Tell me about sessions and pay

Tell me about sessions and pay

What is the tradition, if there is one? Does the pub owner typically pay the lead session player(s) to show up as agreed and lead the session?

is the pay steady, or does it fluctuate with how well the pub does?

Does the house ever regularly buy drinks for the players? Or at least the leaders (the folks who guarantee they’ll show up and keep the music going no matter what)? Or does everyone expect to foot their own bill?

Is leaving out a tip jar or a hat totally out of the question? Is there ever outside funding arranged from a community patron or group of patrons? Forgive my ignorance here. I’m trying to think creatively.

The pub I play at is feeling the pinch of the economy, but so are the musicians. The pub needs to stay afloat, but the session won’t happen unless at least a couple of experienced regulars show up and stay through the advertised time period. The pub benefits from better business that night, both from session players and the public. And the musicians benefit from a free public venue, yet that isn’t quite enough to guarantee their commitment, because they are providing a valuable service for the pub. It’s a tricky balance.

Is it traditional for session organizers to not get paid and just do it out of their goodness and kindness and love for the music?

I’m not responsible for any of these issues, but I’m curious about how it goes at other sessions. Is there a specific tradition around how the session organizers get compensated?

Heck, I feel so blessed to be able to join in our local session that I’d be more than happy to throw five bucks into a jar each week to show my appreciation for the musical generosity of the more experienced players and to help the cause. But I imagine that would not be the way to go. I don’t really know.

How is this handled at your session, if you know? I hope my question is not out of line.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

No, Amyamanda, your questions aren’t out of line. I think they are good and thoughful questions. I wish I could answer them; however, at the local sessions, I am merely an invited “guest artist” who has nothing whatsoever to do with coordinating, planning, and/or running the sessions. I have to pay for my own drinks. I am sure there are other members of this web site who can answer your questions.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

Is it a session if you get paid. We turn up and play, buying our own beer. but then we don’t ave to turn up if we don’t feel like it. But then we’re here for the music and the company, not to make money for the landlord. (This is in the UK)

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The landlord makes his money out of the beer he sells us while we play.

I think if he was going to pay someone to play, he’d book a band.

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In the backwoods towns of central Michigan, a session is still a very novel thing to see. Because of this, I am often bought drinks by patrons of the bar and at one pub they began tossing money into our cases without us even setting them out. We play for the love of it and our sessions are usually small and amateur but it is nice to make a bit while we’re playing, especially when it’s too cold for busking outside. Asking for payment is a tricky business, you don’t want to send the bar or the patrons the wrong message. I admit that once or twice we have stooped to surreptitiously placed a case open, sticking out from under our table with a bit of busking loot “accidentally” left in it to bait some appreciative customers. We have yet to find opposition with the management.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

It’s been standard practice in Ireland for a long time now for a pub’s landlady/landlord to pay one or possibly two musicians to be their session anchors (with or without the silent ‘w’), putting the onus on said musicians to ensure that sufficient compadres turn up to entertain the punters. This is the reason why you’ll often see ads in local newspapers for a pub session described as ‘so-and-so and friends’.

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Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

Silent ‘W’?

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Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

tossers

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

when I typed w*ankers, it was magically transformed into tossers, the internet is a mysterious and wonderful place.

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I understand that the Washington, DC area is envied because we have several sessions where the leaders are paid fairly well. However, one of those sessions was recently shuttered, and at our own session no one is paid. The pub does give all the musicians free soft drinks and a discount on meals. (To be fair, we’re an intermediate session and meet 12-2 on Saturdays, not a prime time to serve as entertainment.)

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

I’d say it varies. I’ve played in sessions where the pub paid $225 to three musicians, but didn’t give out free drinks. For myself, I prefer playing for free, but getting drinks and maybe even food for free. But that’s if the pub is session-friendly -- good logistics, appreciative owner/patrons. Any time I’ve gotten paid I always felt some slight pressure to draw people in, and that took away from the fun.

As for a tip jar, it might be OK with the owner, especially if you’re playing for drinks only. But I’d ask first -- the more you communicate with the owner, the better.

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I am overwhelmed with people, quite often young ladies of dazzling beauty, buying me drinks and making comments like “ The bodhran really makes a session” and stuff like that.
Hope this helps.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

The sessions I play at provide us with our beers for the night. The barmaids are very attentive to our needs and the owner has created a wonderful environment for our music.

