For a few years in the mid-1980s, I played in a pop music cover band in the Windsor/Detroit area. It was a lot of fun, and we actually made a reasonable amount of money. We generally played anywhere from four to seven nights a week, and our weekly take-home per member was about $300. In 2010 dollars, that comes to $621, which amounts to over $30,000 a year (in addition, most of us were also teaching and doing other gigs to supplement that income). In those years, there were a dozen or more pop music (“Top 40” in the parlance of that time) dance clubs in the area, so the work was plentiful and reliable.
By the late ‘80s, the clubs, the weddings, and casual gigs were more and more dominated by DJs, so the work was drying up. At that time, stories were being told of “clubs in LA” where bands were actually paying the clubs for the opportunity to play there. I don’t think it ever went that far in the Windsor/Detroit area, but it seemed to me that the live music scene that had prospered and thrived in the previous decade was on the decline. So, bands were now paying to play and DJs were playing recordings at weddings. The world seemed upside down to many of us. I didn’t think it could get much worse, but I was wrong.
JazzEd Magazine (May 2011), reports that, at a recent concert, the Boston-based Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra actually offered to pay one dollar to the first 50 people who showed up! We used to complain often about jazz groups ruining the market by undercutting the bands that were already established. In this scenario, to undercut, you’d actually have to overpay.
Let’s hope that no other ensembles engage them in a wage competition–if any of the attendees, I mean employees/subcontractors, make more than $600 per year attending concerts, they’ll have to issue them a 1099 form and the IRS will have to create a new job category for “concert attendance.” (Would shots of Jägermeister then become an allowable “business expense”?)