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The Decline in Gigging Opportunities....

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by KJung, Sep 27, 2006.

  1. Just thought I'd post this in a thread in case anyone is interested in discussing.

    I've been gigging for about 30 years now.. about half the time as a full time player. I freelance, and now mostly do the high end corporate/wedding/private deal, and I slum a little bit in the clubs playing small group 'jazz/funk type' gigs for fun as many of us do.

    I started out playing professionally right at the final end of the big band era in the freelance/society circuit. Even in the late 70's, the very high paying society type gigs and corporate gigs were still filled by big bands (i.e., 18-21 piece bands with full horn sections, etc.). I had the pleasure of playing many of these gigs with the 'old timers' at the end of their careers.

    Around that time, the generations shifted, and the 5-8 piece 'pop' group took over most of these gigs (there was a very uncomfortable time that maybe some of you older players remember, when the big band leaders would hire 'small pop/rock break bands' to play 'contemporary music' during the breaks at these types of gigs).

    I remember the older guys being truly confused at why anyone would pay top dollar for a 5 piece band when they could have a glorious big band for about the same money. Of course, being one of the young guys at that time, I thought they were clueless and laughed at them.

    Well... I'm not laughing now. The 'generational shift' has happened again.. this time from 5-12 piece 'funk/rock' dance bands to high end DJ's. My wife and I just got an invitation/notice to attend what is probably the 'social event' of the season in Detroit... the celebration of the opening of the refurbished Detroit Institute of Arts. BIG time society party, and in the past, the top 'society band' in town would be playing the gig. This time, they are bringing in one of the top DJ's from New York. I found myself thinking, why would anyone pay a DJ the $10,000 or so that a gig like that would pay to get one guy with a record player:eek: . Ha! Who do I sound like!!!!!!:rollno: :confused: ... I'm as clueless as the old trombone players in the 70's who couldn't figure out why all the gigs had dried up.

    The agency I work through has seen massive decline in bookings, and almost total elimination of the high paying corporate gigs that were the bread and butter gigs over the last 20 years. I'm talking about the agency going from 400-500 gigs a year to 200 or so gigs a year. Massive decline:meh:

    When you combine this with the club gig scene being reduced to 'kids playing on weekends' or 'part timers having fun' for $75 a man in most cities, it's pretty grim. I'm lucky enough to have a great day job, so it's more depressing to me than it is a significant issue.

    So my point... not quite sure. I guess the main point would be to STRONGLY urge young players considering a career in music to consider doing something else. I really feel sorry for the talented young players today. When I was 21, I was literally playing 340+ nights a year (I'm not kidding... 6 nights a week on a steady house gig, and then you'd pick up some Sundays!). Now, if someone plays 100 nights a year, they brag about it!

    I guess this only relates to the professional, full time players out there... but are most of you guys seeing the same thing. And, if you are and are playing full time... what's your plan?
  2. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    I was doing 5 or 6 nights a week in the 60's and 70's playing rock. We made a MINIMUM of $125 a night for each player. A $500 week was a slow week in 1971. That was equal to $2500 a week in 2005 dollars. I will let the reader do the math to figure out what kind of annual income that is, but the only thing I ever did that paid better was software development for the New York Stock Exchange.

    Dicso (usually on LP, 45 rpm records, or cassettes) played over loud PAs, killed that. There were/are funk bands doing disco, but they were much less common than the PA driven clubs. :rollno:

    Now it's DJs and Karaoke. While audience tastes do change, the fact is that corporate america and smaller businesses are all wanting to do what ever makes more money. Music is not important to them in any way except to get customers or serve a social function. They want to pay bottom dollar to make their clients happy, and technology has allowed them to save money by using DJs and Karaoke. All obvious enough, I guess. :scowl:

    A 5-piece rock band was cheaper than a 21 piece big band, and was the new fashion. Disco was the new thing, and then DJs and Karaoke. Bottom line is that if people don't desire live performance instead of novlety music out of a can, full-time players will suffer because those doing the hiring will race to the bottom for a buck. :rolleyes:

    Is there hope?

