Actual financial outlay for a session?

Actual financial outlay for a session?

Greetings all,

This is my first post to thesession and I hope this has not been previously discussed…I did do a brief search and couldn’t find anything like it.

I am interested in proposing a regular weekly session to a pub owner and would like to know from some people with experience what sort of broad figures to suggest to them for possible outlay and expectations.

Now I fully realize this could vary wildly but any potential numbers could be of assistance in proposing a session.

I am thinking a hundred a piece for the three regular hosts, and drinks for the regular session players is not out of line to ask for a session that runs from 9:30 until whenever they decide to close…(Canadian dollars)

I don’t know how unusual that sort of thing would be for a pub where there would be "session hosts" as opposed to one with more regular community musicians and alas that is a fact of life for some regions, but anything one can do to encourage or promote this music is IMHO a good thing.

Sadly but typically, many publicans treat the "session" as just another form of entertainment for their patrons and not a gathering or exchange for the musicians or in any way a form of community building experience…I am sure some do, but my experience of at least pubs in this city has been that entertainers are viewed solely as a way to put arses in chairs and beer down throats and the session, sadly is no different. Therefore, in trying to cultivate a new session, one seems to have to balance the need of the pub owner to feel they are making a lucrative decision (sigh) with still keeping the feel and community of it right.

Anyone who has some real experience in dealing with publicans first hand and knows some of the actual figues that they have had to outlay for instance on a typical session night or are prepared to put out depending on the size of pub, or anyone else for that matter please feel free to add two bits.

Cheers

Peter in Edmonton, AB, Canada

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

I don’t think I would expect the owner to pay for anything other than free beer (not mixed drinks) or coffee to the musicians. Afterall, they are providing a space to play in. I play in 4 or 5 different sessions and I have never heard of asking a pub owner to pay anyone to run a session.

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I always buy something from the place where we have our session. At least one pint if not a sandwich as well. It would seem strange for them to give us stuff for free when they are already giving us space to play for free.

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We charge about £120 for three or four of us, but that is cheap, maybe it should be about £160, which is $80 American each. But we pay for our drinks and such.

What you need to work out is "how much is the owner making".

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The last paid sessions I did were much around the same as what bliss quotes - varying from £25-£40 per player. That was about three or four years ago. For me personally, I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of phoning round players every bloody week for such a pittance when it’s only a fun hobby really, so nowadays it is arranged that every player gets free drinks. That makes for a more cohesive session. There is no resentment between paid and non paid players, and I don’t have to run around arranging stuff.

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It depends on what the pub owner expects. For a performance, my usual rate was always $100 per man, and that would be about the same whether it was an hour or four hours, since the charge is more for blocking out the night, loading in and setting up, and tearing down at the end of the night. The music you got for free. If I were a "session host" and was expected to be there every week, I’d maybe knock a few dollars off of that since there’s no sound to deal with, but everything else is the same. For anyone who’s at liberty to play or not, to show up or not, I’d say the polite thing is for the bar to stand them a few beers, three or four in a night, but no pay. For the bar, that’s cheap entertainment, assuming their clientele actually likes a real session, with all of the unpredictability of quality and quantity of music and all that.However, the main benefit is that it’s a good way to keep the scene in your bar, so come the weekend the musicians are ready to play there and the patrons are coming back to hear a real show, with prepared material and all. You probably don’t make a lot of money off of a session on its own, and you don’t lose much of anything either.

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It’s going to vary from situation to situation depending on the local market.

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McEwans the brewers put some seed money into organising sessions in Scotland and presumably they have worked out their figures based on what works for them - some info at http://www.tmsa.org.uk/mcewans_sessions.htm#musicians

Two friends who have run pubs both quote me the rough rule of thumb for paying musicians in pubs that you aim to take three times what you pay otherwise it isn’t strictly worth doing

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Thanks for the replies thus far folks…and that was the other big question…which of course varies from market to market which is how much can the publican expect to take in. How much does it increase their sales on a given night after the costs of musicians and their drink have been factored in.

I had guessed that the barman would stand about what people have suggested anywhere from 3-6 drinks and you could have a slow night of 3-5 players or a big night of 8 to 10.

Thanks for the McEwans link, mactavish I will check it out.

Peter

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

There are some pubs (there’s one in Bristol) which provide food (typically sandwiches) towards the end of the evening for the session. Such pubs usually provide meals and snacks for general customers during the day and perhaps during the early evening. The financial outlay must be quite small because the pub is able to use up food surplus from the day which couldn’t be used at a later date. Musicians will always be buying drinks throughout the evening, anyway.

