You gotta sing to make money

You gotta sing to make money

Just a thought inspired by Frank Doherty’s recent "paid gigs" discussion………

It seems to me that until you get to be a "big name" or somehow get the budget for a full lights, smoke and mirrors marketed "show" there’s no money to be made from instrumental traditional music. Dance gigs are a regular source of low level income for a lot of people, but once you’ve deducted travel, PA costs etc, you’ll be doing well to get much above minimum wage. You can have a great band playing high quality instrumental music and get some festival gigs and plenty of applause, but there’ll still be no money in it.

If you want to make some money, you gotta sing.


Not a complaint, just an observation, and after all, what more reward do we need for playing than the music itself!

Interested to see if what seems to me a statement of the blooming obvious seems so to others.

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I agree. You’ve only got to look at the world of pop to see any number of "singers" who manage to make a decent living, however temporary, with the assistance of skilled audio engineers and Auto-Tune.

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‘Little Tommy Tucker sings for his supper’! Maybe, it has always been thus, even back in the ‘heydays’ of trad for dancing, weren’t the publishers and singers of ballads making a killing?

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Punters prefer songs to tunes. Surprise surprise. Most musicians if they’d admit to themselves for a moment that they only really like the sounds of themselves playing (mea culpa) would confess that they prefer songs to tunes as well.

It’s not that songs are necessarily better than tunes. They are just more communicative and say something about the human condition.

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"Lunasa"

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"Flook"

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Michael McGoldrick - I know, does the odd song, but doesn’t have to.

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Are they not ‘big names’, Kenny? Think the OP was talking about the ordinary run of things?

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Aye, but they didn’t start off as "big names". They got to be "big names" through their musical ability, without ever incorporating a singer. Ain’t ever heard Martin Hayes sing, either.

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Agreed Kenny, presumably they worked hard, paid their bills by other means and gradually "got there."

Perhaps I’m wrong, maybe there are instrumentalists out there doing their two or three gigs a week, making a "grown up" if basic living out of it. I surely can’t think of any examples, but there are a good number of singers doing just that.
(Leaving teaching out of it.)

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Lunasa are a pop band…albeit it, a rather good one.

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Oh aye, - would you say that to Kevin Crawford’s face ?
I also got to thinking about the Scottish scene - "Shooglenifty", "Session A9", "Blazin’ Fiddles", "Peatbog Faeries", Phil and Aly, etc.

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Yes, they’re all "big names," we’ve all heard of them nationwide and beyond.

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Talking about pop bands, The Shadows also sang albeit occasionally but they’re hardly remembered for that. It was their instrumental music which made them successful.

It does seem, in Scotland at least, that many otherwise excellent young bands are "encouraged" to have a singer either as an addition or with one of the musicians "doubling up".
I have nothing against songs but too often the vocals seem to be the "weak spot" in many a new line up.

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I’ve seen many musicians take part in Talent Shows over the years from TV to Local Pubs. I’ve never known any of them to win over a singer. Of course singing for a living can have its drawbacks too. In the High Court this week, ‘Foster and Allen’ have been ordered to pay back to the Taxman three million Euro each. A very expensive ‘Bunch of Thyme’

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….and also when I think about it, there are a lot of recordings I have with great instrumental music on them - especially from Ireland - which would have been much better WITHOUT having a singer at all.

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"Free Reed" - we were discussing bands who play traditional music, not what happens on "TV or local pubs". If you want the equivalent to that in traditional music, then instrumentalists regularly win over singers at the various "Folk Awards" events. McGoldrick did, and so did Jarlath Henderson. Several have in Scotland too, not surprisingly as usually there’s only 1 or 2 singers against 6 or 7 instrumentalists by the time it gets to the final.
As an aside, what’s the story about "F&A"’s run in with the taxman ?

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Why wouldn’t I say it to his face? I’ve seen them live many times and very good they are. If they weren’t any good, I wouldn’t have paid good money to return to their gigs. They adopt a pop attitude to trad music…that’s my opinion and I’ll tell it to anyone. Power chords, bass and some sublime fiddle, pipes and flute…works for me….

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OK, "Free Reed" - found it.
OK "Strayaway" - I believe you, but "they adopt a pop attitude to trad music" is not the same as "Lunasa are a pop band". I think there’s a big difference in those 2 statements.

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The term "Pop Band" has many meanings…..The Beatles to name one were a pop band. How many better albums have you got than Revolver? not many, I’d guess. So, pop band is not used in a derogatory sense. Anyway, thanks for clearing that up.