    Yes. I believe that revitalizing music education in the schools, and including lot's of vernacular traditions (Jazz, rock, blues, soul, country, bluegrass, salsa, rap, folk, etc.) will rekindle people's understanding and love of real performance. Meanwhile, I am teaching school. :D
  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I think that in 10 years, the current crop of DJs, laptopists and Abelton/MPC button pushers will be complaining that they're being put out of business by AIs hooked up to 15th generation ipods that can sense the mood of the crowd and pump out perfect music to match it in real time.
  4. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    AI is dead.
  5. cheezewiz

    cheezewiz Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002
    The biggest difference I've noticed is the "length" of gigs. When I was "breaking in" in the early 80s, at least half of my band gigs were Wednesday through Sunday gigs. Now, almost everything is a one nighter.
  6. Poop-Loops

    Poop-Loops Banned

    Mar 3, 2006
    Auburn, Washington
    Could it have anything to do with more bands popping up? Instruments are getting cheaper. Yeah, you probably can't gig with a $100 Squire, but you can buy that Squire to see if you like to play in the first place.
  7. I've noticed this change too, even within the past few years. A few years ago I'd be getting the 4-5 night engagments and now unless I'm touring I rarely play weeknights. I'm booked solid on weekends though.
  8. Unfortunately no. Per the above posts, gigs that pay a 'living wage' for a professional (depending where you live, $150-$400 per night) have become pretty much a weekend thing. When you consider that there are less than 100 of those weekend nights (when you consider holidays and traditional 'slow' weekends when there are very few gigs), you can do the math and see that it is now pretty much impossible to make a living as a 'side man'.

    Interesting post on pay also. The typical pay in the Midwest for a 6 night a week gig in the late 70's was about $80 a night, and usually included dinner. That would be about $250 or more a night today adjusted for inflation. Even if there were still a significant number of 6 night per week gigs today, the pay would be significantly lower than that.

    Also, on a side note, if you can play, you can gig with a $100 Squire. While I'm a gear head, the high end gear I have has very little to do with me working as a semi-pro player at this point. I enjoy the great tone, and I must admit that some of my fellow-musician's do notice that, for some reason, my bass seems to sound better than some other players who work in my 'circuit'.
  9. cheezewiz

    cheezewiz Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2002

    I think just the opposite. In my experience, there were significantly MORE bands in the early and mid 80s. There were SO MANY more venues to play back then, the "scene" could support more bands. Just in my little town of 20,000 or so, there used to be at least 3 or 4 bars that regularly had bands. Now, there is 1, and that is only on weekends. I stay busy playing the corporate/reception/fraternal club circuit, but if I were doing straight bar gigs (which is what I did for a few years recently), you either have to travel quite a bit, or settle for 2-3 gigs a month (if that).
  10. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    I must admit, that after playing professionally since '92, I'm considering quitting. I've lost the "love" of music for the"need" of money. The dog eat dog mindset of the musicians as well as the pressure is not good for the health anymore. I've played for some names, but I've lost work for being "too good." Another thing is I haven't practiced in 4 years. I've spent my time learning piano, and doublebass. Although I know several well known producers that don't play a single instrument. Logic and pro-tools are their instruments. Live, it's all backing tapes and DJ's. I have seen musicians treated as an extra burden because they had to take up more space, due to the instruments.

    but the scene has definitely changed.
  11. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    I think we need to remember that the drinking age was lowered in many states during the Viet Nam war in the early 70s, and then raised bit by bit during the 80's. That really affected the bar scene. :ninja:
  12. +1... and also the DUI thing really had an impact on bar traffic (not a bad thing for society at all... but a bad thing for gigging).