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"I don’t think I would expect the owner to pay for anything other than free beer (not mixed drinks) or coffee to the musicians. Afterall, they are providing a space to play in. I play in 4 or 5 different sessions and I have never heard of asking a pub owner to pay anyone to run a session"
Really? You’re getting robbed.

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For five years, we had a session in a pub that gave us a place to play and a free drink twice a year: St Patrick’s Day and at the Christmas party. Then we spent five years trying to find a regular place for a session. One place resented us taking up tables where paying customers could sit, one was a pizza parlor that wanted us out by 9:30 pm. The last one was the back room of the establishment and we could hang out there until the rock band was ready to do their sound check.

The new pub (part of a small chain) opened a little over a year ago. After the five years of frustration just to find a spot we were thrilled that the owners were so willing to offer us time and space to play once a week— so we were astounded at the first session when they informed us we would also receive $200 each week plus a $100 tab. We had hinted at a free drink and a plate of sandwiches….

Hosts rotate - we have two per week who split the cash. Everyone gets one free drink and the rest of the tab pays for snacks- fish and chips, curry sauce, a vegie tray etc.

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

either getting robbed or nobody admitting they’re paid to be there!

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Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

I find it amazing that pubs in the middle of nowhere are happy for a mid-week session on their quiet night, especially in the middle of winter when no one is around, but think they can shelve the same session in Summer, because they think they can suddenly turn it into a gastro-pub.
And then there are occasions when the session gets cancelled at short notice (or they don’t even bother cancelling it) because some clowns are kicking a ball between two sticks.

An ITM session isn’t just for Christmas!

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Germany vs Wales(?) last Wednesday - I counted all of two people actually paying attention to the screen - for that about ten musicians had to divert without notice (i.e. we all turned up expecting tunes as normal…)! Thankfully we found some nice guys with a half renovated cellar round the corner and had good fun session all the same - sadly though some people had already gone home disappointed by then..

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Doesn’t this depend on the purpose of the session? If it’s as entertainment for others and increasing revenue for the pub then I suppose it’s legitimate to get paid/drinks/food etc but equally would expect to put on a performance rather than a ‘session’. A session to me is about sharing music, learning new, having a chat, meeting different musicians etc [ie for mine and other musicians benefit]; I would never expected to be paid until I read this discussion. Rob [Northumberland/Scottish Borders]

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Me niether Rob, Peter is talking about a gig not a session.

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To get back to the original question - do you understand what a session is ? How do you cope with the beginner who turns up and wants to join in when the landlord expects, for the money etc., a professional show ?
How do you advertise this ?
Where have you been playing already that this is what you think usually happens ?

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

There are several sessions running for a long time in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. I know for a fact that at least 2 of them pay the anchors (usually 2) $100 each as well as their drinks being comped. The musicians who come to play in addition to the anchors are also comped drinks (one pub puts a limit of 2 free drinks to each non-anchor musician). One of the pubs also gives the anchors a complimentary dinner from the regular menu which is a full dinner menu (not pub grub). The pubs I speak of here are both upscale restaurant/pubs with Irish-born owners with musical backgrounds who appreciate the sessions and will on occasion sit in to the sessions. The quality of the sessions is excellent, they are both welcoming to visiting musicans (and many "well-known" musicians often show up after gigs in the city to relax and share a few tunes) and the attendance at both is always strong. They are located about 20 miles apart, one in the center of the city and one in the suburbs. One is on a weekend afternoon and the other on a weeknight so there is obviously no competition between them. They draw musicians from all over the area, all ages, all instruments and all levels. I have heard that each of them has had visiting musicians who heard about said sessions from this website. One very important factor in their success is the consistency of the sessions in terms of quality. And they are true sessions with the interchange of tunes, the occasional song or recitation, an occasional set danced, spontaneous and unplanned. Neither of these would be considered a gig or a performance. To answer your question, I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to expect the anchors to be paid and the other musicians to be comped a reasonable amount of drink.

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I get paid for doing gigs and as stated previously wouldn’t expect to be paid for going to a session - however I do claim all approriate expenses regarding attending sessions as legitimate expenses for taxation purposes as I think they are appropropriate in terms of skills improval etc [my accountant agrees] Rob

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Peter,

The problem is that *You* are asking the pub owner and, therefore, you can’t really expect anything. Of course, he might think it’s a great idea (that he should have thought of in the first place) and pay you very generously. However, if you have to convince him of the idea then I can’t see him being fully responsive to your monetary demands.