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Some people seem to believe too much of the rubbish that’s written on this site. Pop band! Really?

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Maybe you would be kind enough to expand on your statement Professor Minerva. I can’t believe that anybody takes anything written on here seriously.

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Yes, the masses seem to prefer singing. So what?

The OP premise is silly—you can’t exclude "big name" instrumentalists just because they’re big names. They got there by being good instrumentalists, not by singing and then changing their act. So at least some people make very good money without singing. Also, lots of people make middle class incomes teaching instrumental music.

But who really plays this music for the money? Sure, I like getting paid for the occasional gig, but the weekly session and canoodling through tunes at home or with a friend is what it’s really all about.

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

Um, yes.

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People who hire bands more often than not want to hear singing. For tunes I go to the pub, but I have a lot of fun coming up with arrangements and settings for songs in the group I play with.
Both are fun. So why do we have to talk about tunes and songs as if we have to pick one or the other? Or like one is more pure and virtuous than the other?

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OK some folk are misunderstanding my OP so I’ll rephrase.

My impression is that there are relatively few starry players who do well out of purely instrumental traditional music, there’s a substantial "zone" of middle ranking performers who do songs and do okay, but it’s very hard for pure instrumentalists to survive in this zone. True or false?

Teaching is irrelevant to the question as is instrument making, carpet cleaning or brain surgery.

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Surely the complaint should be that there is a substantial "zone" of middle ranking performers who do songs and do okay?

I mean flippin heck, Who the feck is supporting these dreary dreary feckers?

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Is it the "bozone?"

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The question reframed makes even less sense.

Yes, it’s probably easier to eke out a living as a mediocre singer than as a mediocre trad musician.

Even at sessions, there are sometimes clueless people in the peanut gallery who would rather hear a worn-out trite song sung half-arsed than a spate of tunes played well. We routinely, deliberately disappoint them.

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I had a really witty reply for this post, but it got lost ( See next subject for discussion. )
"Sigh."

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That was an ‘awesome’ video, Will, thanks for posting. Although, I must be getting old, and spending too much time inside the trad bubble, because I didn’t recognize half the songs the boys were singing! 😉
Although, I would argue that the difference between a worn out trite song sung half-arsed, and a good old favorite, has more to do with the singer than the song. I love reviving old songs that no one else does any more, and trying to bring something fresh and new to them.

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No the eejits I’m talking about want the same old songs again and again, the only ones they can think of as associated with Irish music. You *know* the songs I mean.

Nothing wrong with old, beloved songs. These aren’t them.

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Oh, I know what you mean! Like the one with the unicorns in it… 😉

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I remember a bloke, years ago, he’d sing his song and when it came to the chorus we’d all join in … "We wish he wa os … in Cari…" etc. And then the last chorus … "Thank god he i..is in …" etc. He never even noticed.

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about 80 years ago Michael?

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@Will Harmon - I think the question doesn’t make sense to you because you imply value judgements into it.

Take them out and it’s just trite little question of fact, to which we all probably instinctively knew the answer. The only point in asking the question was to see whether that instinct was correct when looked at a little more closely.

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Thing is, you can’t just think of traditional music like this. Earning a living is just a bonus for being decent. Most of the people who make a living from singing trad songs are hopeless feckers who depress real players when they walk into the pub with their three chord guitars. Not because they make money at it, but just because their sh!te

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"You gotta sing to make money"

No, you gotta get a normal job. I realised that a long time ago.

Get over it

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Most bands have about four members. One of them sings. So for every musician who sings to make money, there are another three musicians earning a living without singing. So what’s the problem? If you don’t like singing, just tag along with someone who does.

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In this day & age social networking & web design are the prime ingredients for bringing in the dough.

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No, the questions don’t make sense because they’re poorly thought-out and worded.

You’d see that I’ve addressed what seems to be your real point in my asides.

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Is it a faulty premise or an attempt to establish certain parameters in order to discuss the question? Fair play for bringing up instrument making (& repair) & teaching, Will. The essential question (I think) is about earning a living with instrumental music.

My recall isn’t what it should be

Fair play Will for ~ "lots of people make middle class incomes teaching instrumental music."
Tom, why dismiss teaching instrumental music, certainly it involves making an income without a singer? Some of those *big names* did it before they were big names & continue to teach?

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Babs, teaching wasn’t my only previous point. As I said before, you can’t exclude "big name" instrumentalists just because they’re big names. They got there by being good instrumentalists, not by singing and then changing their act. And there are lots (too many) of second-string instrumentalists making money doing what they do.