    Also, the pop music today is much more complicated to pull off live than the pop music of the 70's. With all the samples and massive overdubbing, etc., it's pretty difficult to generate a reasonable cover of many of the tunes getting airplay today (at least on the dance side). Combine that with the fact that the last few jazz fans have now gotten old enough that most won't even consider coming out to a club on a weeknight for a 9pm start time, and you have a wonderful recipe for the continued decline of these types of gigs.

    That decline in club gigs has been happening for many years, and club gigs long ago became less of the mix in most professional's playing calendar. What is quite shocking and relatively recent is the decline in high paying casual gigs (corporate, weddings, etc.). That was the last area of playing where a full time player could scratch out a living, and actually do quite well if he/she also has a full time teaching gig or a LOT of private students during the day.

    I guess a secondary discussion regarding the above is college music programs... especially jazz performance programs. I wonder if they are communicating all of the above to potential students. I bet not:rollno:
  13. pklima


    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Could be a very widespread cultural trend as the same seems to be happening in Poland. I'm not a full-time pro but the ones I've talked to often say that things aren't as good as they were in the 90s or during Communist times. It seems to have gone from "you can make a really great living" to "you can make a living". I know pros in top-level corporate bands or rural wedding bands (where tradition is stronger and change slower) still make more than the average annual income and way more than minimum wage but few of them make more than I do in my day job.

    Right now many Polish musicians make a living by heading out of the country for cruise ship gigs, "bars for foreigners" in Arab countries, restaurant or hotel contracts in Western Europe etc. Our average annual income here is about 1/3 of what it is in the US so this is still a good deal for us. I also take advantage of that by releasing my recordings on Western labels and selling 99% in Western countries.
  14. I don't think I know any pros round here (I'm not one, incidentally) who don't supplement their playing income with teaching.
  15. Hello! Interesting to hear about situations in other countries. It sounds like there is still a relatively good gigging scene where you live.
  16. It really makes me sad when I'm on gigs with very good younger players. Some of these guys are just amazing sounding, and only in their early 20's. They are in the uncomfortable position of being too young to really think about the future, too good on their instruments to 'not do it', but yet entering the scene at a time when there is really no way to make a living. I am more worried and concerned about the guys who are going into debt and getting a music degree versus just younger players who are trying to figure out what to do and playing some gigs.

    I just can't imagine getting out of school with a music degree and being thousands of dollars in debt, and then trying to get a teaching gig (if you are lucky enough to have a teaching certificate), or heaven forbid, try to make a living gigging with a 'jazz performance' degree. Whew!

    It's a tough situation. You don't want to bum anyone out or crush their dreams, but you sure do want to warn them about what's coming down the pike.
  17. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I screw around with sequencing and sampling at home for fun and I'll sometimes pick up the rags that cater to this market like Future Music and Computer Music. In the interviews with the DJ/producers many of them talk about "expanding" into using live players and gush about how it really takes their music to new places. Doh :meh:

    We're definitely in a transitional period for music and it's anyone's guess how it will turn out. In the meantime I'm hedging my bets by working in as many genres as I can, maybe one of them will survive :help:
  18. The main cause of all this is the decline in AUDIENCE. There are fewer and fewer people who are interested in going out to see live music, both at the local and "national recording artist" level.

    Actually, there are fewer people who are interested in going out AT ALL. Sure, the early-twentysomethings go out a lot, but everyone else stays home. People have so many entertainment choices now, many of which they can enjoy without leaving the house: TiVo, Internet, video game consoles, MMORPGs.... The Internet allows people to have social interaction without leaving the house. Parents used to have frequent "date nights", where they leave the kids at home, but that's declined too.

    Why go out and see a band in concert when you can just watch a DVD concert at home in high-definition and 5.1 surround sound?
  19. +1.
  20. baba

    baba Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2002
    3rd stone from the sun
    To add another step to this evolution, I've been to 3 weddings in the last couple years where the iPod replaced the DJ. The last wedding used an iPod for DJ duties between sets with a live funk/rock cover band.

    The groomsmen all were very proud of the money saved by preprogramming sets of music.