If the request came from the pub owner, you have a much better opportunity to negotiate as good a deal as you can get. In fact, it’s your moral duty. 😉

However, if it’s just a case of finding a venue for a session so that yourself and your mates can play then you are not in such a strong position. Many musicians would be happy just to have a place where they are welcome for payment or otherwise.
It depends on what *they* want and what you have to offer.

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Gig? Session? A session is informal even if 3 or 4 anchormen/women are receiving a few quid (£40 and free pints is the going rate in Belfast). A gig is a performance that has been rehearsed and played to an attentive audience and not amongst the musicians for the musicians. The bar owners who run most of the sessions in Belfast encourage this informal setting, like to see new faces in the mallee(give them a few free rounds) and these sessions are a main reason tourists flock to Belfast (do you really think they come to Ireland to play golf?????) To answer your question Can$80 each for 4 musicians plus free beers (5 or 6 rounds).

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Peter, a somewhat local perspective:

There are a couple of sessions around Calgary and I honestly don’t know if the anchors are getting paid or not. However, I did approach a local "Irish" pub with an offer that my kitchen session would play in their pub for free. The manager couldn’t get past the idea that this wasn’t a gig and that they wouldn’t have to pay, and the offer was viewed with suspicion. They wanted to think about it and call back, but they never did.

If I was to try again, I think I’d consider asking for some payment just to be treated seriously,

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We buy our own beer. But then we can sit and talk for most of the evening if we want to. A session is just a social get together, music, talk, jokes or whatever suits the people there.

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Most of the "anchors" at the sessions in Toronto get paid to be there and they do draw quite a crowd from week to week. I haven’t heard of it around here in Ontario much other than that, but then again there aren’t many other (good) musicians. My girlfriend and I do play a short session sort of thing on Saturdays. Its more of a performance, and we’re paid 50 each for two hours of playing, which is nice, but its more of a pain in the arse to be obligated to be there than its worth really.

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I would have agreed with you KML, until I stopped drinking. For too long traditional musicians were exploited by pub owners "sure the lads will play for the odd pint".

Your average DJ is on about £200 a night, no spinning for drinks for him/her.

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Some very good points here. A gig, involving electrical sound and all that is different. We play every Sunday, 52 nights a year, and insist that the TV is off. If you want to watch the World Cup Final/World Series, watch it at home. And as KML says, basically it is a night out, which is why we haven’t even asked for a pay rise for three years now. It being on every week guarantees a crowd, especially if tourists ask if there is a "session" anywhere.

Of course we have a rule that only extremely rich people can join in, then we don’t have to bother buying the rich toads a pint or anything.

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the best session in Aberdeen is free as far as I know but if the landlord gave every musician drink or money he would go broke in no time.

The room is rather well laid out for a session - the telly is always on but behind a half wall at the bar. As far as I know the session costs the landlord nothing except earache. The place is open to all musicians at almost all times and some of the very best and many of the worst have played there. It is a pub where musicians feel relaxed and are likely to play a tune or two at any time.

I agree with Johnny J - if you’re asking to have a session, then he doesn’t owe you anything. — and especially if you’re not even regulars at the place you propose to invade. If someone buys you a pint, accept it gratefully and at least make a token offer to buy the person a pint back.

. If his trade increases over the long term as a result of your crowd’s attendance and playing, then a smart landlord would maybe try to ensure regulars turned up with some financial or liquid encouragement, but as soon as *you* demand it, the situation is lost, the tension between expectation and reality is there, ( on both sides) and the session is doomed

This doesn’t hold for touristy "folk music" pubs in places like Belfast or Edinburgh of course.

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Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

I’m not really here ( 😉 ) but I have something to add. Every other Friday we have a session in the local pub and whoever shows up to play (we’re a bit fussy as to that but we’re not complete bastards to visitors!) gets free booze all night. No pay for anyone. We’ve been going for 12 years or more and, odd changes of personnel apart for various reasons, everyone (including the landlord) is very happy with the setup and there’s no doubt that we get people in, especially in winter when there aren’t many holidaymakers around in this bit of Cornwall. There’s no pressure on us - we can take time out and have a laugh between sets and all that and nobody worries about a thing. On the alternate Fridays we play for money and free drinks in another pub. We usually come out with £30 or more each (there are four or five of us at that one). This has been going on for a couple of years but there have been lots of stresses and strains and the whole thing looks like it could collapse. There have been minor spats about the money, one bloke has got peed off with the disagreements and doesn’t want to come any more, and the gaffer now wants to cut down on the free booze, much to our chagrin, etc. etc. We play much harder than in the other pub because we feel that the landlord (good chap though he is) is watching to make sure we give "value for money." The whole thing has more of a feel of going to work than going out for a bit of fun. I do feel that musicians get exploited quite a lot. Maybe we should never play unpaid. The worst of all worlds in some ways is bands that charge ridiculously-low fees (we had a five-piece outfit round here that played everywhere for £75, and the upshot of that is that anyone else asking for a reasonable fee gets some raised eyebrows and funny looks to say the least). That’s what my instincts tell me (and that was a very telling point about talent-f*cked DJs commanding £200 and upwards), but, on the other hand, we don’t half have a better time when it’s just free beer without money entering into it…

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Just because prostitutes get paid for sex doesn’t mean no one else should do it for free, even if they like it.