I also wrote: Yes, it’s probably easier to eke out a living as a mediocre singer than as a mediocre trad musician.

So what? Tom doesn’t explain what he means by the nonsensical phrase "substantial middle zone" of trad musicians, or what he means by "make money." Or why it matters. Particularly given that we’re talking about *this* music, which a only generation or two ago provided a living income for barely anyone. The music is what it is in part because it wasn’t a source of income.

The basic premise that this music has "stars" and "big names" and a commoditized "ranking" shows a sappy misunderstanding of the lives of trad musicians and of their typical (almost to a person) priorities.

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This whole thread is based on the errant premises that this music is about performing for money and that players are ranked based on whether they sing or play instrumental music and on how much they can earn.

If there are trad musicians who think this way, the lot of them would fit in a single curragh (and someone should take the oars and give the boat a good shove toward an empty horizon).

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Sorry Will. I wasn’t trying to challenge anything you said.
Cheers!

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Consider the ratio of songs to tunes on The Transatlantic Sessions. There’s your answer….

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that doesn’t count, because that programme is funded in part by a grant that promotes the scots gaelic language. there’s a condition that only a certain fraction of air time is taken up with English. The programme makers get around this by hardly having any spoken or sung language at all. Hence no intros or voice overs

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Ha ha Will, isn’t that how your ilk got to Amerikay in the first place?

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Michael, I think you have the Yanks confused with the Australians….

😉

My own ilk weren’t deemed worthy of a curragh. They were led to the beach in their underthings and sent swimming. But the continents were closer together back then, so a few of them survived the crossing.

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You’re fighting paper tigers of your own creation Will, but hey, your replies led me to read your member’s page. Very worthwhile, thank you.

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Tom, all we have to go on are your posted words. Paper tigers they may be, but they’re your origami, not mine.

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If you want to clear this up, you could explain what you mean by "starry players" and "middle ranking performers."

The value-laden adjectives are all yours, eh?

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Will if you won’t say it I’ll say it for you. TomB-R you are welcome!

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There’s a local fellow, banjo player. He plays all sorts of instrumental music. His bread & butter is playing tunes, talking about banjo styles … he loves to play for schools. You may have heard about him, though most people would not recognize his name. Thing is he plays the music he wants to, with the people he wants to, & isn’t living in poverty. He is known, but not famous. His *musical career* has largely been built by making contacts.
By choice Gordy lives up the canyon, off the PG&E grid. Still, he has built a website which helps him play all the instrumental music he wants; & he doesn’t gotta sing.
So there you go, Tom. One person who does not have a big name, doesn’t use smoke nor mirrors, plays instrumental music on (gulp) banjo, earns a respectable living, & doesn’t need to sing ~ unless he wants to. Although, he does talk, & talk, & talk …

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Babs, please don’t presume to speak for me.

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~

The only thing I’m *trying* to say is there have been some excellent contributions to thesession.org which may be found by reading certain member profiles. Tom, if you have learnt something by digging a bit deeper then perhaps this thread (& perhaps this website) will be worth something yet, despite problems with the OP. You might want to consider answering Mr. Harmon’s question(s). He can be relentless IMHO.

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Thanks Babs, certainly not my intention to go off in a huff due to disagreement. I’ll aim to come back to this when the load of work on my desk allows.

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in the u.s. right now, it isn’t so much that "you gotta sing to make money." it is more, if what brought you to this music is the love of, and desire to play it in a traditional style, you must accept and plan accordingly, that no matter how lovely you may become as a musician by traditional standards, playing irish music in a traditional "pure drop" style, you are not going to make money at it, because there is no paying market for it, no more than there was for the farmers and laborers of bobby casey or paddy canny’s day, when paddy canny stated that he and the other members of the tulla ceili band did it for the love of it and were happy to get a pint out of it over the course of a night.

you will be doing it for the love of it, beyond enough for a meal here or there, or a half-tank of gas here or there, or a couple of pints here and there. and any singing done in a traditional style won’t make you any more money than the instrumental stuff will. moreover, the opportunities to do this in pubs are shrinking radically in the post-"riverdance" era. should you find a pub owner willing to permit you to attempt to do this in their establishment, it will be conditional.

you will have to convince them that it will make them money, and that will mean you will be forced to play not your style, but "their" style, the style of the clowns, the twinkies, the amateurs, and the dipsh*ts. viz, hopped-up, hyper-fast, and, er, "driving" or er, "exciting," as outlined in the next paragraph—-and even then, the pub owner will probably play sports games full-blast on hi-def tv screens with all speakers blaring while you are playing.

