would charge? I gave him a standard costing and his reply to me was that he had a deal with the local music institute and they could send him musicians for under half my price which would mean around $50 each. I replied how much would it cost for a plumber if the beer taps stopped working and in doing so hopefully rested my case.
Young musicians entering into the music working world I believe should not work too cheaply as they will never increase their money further down the track but only make the working scene a lot worse. It is human nature to not part with more money when things have been provided for less. If you set your goal higher you can always come down a bit, but on the other hand it is harder increasing your money once the mould is set. I believe in this instance musicians would be better off running their own nights and having a door charge. At least this way they are in total control of their own destiny and can build it up them selves. I remember as a teenager in the 60s we ran some of our own bookings and because we were doing it ourselves most of the time they were a success as we did more work towards this booking than simply relying on the wage at the end of the night, the band members having more of a vested interest in a successful performance.

I do believe the live working scene could be better if musicians thought a little wider as to where they could perform instead of thinking that they must play where every one else wants to perform; make your own hot spot. I think younger musicians coming through should take on this approach even more, also the music colleges and conservatoriums should not only teach music but also educate musicians who want to be professional on the realities of the music work scene and how hard it is to survive in what is a very tough industry. It is a very competitive environment and musicians need to not only master their instrument but also market their talent to achieve the maximum benefit for all.

Being an artist today is increasingly difficult in an age of consumerism. The public have so many temptations to indulge in and with the commercial world of sponsorship, tv advertising etc. it is hard to compete for an audience. However, creative artists should keep on track because without us the world would be a poorer place as music is the universal language.

John Leigh Calder

© 2010 John Leigh Calder

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