Music is its own reward , is it not?

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I agree absolutely that music is its own reward, but if you’re increasing someone else’s reward by playing (i.e. the landlord’s reward), then I think you’re morally entitled to a share of the spoils. As I implied, free beer all night works really well. There’s a game chance that everyone will end up happy. Money can be the root of all evil, on the other hand. I think that if there’s money afoot, it should be put on the table at the end of the evening and everyone should get an equal share, right down to the last 50p.

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There was a famous man who once said "THE LOVE of money is the root of all evil", obviously nat as wise as you Steve?

Mind you, according to Bren our Sunday session is doomed, after 13 years. They do say 13 can be an unlucky number.

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If I get paid, I feel the need to entertain, to perform.

If I don’t, then I don’t. I act accordingly. I prefer the second, so it can be about the music and friends, not about an audience I’m getting paid to make happy.

If it’s unpaid then take no baloney. I prefer being unpaid so I’m in charge, not an audience or employer. It is what it is. No demands should be made on the musicians. If you want to demand things of the musicians, pay them.

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Paid or unpaid, I treat the music with the same respect it deserves.

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Regarding getting paid, I receive no monetary gain from hosting/ anchoring our session. If I had I’d fell kinda silly getting paid when we have so many regulars that are
equal and better musicians than myself. And fortunately there is no maintenance to keeping our session going, it just seems to get better over time as word gets out.

Rob

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Thanks again to all for the input.

Really in this area, that being Edmonton, you don’t have a whole lot of choice in where you go if you want to play traditional music. There is one other "session" that is frankly not really a session. It is mostly a gig/performance with 4-5 regular anchors that have been there for close to a decade, that perform as a band together. The tunes rarely change and although newcomers can sit in and play, the tunes are ALWAYS played at breakneck speed generally regardless of the starting speed of the player. Breaks are on the dot of the clock. Irish dancers come on at a scheduled time. Etc.

To my knowledge the anchors all receive at least 100 a night. Free drink to all the musicians. This pub, which has needless to say a bit of a "Plastic Paddy" feel to borrow from the song, does it strictly for performance. I don’t begrudge them that.

It’s my feeling that if you are providing a certain element of entertainment that may detract from the barman’s usual recorded music that you are asking him to shut off during a session that yes, you are now entering into the realm of performance, albeit an organic group performance with the possibility of incoming and outgoing performers in the round over the evening. Those organizing the performance, the anchors, and providing said music regularly should others not be there, should receive some recompense…that is my take on it.

This is mind you in a frontier area where you can swing adead bodhranist(a) over your head and not hit another one…in more culturally rich areas where you don’t want for players it may not be an issue. But here, to actually start and maintain a session over a few years without seeing it crumple and die would be a bit of work. Other than the single performance-kinda-session, there hasn’t been another one in years and a few players and myself want to start one that is more tradition friendly, open to a regular influx of new players, new tunes, the odd unaccompanied song, recitations, and not so much clockwatching.

This may be - really is starting to look - highly impractical. I am not holding out too much hope. The pub owner in question has changed his mind about times he would like it to start three times…and this one is already garnering a reputation for being not so good with musicians so I think finding another locality may be in the offing. A shame as it was a small community pub with a nice feel to it as opposed to being on the strip.

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Peter, there have been some quite good sessions in Edmonotone in the past. At least one was the victim of its own success. I’ve never been to the one on Whyte Ave you’re talking about, but your assessment is correct, from what I’ve heard.

What’s changed in the last few years is that pub ownership has been consolidated amongst a few "chain" restaurant/pub companies - "chain" in quotes because they mostly give different names to their establishments. Their bottom line is bums in seats and a consistent net at the end of the night. Their management and staff have little or no interest in the Irish traditions they claim to offer, other than a couple of accordions nailed (sometimes screwed) to the wall and some Guinness signs.