the only way you are going to make money, and i don’t mean a lot of money, i mean, enough to like, sleep on people’s floors or crammed five to a motel room on a so-called "tour," and live off of a martyred significant other or some other sucker or suckers willing to bankroll or, hey, "Kickstart" able-bodied adults calling themselves "artists," is to play in a "band" style imitative of and derived from, the pop/rock model, a la the so-called star touring irish bands, meaning, at a hyper-fast speed, in a high-adrenaline style often called "driving" or "exciting." usually with a very loud, foregrounded rhythm section in which drums and/or guitars are making a lot of noise at extremely high speeds. yes, this package would probably include some singing, but in a pop-influenced, quote-unquote, "exciting" style.

so here it is. if what you dreamed of was to play or sing in, say, the style typical of much of the music you’d hear on claire keville or joan hanrahan’s clare FM shows, you can, but you must accept that you will be doing it more or less for nothing, or next to nothing. you must do it in addition to a metier, profession, or trade that will enable you to live while expressing yourself in a creative metier that is not remunerative. in short, you must be like the dozens, maybe hundreds, of gorgeous traditional irish musicians who do exactly the same thing. if you go to the archives of RTE’s "bloom of youth" shows, spotlighting a couple of young trad musicos per show for about 12 shows per summer, and listen to the interviews therein, you will see what i am talking about. they are all exquisite, and they are all in Uni becoming dentists, teachers, engineers, doctors, computer scientists, etc.. one or two were apprenticing in a skilled trade. some were in ULimerick’s trad master’s program, though the smarter ones were becoming music therapists or something that might enable them to make a living. and they were all gorgeous traditional musicians.

that is the reality of it, and singing is not dispositive in the equation.

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"should you find a pub owner willing to permit you to attempt to do this in their establishment, it will be conditional….you will have to convince them that it will make them money…."

To reiterate what I said on another recent thread, so that someone browsing these threads may see that the world isn’t always so black and white, I’m glad that there are pubs where I live (in the States) that don’t operate like this, that happily host the session whether they make sales or not.

There are still people in this world, maybe few and far between but here nonetheless, who get that this is about community, not competition or commercialization.

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i am in the u.s., and have yet to see this. i believe you that it exists, but the rare instances i’ve seen involved pubs where either a) even if there were no conditions (stated or implicit) that the playing bring revenue to the bar, there was no chance of getting lowered noise or an area to play without deafening noise; and/or b) the environment was convivial to play in and no expectations were cast by the establishment—-but there was no money or free food/booze in it for the musicians, in which case the opportunity was defeated by musicians motivated by the concerns you (wh) were taking issue with earlier in this thread. most recently, i’ve been at a session where one of the so-called "leaders" was browbeating people to play extremely fast because, gasp, the pub would not keep us if we didn’t whip up enough excitement to increase bar revenue. the individual was actually chastising people for playing one (that’s o-n-e) set of hornpipes/set dances in the course of an entire session. seriously. this while a game was broadcasting on multiple screens and speakers for about 4/5ths of the session. this sort of thing is not a situation i could be a party to no matter how much i liked the other players….i actually thought seriously about giving up irish music after this took place. it’s only the last week or so i’ve been able to stand the thought of a jig or reel…..

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ceemonster, that sounds like a pretty dire situation, and it sounds like a bar that’s going to lose the session pretty soon anyway, whether it’s because the bar doesn’t understand that sessions don’t make money directly, or whether it’s because someone starts a better session in another bar on that night.

I’ve made this point before on this board, but it’s worth repeating: sessions don’t bring in revenue for the bar directly, as a rule. They also don’t cost a lot of money, as a rule, so that’s okay. They serve a few purposes, all of which can make the bar a more lucrative venture in the long run, but raking in stacks of dough at the bar isn’t one of them.

One of those purposes is to establish authenticity. If the bar wants to be a "real Irish bar" they can stake that claim by having a few people playing in the corner on a Sunday.
Another purpose is to attract some people who don’t typically come in to the bar, and possibly broaden the customer base.
Another purpose is to shift the current customer base’s habits. If custom starts arriving at 8:00, have a session from 6:00 to 8:00 or 9:00. People who come in and find the musicians packing up will think about coming in earlier next time - and if you have them in at 6:00, you’re likely to sell them dinner, in addition to a few extra pints.
Another purpose is to keep a stable of trad musicians on hand. If you’re booking the music at the weekend, it’s nice to have people coming in so you can hear what they do, and it’s nice to have the musicians feeling like you’re already starting by doing them a favor.

