Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beer and Sandwiches

 I’ve been playing my melodeon at various clubs and concerts in the area recently, purely for fun. I have just got my first ‘payment’ – ok, it was only beer and sandwiches, but it marked a slight change and it got me thinking how creative people, be they artists, poets, actors, musicians or whoever, get paid and make a living. As an amateur unqualified musician, I don’t expect to get paid for playing. But, as a qualified professional artist (seven great years at various art colleges!), I expect and need to get money for my art work, and equally, as a qualified tennis coach, I expect something for teaching someone to do a topspin forehand.

Whilst arranging my exhibition in Shetland, earlier on in the year, I offered to do a gallery talk for the public. The Shetland Museum thought this was a good idea and agreed to programme it in and I was told I would be paid a fee and expenses. I didn’t ask how much it would be assuming it was a standard amount fixed by the museum. During the hanging of my show I happened to ask what the fee would be. The relevant person dealing with such matters was found and said they didn’t pay anything for artists talks…some discussion then followed! The Museum, as a professional organisation, had chosen me as a professional artist to put on a show. Ok, I wasn’t being paid to show my work, but it is equally accepted that the artist pays nothing towards the publicity or use of the gallery. In the event of sales the gallery takes a commission. That’s the norm. The same professional artist i.e. me, had been asked to give a professional talk because that is what the gallery and public would expect. So why not pay the artist for that professional service? Having presented my case later on I got a call saying that I could put in an invoice for expenses and a fee of £50!

Another instance of getting paid or not for a professional service came about recently when Lois, Jenny Shellard and I went to ‘Cognac Blues Passion’ for the day. The festival takes over the whole of Cognac with free concerts and jam sessions during the day and headline acts (paying) in the evening. Though the concerts during the day are free I am absolutely certain that the performers that are advertised in the programme are being paid because they are professional. In the afternoon we were at a café where a stage had been set up for jamming. We were discussing amongst ourselves the merits, or otherwise, of one performer when a tall guy, who looked like a blues man, started chatting to the girls. It turned out that he was indeed a blues man who had his own group and played in others, and had performed earlier on in the Festival. He had also sat in with the Allman Brothers Band amongst others and introduced himself as Junior Mack. He said he would like to play in the jam session but seemed a bit reluctant as he didn’t have his Gibson Les Paul with him, (one of 6 he owns!). It was back at his hotel - how far away we weren’t sure. We suggested one of the other musicians might lend him a guitar so he asked the guy in charge if he could play. He borrowed a Stratocaster, which I believe isn’t a half bad piece of kit and he proceeded to blow away the audience with some BB King like licks and a great blues voice. Part of his reward was a standing ovation. After he finished he came over to us and said “was that ok?” our answer was “pretty damn good”! Junior also got a free beer and I realised that my situation playing my melodeon as a rank amateur and this super pro blues man were identical. We had both volunteered to play without expecting any money. Junior generously gave the lucky audience a slice of his talent for nothing and seemed happy with his cold beer (it was a hot day) and applause.

Junior Mack jamming at Cognac (click on picture for video)
As professional creative people we can ask for money for our work but when we feel like doing so we can also perform for the sheer enjoyment, whereas a worker in a car factory would not come in to work for no pay. However, we also need to earn some money to pay for things like council tax and diesel and therefore we have to make sure we establish the terms and conditions of employment at the outset. This was something I learnt from my Shetland talk experience.

Maybe I could learn to live on beer and sandwiches but only if they were Fullers London Pride and a black pudding and mango chutney doorstop!

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