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Speaking as a player at the session, I turn up for the tunes and expect basically that - the tunes. However, I’m always a little startled by a pub owner who shows so little understanding of the economics of his business that he charges the players for their pints. Either the musicians are bringing in the beer-buying public, and cementing the loyalty of the Wednesday drop-in visitor or converting them to a Tuesday- and a Thursday-night drop in as well, selling more pints for the bar even on nights when they’re not there, or they’re not. If they’re good for business, the cheapest way for the bar to keep them happy is to pour them a pint - the marginal cost of the pint is the lowest expense involved, and there’s no marginal increase in the building’s rent, or the barman’s pay, or any of the other expenses which dwarf the cost of the liquid in the glass. So the pints they pour are, in a real sense, free to the bar owner, in so far as they do make no discernable impact on the till at the end of the night - the owner is getting something for nothing. They really ought to figure this out and pour the pints. So I find I don’t enjoy playing in bars that charge the musicians, not because I don’t like to pay for me beer - I’ll do it any other night of the week - but because I don’t like to work with people who are too short-term greedy to see where their actual interests lie. Such people tend to be unpredictable and to become unpleasant at random intervals, and I don’t want to be around them.

As for pay, if you have an arrangement with someone that they will turn up regularly at a fixed time and provide a service, it’s customary where I come from to offer that person some sort of fee for their commitment of time. But I suppose that’s only a custom, and not obligatory.

The tip jar seems a little, well, crass. The session is a creature of dignity, it exists for itself, and its nobility does not stoop to crawling and fawning for the dollar at a time thrown in a pitcher at the end of the table. Leave that for the songwriter playing on some other night, who is already crawling and fawning for your attention to their songs, they have no dignity left to lose…

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The pub that hosts my local session gives us drinks until a limit is
reached - I don’t think that’s carved in stone. It’s the only pay I’m
aware of. I could care less about that; I’d probably come even if
I had to pay _them_.

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Me too, Hup. Happily, it’s the other way around, not to mention as much beer we can consume. None of us are heavy drinkers, though. A free meal on session night if i want it, but I find the food leaves something to be desired… so I skip it. A very welcoming place, though.

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Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

Jon, I’m not so sure “free beer for musicians” is the obvious business win for the bar that you think it is. Once free beers are expected, they often become demanded, and then often abused. If the bar owner feels his generosity is being abused, then relationships get strained. A few examples from my experience:

1) the guy who brings his bodhran carrying (not playing) friend in… and the friend wants free beer… or maybe it’s his non-musical girlfriend that wants free beer…

2) a number of the musicians get too drunk to play, and start ruining everything for everyone else (and sounding bad enough to drive customers away).

3) the guy who drinks 1/2 of each of 10 beers over the course of the evening.

4) people getting handed drinks they don’t want, which they don’t drink (maybe they’re driving), resulting in either drunk drivers or untouched beers.

Having to pay for drinks (except for times when the bar owner is feeling particularly generous) keeps everything much more aboveboard.

The most consistently effective session arrangement I’ve seen is 2-3 paid anchors and $1 musician drinks. The anchors get to set the tone and are by definition responsible for making everyone happy (musicians and publicans), and the $1 beers leads to less abuse, and less offense taken by the publican when it’s encountered… And since the publican is paying the anchors far more than a reasonable session would drink, it’s harder to accuse him of being unfairly stingy…

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

I’ve seen a few different arrangements, but it’s usually one or two paid musicians, plus at least one free drink if you’re playing music.
Our own folk club gets €100 euro for a session, plus a free drink each - but as we can number up to 12 or more, that’s fine.
If I can single out one venue - Gary Donnelly and his staff at Baily’s Corner in Tralee were always generous with drinks when I frequented the Tuesday session there, to the point of checking our glasses to taking (unpaid) orders for the session between tunes.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

Wow, I wish we got free drinks at our session. I would be thrilled with one free drink a player. It would feel like a nice gesture of appreciation. I would think it would be easy enough to tell the musicians from the nonmusicians, given that most people won’t bother bringing an instrument into a pub ((and getting it out) unless they intend to play it.

I appreciate all the feedback. It’s very interesting to me how it can vary. Anyone want to talk about how these arrangements were contrived - how to (delicately) talk to a pub owner about compensation or lack thereof?

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Trouble with some ‘so called sessions’ is that, the resident musicians, of which I am one, get paid and consequently feel obliged to put on a performance. We have no objection to anybody sitting in and we do give them a chance to ‘play something your self’ However we are inclined to play our own tried and tested stuff and only occasionally would we throw in ‘The Boys of Bluehilll’ The Sally Gardens or ‘Saddle the Pony’ . Consequently I’ve noticed that, with the odd exception, the visitors playing standard is low and as such they spend most of the gig p*ssing about trying to find the key, or trying to tune a bodhran.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

Here in Central Pennsylvania (USA) all of the sessions I’ve been to have been “free drinks to the musicians” (usually with a limit), but no one is getting paid (to my knowledge! 🙂 ).