And, I should point out, that in no case does it make sense for the bar to charge the musicians. You can argue back and forth about whether someone should be paid to "host" the session, but charging the musicians for the drink that they’re supposed to be modelling for your customers - that’s just foolish.

All that being said, I think sessions are a long way from the original poster’s topic. It’s pretty clear that if you want to make a living playing Irish music in bars, it helps to have a singer in the band. And that being the case, if you want to get lots of work as a bar musician in Irish bands, it helps to be able to come across with a few songs. So I don’t really see that the original post was far from the mark. If you want to play this music for money you’re likely to improve your chances if you’re a decent singer, or even if you have a couple of party piece songs.

And if you don’t believe me, ask this guy:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuDuvbDFdis


🙂

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the op didn’t specify bands "in bars" or making money "in bars" or bands "in bars" or singers "in bars." just making money in irish music, with or without singers. we wandered into the sessions-in-bars bit by way of pointing out that bars are one of the only ways you have any chance of making any money (however scantily) in irish music.

i wasn’t saying the OP was off the mark, only that imho, while probly having a singer would be preferable to punters or audience members than not having one, having a singer isn’t dispositive as to whether you’re going to make money. the op is quite right that if you develop good instrumental chops you may play some festivals and such and have the time of your life, but you won’t make money, but i personally disagree that this would be much different with the sole factor of a singer. what makes the difference (if it’s one you could live with) even with a singer in the mix, is whether you deliver a package today’s excuse for a paying audience is going to find quote-unquote, "exciting." you can sing til the cows come home, but it won’t get you a dime extra unless the singing like the playing packaged and pitched at a commercial punter or audience member who could care less about traditional music or singing….

irish music is going back to the money-making potential it always had prior to the riverdance-era flurry of a celtic mini-fad. and that lucrativity quotient was, like the that of other wonderful dance-based acoustic roots music such as cajun, tex-mex conjunto, klezmer, etc, low in the extreme. milkmen, farmers, and carpenters did it (much better than most "bands" today, i might add) on the side after their workday. the fad period introduced a lot of fatal memes from the rock/pop-stardom paradigm into the irish paradigm with the result that lots of people get into it with nonsensical expectations……look even the traditional/folk bands that win in the american Grammy category for that style, such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops last year or whenever—-they don’t really make money. they tour festivals and tiny venues for a while and have a hell of a lot of fun, but it’s modest at best. and they either get into a musical niche that does pay, such as writing something that pays royalties (less likely in the napster age), or soundtracks or producing or something, or they get sick of the folkie-level thing and get other careers and do their folkie thing on a smaller scale……many of the so-called "stars" in trad/folk genres are professionals of some kind in other fields. that is how you make money in traditional music….🙂

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If I refused to play in bars that didn’t serve musicians free drink, I’d never get out to a session, ever. There are several pubs where you get one free drink over the course of the night, and several with a session tab but you have to be one of the cool, "in-crowd" of the session to on that. Generally speaking, you get feck all, in most of Scotland and the Northeast of England.

One session which used to serve musicians free drink — mind you, this was a bucket of Miller (blechhh!) so it wasn’t as if they were putting out for us — stopped doing so, I think on the grounds that the law prohibited them from giving people "free" drink. I think this was a bogus reason since one could easily argue the musicians were providing the pub a service, but there you have it.

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Will H, you said "This whole thread is based on the errant premises that this music is about performing for money and that players are ranked based on whether they sing or play instrumental music and on how much they can earn."

No, that’s totally your premise. As I said in the OP my question was inspired by a recent discussion where someone asked for help finding gigs in order to make money. That made me wonder, "how possible is that?" I went on to say "after all, what more reward do we need for playing than the music itself!"

You also said "you can’t exclude "big name" instrumentalists just because they’re big names." My reason for excluding them was that it already seems clear they are making something of a living from instrumental traditional music. I was interested in whether the people we’ve all heard of are the only ones to do so.

I’ll clarify what I meant by "big name" "starry" and "middle ranking." I was broadly thinking in terms of festival posters and websites. The big names are literally that, the biggest print. The "starry" names are likewise the big print names in the most prominent position. The "middle ranking" are the block, in the middle of the poster, of names in smaller type, likely to be a mixture of professionals and semi-professionals. None of this was intended to imply anything about their quality of music.

You said "this is about community, not competition or commercialization." I quite agree, but if we want fine musicians to go on tour, play other than in a pub or someone’s home, then a commercial dimension exists and can be of interest and worthy of discussion.