In spite of that, some of the managers are farsighted enough to give a session a go, if you’re willing to work with them and show some potential as far as a) not creating extra work for the staff, and b) bringing in some customers. Not only do you have to educate them about how sessions work, but you have to convince them that you’re in it for the long haul, as a reliable session might take a couple of years to get off the ground - meaning a reliable group of musicians who show up every week, and a semi-reliable bunch of punters. Even a few that show up every week will increase your value in management’s eyes.

If you do have a small pub with one owner and a nice feel, take the time to get to know the proprietor and get to know his/her concerns. They need time to get to know you and your musicians, and understand that you can contribute to their community as well as the bottom line. Like Jasper Friendly Bear says, "Be patient - wait for the signs."

When it comes to negotiating, be realistic. A small pub may not have a lot of extra cash to pay players. Personally, I’m with the crowd that doesn’t want to get paid, but sometimes that’s a good way to get them to take you seriously. But maybe they’d like to give you a meal and a limited number of drinks, at least until things get off the ground.

Good luck with it!

There used to be the odd session at the Irish Club before it got taken over by the heavy drinking crowd. Do you ever go up there to play?

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Apologies for misquoting the great man, Bliss. That would be "the great man, Bliss" and not "the great man Bliss." Great men don’t need to be told. 😉

mellow_bellows and SWFL Fiddler have it right.

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

If the pub owner is making money off you bringing custom in, that normally wouldn’t be there, than make as much money as you can from him (or her!)
If it still is a quiet pub and you’re using them pub for practice, it’s only common courtesy for the barperson to throw a few drinks to be hospitable.

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I would value the presence of a good session more than a few bucks in my pocket, and the money you are talking about would scare off some of the smaller venues that might be better to play in. And often, playing in a good established session leads to a lot of gigs, where you do get good money. Something to think about as you negotiate……

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As the one poster mentioned regarding the one existing "session" in town, it is neither really an established session nor is it good - it’s a performance and a dry one, thus the attempt to start a new one by any means…and if that eventually means just finding some place to have a barman let us use the space for nothing but unmolested playing I am happy with that too…but as has been pointed out that often doesn’t work in this locality.

And Greg, the Irish Club session has been dead for ages, more’s the pity.

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I’m not getting "robbed." Here I am - new at this - and I am getting to play with these other people who play well. I do this to be part of the group and the sound produced. Considering that I have played in sessions up to 10 people - we must be playing for the fun of playing - not the money or the drinks.

There is no pressure to put together any particular type of performance to suit the pub/coffee house owner. What ever happens, happens. People come and go as well - if you only have an hour to play - you play for an hour.

I have played in 3 different places. Two provide beverages and one not. The one that doesn’t typically has more people playing than the other two.

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This is very simple, if you really want to do it. First of all, the idea of an anchor getting paid comes from the fact that he or she organizes the session, and always shows up, which makes it more of a job. As such, the anchor should be compensated. However, this is business for the pub owner, so it needs to be demonstrated that a regular session brings in customers.

I suggest you check out the business the place routinely does, offer your services on a trial basis, and see how it goes. Opportunity is what you make it. It’s your idea, so you assume the risk. In your case, the only risk is lost time, which is not really lost, because you had the fun of the session. For the pub owner, the risk is less food for his own table, and there’s no reason to expect that idea to fly unless you find someone already disposed to bringing a session in.

So, if you really want to make your idea work, work your idea.

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You didn’t read my post thoroughly bliss - I exempted you from doooom in the last sentence

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Thanks Steve, and I’m sure Mr. bb can get paid for doing what he likes when he sings and he plays, as opposed to having to skirt the lines of disrespect. Well, even the old tired songs can be done respectfully, with any hope. I find those are necessary when being paid in these parts. I even have dear friends who love tunes but their kids expect the old songs. I’ll do anything for the kids, even sing the freaking Wild and Irish Rovers, so help me. They don’t have to pay to me to do that, but everybody else does, which is why I never do gigs, so I don’t have to.

Re: Actual financial outlay for a session?

Ailin,

You are right about a trial basis and that was what was offered actually, however I am trying to get all bases covered with a full proposal complete with as many facts and figures as I can provide in advance just in case…and as this particular pub likely will not fly (as sadly I know the pub own is a complete novice at running a pub for one and developing a very bad reputation for the way they interact with local musicians for another) I want to gather as much preparatory information and experiences as others have to share before embarking on another run at it.

Thanks to all of those who have contributed. We’ll have to see what the future holds however as this city doesn’t have much of a high survival rate for new sessions.

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Bren, I don’t live or play in Belfast or Edinburgh. We play in Antrim, and had long running paid sessions in Crumlin and Glenavy.

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Fair enough. I haven’t been in Antrim since the night in Glenarm when the landlady’s hot water bottle burst and I thought I’d wet the bed

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