We do put out an empty pitcher for tips, but any money we make goes to the waitress/barmaid/barkeeper.

I’ve negotiated with a pub owner, once … and I just put it very simply (this was after determining that they *were* interested in hosting a session): We’ll need X amount of space and a couple of free beers/soft drinks for each musician is customary. Will that be a problem?

I also mention about the tip-pitcher thing, too….

I also asked that they mention/advertise that a Trad session was going to be held.

In most cases, if the pub owner thinks that he’s getting a bigger crowd due to the playing (or is just a fan of the music), he’ll not begrudge the free drinks.

If, however, they don’t think you’re bringing any value to their establishment, they might ask you to leave! 🙂

Our group got tossed out of one venue not because they didn’t like our playing or because we were costing too much in free beers, but because we were “taking up too much table space”. 🙂

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

In Cork generally, 2-4 regular musicians are paid, and in most of the pubs they don’t give out free pints at all. In a couple of places musicians get “cards” or any other kind of tokens to get a cheaper price, and in only one pub in town musicians get a couple of free pints. However, if you are playing in a pub on a small village or the countryside, the pub will be ofter much more generous with the money and specially the drinks!

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

There’s a pub in town that changed ownership two years ago. Before, it hosted three sessions per week; now it’s down to one every other week. I know that the host of at least one of the sessions was paid, and not insubstantially; not sure about the others. I suspect that paying session hosts makes the session somewhat less stable: if the session isn’t bringing in at least as much new business as it’s costing the owner to pay the host or hosts, then it’s a bad decision from a financial standpoint. In the case of this pub, I’m sure that the host getting paid wasn’t the only factor in the pub terminating the sessions, but I imagine it played a role. When no one is getting paid (either in cash or in drinks), then a pub has less to lose by welcoming a session, provided the session doesn’t take up too much table space or actively drive away customers.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

one for the money
two for the show
three to get ready
now go cat go

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

At our Tuesday session right in the cultural centre and oldest part of Bristol it’s the pub management’s policy to put us at tables right by the windows in the front of the pub. This really does attract passers-by in out of curiosity - and of course, once inside they’ll buy drinks. The pub is on the tourist trail, so we get coach-loads of Americans or Australians coming in and taking videos and recordings of us. They invariably thank us when they leave. A famous old theatre is almost opposite, a venerable jazz pub isn’t far away, and this all helps.

There is a group of pub customers from the legal and financial sector nearby, who evidently come in after work to relax and calm their shattered nerves. The only puzzling thing is, just before the session starts at 8.30, there’s a sudden exodus of these lawyers and accountants when we start opening our instrument cases …

The pub does have a limited number of free drinks for the musicians.

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As a bit of a “session-tart”, I tend to move around the non-singing sessions and go to a different one each time I have a free evening. Most sessions benefit from having occasional visitors unexpectedly calling by (providing they are of the required calibre).

I am careful to observe etiquette
1) If interesting sets are being started, leave them to it and play
2) If you start one, try to play tunes they know
3) If people don’t know a tune - only play it once and move on
4) Unless there are huge gaps, only start sets every two or three
5) no singing in musicians sessions (unless you are very good)

None of the above helps you to get to sessions that are arranged by text that evening. You just have to have friends “in the know”.

With so many sessions around, I don’t think I could cope with going to the same weekly session - Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt.

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And back on to the subject, many UK sessions provide sarnis or pies, only a few provide drinks, even fewer pay dosh.

Re: Tell me about sessions and pay

I recently received an article entitled ‘The Limits of Commodification in Traditional Irish Music Sessions’ by Adam R. Kaul - Agustana College in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2007 - it covers everything you ask in an academic fishion at times. Google it!

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Wow, it’s a real paper? I thought it was a joke. Amazing. I ain’t paying no $40 to read it though, sorry. 😛

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…and to answer the question…

We are pleased to report that our local offers musicians 50% off their tabs! The anchor (me) gets a token compensation, no cash, just consumables. A fed fiddler is a happy fiddler.

We put the tip jar out, horrid, I know. We cut a nice tip for the staff out then divvy the rest. It has never led to any feelings of putting on a paid show. People want to show their appreciation for what we’re doing that way, and it’s fine. They don’t make musical demands, they just appreciate what we’re doing.

I think the discount thing works the best, as well described above. The free for all can quickly turn to a mess and make unhappy publicans.