Skreech’s point about there often being a majority of players in a band and a minority of singers is a very fair one. I’ll plead guilty to loose wording, by "you gotta sing" I meant to imply "someone in your band gotta sing, not everyone"

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"If I refused to play in bars that didn’t serve musicians free drink, I’d never get out to a session, ever."

That’s interesting.I imagine that it stays that way because everyone does it that way. If you were to start open sessions in a bar, and you took care of the musicians, you’d be swamped as soon as the word got out. If you survived, all the other bars would go over to your system, of course, because their sessions would be empty, but it would take a little while, and your success would probably kill you.
Interesting that both approaches are evolutionarily stable.

Over here, bars that don’t take care of the musicians don’t seem to last with the sessions, because the musicians play in places where they’re respected. It seems that over there, a bar that respected musicians would be loved to death by them. In both cases, it doesn’t pay to go against the tide.

Well, there you go - learn something new every day.

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Because it isn’t seen as "the norm" for a pub to provide sessioneers with free drink over here (NE England), not providing drink isn’t regarded as "not respecting/not taking care of" the musicians.

Personally I like things the way they are here. The pub shows its "respect" by reserving a couple of tables for us, by asking noisy customers to quieten down occasionally, and so on.

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

If a bar has 6-8 musicians in a session who received two drinks each, this would cost nearly £50 at Edinburgh prices (Less than this for the management, I suppose, as I daresay it would be at cost price) which is more than some of the smaller pubs actually fork out for a paid session.

Now some of the larger touristy and/or busier pubs do have a tab when there are sessions but not all bars can afford this nor even to pay the musicians.
However, smaller quieter pubs are often much more desirable places for having the odd tune or two but they might not even have room for more than a dozen or so punters over and above the musicians.

Of course, a free drink or two is welcome but if it’s a large session or you are visitor it shouldn’t be expected. Besides, in my experience, if the management are being very generous they are also more likely to try and tell you what to do, when and what to play etc.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

"If a bar has 6-8 musicians in a session who received two drinks each, this would cost nearly £50 at Edinburgh prices"

That’s at retail. As you say, the pub pays the keg cost. Marginal cost of those pints is pocket change, and any bar owner who doesn’t know that is unaware of the markup they’re charging on their product. That’s a bar that’s going to be going under pretty quick.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Jon, I think you live in a different world. John J’s "smaller quieter pubs… … desirable places for having the odd tune or two" may have dominos or a darts match the next night, and those players don’t get free drink either.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

"Jon, I think you live in a different world"

That’s likely. Here, music played for its own sake is a rarity, and it’s an attraction. Bars either find it useful for their business to host such a thing, or they don’t. If they don’t, they don’t have a session, and they do something else with the space. If they do, and they have even a scrap of a clue, they leverage the fact that they’re paying wholesale to make the musicians feel welcome without spending any real money on them. This translates to a friendly barman who doesn’t begrudge you a pint or four, which means the bar gets good music, which helps their business for basically no cost, aside from what they pay the host. Since the musicians are a scarce commodity, part of the host’s responsibility is to make sure that everyone feels welcome, and that someone is there who knows enough tunes to play with just about anyone.

I think the model is different on your side of the water. There, if I’m understanding it correctly, the music is not seen as a scarce commodity, what’s scarce is places to play it. So the pub will allow a table or two, if the players are good, and they might pay someone to host the session, but their job is not so much to make sure more people play as to make sure that people who don’t play so good aren’t made to feel welcome at all.

What’s constant on both sides, I think, is that the cost of pouring a pint is not a factor in whether the musicians pay for their beverage. The difference is who’s got hold of the scarce resource.

Does this sound reasonable to you?

Re: You gotta sing to make money

I think the bars should at least give the musicians a discount. We are drawing in customers, after all. One place I went to recently charged $7 for a bottle of cider—-it made me much less inclined to go back there when there are plenty of other sessions in town that don’t charge anything.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

One thing I learned for sure when I was playing in the songwriter scene was that a bar treats you better in proportion to the amount they’re paying you.

When you’re playing for cash money, they’ll pour you whatever you like, when you’re playing for the door they give you a few "drink tickets" (good for a PBR or a Henry’s back when there was Henry’s, before they tore the brewery down) and when you’re passing the hat it’s "they gave me a glass and they showed me the sink".

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Does this sound reasonable to you? (Jon) I suppose it may fit John J’s "larger touristy and/or busier pubs".

There seem to be plenty around that are just a bunch of people getting together to play tunes for themselves, with local self-policed (or not !) conventions about standards. At two near here the pub usually provides a round of sandwiches or a plate of chips (fries). But they do that for the old guys on dominos night as well - it probably sells more beer.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

"I think the model is different on your side of the water. There, if I’m understanding it correctly, the music is not seen as a scarce commodity, what’s scarce is places to play it. So the pub will allow a table or two, if the players are good, and they might pay someone to host the session, but their job is not so much to make sure more people play as to make sure that people who don’t play so good aren’t made to feel welcome at all. "

I think that describes the scene here pretty well.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Tom, you say we agree on an important point—that "this is about community, not competition or commercialization."

Yet you go on to say: "…but if we want fine musicians to go on tour, play other than in a pub or someone’s home, then a commercial dimension exists and can be of interest and worthy of discussion."

So, in fact, you don’t agree, eh?

Why is going on tour and playing in commercial concert venues a priority? It’s *not,* actually, for many of us, nor for many of the finest players. Case in point: Antoinn MacGabhann came to Montana a while ago and sat in our session (in a pub) and played in peoples’ homes, and taught a workshop in someone’s livingroom—for which he refused pay. He just wanted to play some tunes with us and see Montana.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should do the same. If someone wants to try to make money playing this music, that’s up to them. But the profit mindset isn’t front and center for most of the people (including many "big names") I’ve met who play this music. This thread, and your persistence in assuming that commercialization is popular or even desirable, are far wide of the mark.

Who gets top billing on publicity is all about what they can draw in terms of ticket sales, so again, you’re using commoditization to rank musicians (I never said you were ranking on musical quality). Just because promoters rank musicians doesn’t mean you have to fall for it or accept it. One of the refreshing things about most Irish traditional musicians is that, in contrast to pop stars, they don’t usually believe their own p.r. If you choose to continue thinking of trad musicians in a similar light as rock stars, however, you’ll likely go on thinking that some of them are famous "big names" who want fame and fortune and are somehow different in status from the stellar player whose name is known only by his session mates down at the pub. In my experience of the many wonderful musicians who keep this music alive, you’d be missing the whole point.

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

i agree with wh. the anton mcg mentality is that of the musicians whose music and values attracted me to this. somehow it often translates into something about the playing of these folks, doesn’t it? the problem is that places to do this where the playing will be of a high quality—-you know, a beat, a beat that’s steady, syncopation, syncopation that’s consistent, that kind of thing—-is a tough one. i’m happy to play for no money so long as the site is not noisy and the musical standards are there. where i live, the chops go for the money, which means the high speeds, the "exciting" aesthetic, and the high bg noise levels…..i have floated the idea here and there in my locality about finding a lovely site, cafe or something, amenable to having music with no revenue and no freebies, and gathering a few like-minded players for good music, and have gotten the "i’m a professional, i don’t do that" response. not coincidentally, the "professionals" are living off of or subsidized by working adults, including often being driven around by people willing to stoop to earning money to own cars and pay insurance on them, and the "profession" is fifty or seventy dollars after a night in a pub.

as for it only being an issue on "our side of the poind," (the u.s.), that is absolutely not true. it is a big phenom in ireland as well. i don’t mean it is the only way things shake out everywhere in ireland, but the issue is definitely lamented and talked about there. some of the musicians in ennis, clare, told me that the order of the day in the pubs there is, a "commercial" (super-speed, foregrounded, loud rhythm, etc) sound or nothing, in extremely noisy conditions. i did experience lovely music in ennis, and it is there to be had, but most of the pubs have certain expectations about making the kind of sound that will bring in revenue in a deafeningly noisy atmosphere, and that is a fact. it is also an issue in galway city…….i don’t mean 100% everywhere, i’m saying the phenom definitely exists….

Re: You gotta sing to make money

I think it has to be said that TomB-R was quite clearly using the conditional clause in his opening post:
"IF you want to make some money, you gotta sing."
I inferred that "some money" meant more than a modest living - and, obviously, the conditional clause suggests that the OP didn’t see this as the sole aim of all in the traditional music world.

The thing that separates " traditional folk music" (the term is valid here, because there is the link between instrumentalists and singers) is the fact that the music existed and will continue to exist irrespective of the commercial aspect, or whatever level of financial gain that can be had from its ‘performance’. Nevertheless, people like Antóin Mac Gabhann (or Tony Smith, in the anglicised version that I gather he was Christened with) aside (apparently he does consciously veer towards teaching workshops and sessions) there are several Irish traditional musicians who perform professionally, and it would be naïve to believe that they are not concerned with the financial side of their chosen profession. I have also encountered some professional musicians who were quite particular as to who was ‘top of the bill’ at festivals etc. Likewise, it is rather presumptuous to suggest (or imply) that all "pop stars" believe in their own PR.
Yes, that is the stereotypical pop star image - and I’m sure a substantial amount do, but I do know some people - two, in particular, who made it to the ‘top ten’ in the British pop charts, but are as modest about it as many a traditional musician is about his/her playing abilities (and their own abilities are not insignificant to boot). Making "some money" involves an attitude geared towards making "some money", and the trad scene isn’t void of people with that attitude. I wouldn’t say that having a singer in the band is vital if you want to make "some money" (though it can help). There are other things like a ‘business attitude’ and good stagecraft that can have an effect. Just look at these dudes (everything that makes me glad I’m not in that scene - though the philosophy paid off):

http://freshonthenet.co.uk/case-study-show-of-hands/

Yep - it’s not Irish trad, but the principles of "making some money" would apply more or less.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Weej, it’s also presumptuous to imply someone else generalized when they didn’t.

I didn’t imply that all pop stars believe their own pr. I too am friends with several musicians, international "stars" in more mainstream genres, who are humble about their success. To a one, they’re also uninterested in the finances, as long as they have enough to keep doing what they love. (Of course, they pay other people well to worry about money for them.)

I also didn’t say no trad musicians are interested in money. In fact, I said: "I’m not suggesting that everyone should do the same. If someone wants to try to make money playing this music, that’s up to them."

In contrast, ceemonster got what I was getting at.

BTW, it’s been my experience that Mr. MacGabhann prefers to go by his Irish name.

Seriously, Weejie, you’d be a lot more fun to hang out with if you took a break (even just once in a blue moon) from the patronizing debate mode to find some iota of meaning in another’s post you could agree with.

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

"Seriously, Weejie, you’d be a lot more fun to hang out with"

There’s being patronizing for you….

Thanks for turning it into an ad hominem, Will. Let’s see what you actually said quite early on:

"This whole thread is based on the errant premises that this music is about performing for money and that players are ranked based on whether they sing or play instrumental music and on how much they can earn."




You were wrong there, because the OP clearly used the conditional clause. It was a "conditional premise"



"to find some iota of meaning in another’s post you could agree with."

Off your high horse, Will. I agree with the OP’s original statement to a large extent:

"If you want to make some money, you gotta sing."

I just happened to read that word "if" at the beginning. Perhaps you should practise what you preach.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Oh and:-

"BTW, it’s been my experience that Mr. MacGabhann prefers to go by his Irish name."

Fine, but it’s not relevant to anything I said (and perhaps you could at least spell his Hibernised name correctly).

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Hmmm. Must’ve hit a nerve. 😏

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

Nothng ad hominem about it. You’re *not* fun, here in Weejie (anonymous) land, to hang out with.

Ad hominem would be if I said, "You may not be a jerk, but you certainly know how to act like one."

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

Oh. Did you catch the "if" in there?

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

Perhaps I hit yours?

It wasn’t meant to. It was supposed to put things in perspective.

BTW - my made up word was close - "Hibernicised" might exist.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Grow up, Will.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

"I didn’t imply that all pop stars believe their own pr"

"One of the refreshing things about most Irish traditional musicians is that, in contrast to pop stars, they don’t usually believe their own p.r."

Perhaps you should word your statements a little more precisely, Will. It certainly looks like the implication is there.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

Weejie, if you’re going to call out the conditional "if" but then ignore the qualifier "usually," then you’re on your own.

"Grow up, Will."

Still think you’re not patronizing?



Smoke and flames. Glad someone installed these red floor lights leading to the exit. I think I’ll follow them. Hup!

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Re: You gotta sing to make money

"Weejie, if you’re going to call out the conditional "if" but then ignore the qualifier "usually," then you’re on your own."

As I said, word your statements a bit more precisely:

"One of the refreshing things about most Irish traditional musicians is that, in contrast to pop stars, they don’t usually believe their own p.r."

"They don’t usually" appears to mean "most Irish traditional musicians", not the "pop stars". If you’d said "many pop stars", or words to that effect, it would have been clearer.

Did I say I wasn’t patronising? I pointed out how patronising you can be.

You misinterpreted the OP. Get over it.

Re: You gotta sing to make money

If it is so easy, why do I see nothing but clowns miming on videos on the TV.
The eejits appear on chat shows, show videos of themselves obviously miming, but don’t sing live.

If some dots were placed in front of them, most would run a mile.