Touring Musicians

Touring Musicians

Hey everyone

Just wondering how many people out there are professional musicians and make their living either touring or from recording/collaborating?

Matty

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I worked in the bars for a few years. Never toured, and never made a living at it, but I always managed to get paid fairly for my time. I’m still a member of A.F. of M., so I suppose I’m a professional in one sense. (I love the union, but I have to think it’s funny that they define "professionals" as coextensive with their membership)

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I used to, Matty, but then got married. Sigh! I do miss it.

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Life as an amateur is much more fun

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Does your playing and knowledge of the music improve by going professional or at least by forming a band and doing regular gigging? i.e increased discipline, feeding off other musicians, exposure to other bands’ material through "top flight" sessions etc or can you learn as much yourself and from your mates at the local session? Obviously, you should be at a certain standard before thinking about going professional but I’m wondering if you take an even bigger leap forward musically thereafter. I’ve known some musicians and singers who have "gone professional" and their confidence and repertoires (sometimes their heads too) have appeared to increase no end.

John

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hmmm…. interesting point, a few advantages to playing proffesionally i’ve found are, sleeping in, being able to spend more time cooking and having a whole load of time to practise during the day as long as you can pull yourself away from the computer!

It does have a few downsides, sometimes there are dry patches which means unsubscribing from the wine club for a month or so, but they usually don’t last too long….

Seriously if you do go professional be aware that 80% of your time is then spent trying to get gigs, organise tours and put together material, not as much time for practising as you’d think, but maybe if you had a manager and agent it would be easier?

I wouldn’t give it up for anything, even a whole load more money! I just keep telling myself that the riches will come soon enough (been telling myself that for a while though….)

Jamie

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Matty, I think the majority of folks who visit this site are amateurs who play the music purely for fun and enjoyment. They may use this site as a way to break up the work day or they live in remote areas far from the big session scenes and find it a useful way to stay in contact with other Irish musicians. Some folks are students and some are retired. Some work from home and some work in cubicles or tiny dingy offices : )

I’m a beginner to Irish music and music in general. But I was once (a long time ago) a professional road bike racer and traveled all over the country. I found that in the beginning it was exciting, but after a while the constant traveling became oppressive. And the bike racing became another job……..but I’m still glad I did it…..

Good luck Matty. You’ll look back someday and you’ll be glad you had the experiences.

Joyce

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Ooops sorry!!!! , when I said "country", I meant the USA……. I don’t want to offend anyone with my geographical ambiguity, like I did in a previous post…..

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Again, professional before getting married.
Are you still amateur if you get paid for every gig, but have a daytime job? If so, whats the difference between a professional who works 3 nights a week and an amateur who does the same?

Having to play daytimes and evenings, I eventually got sick of taking all gigs available, playing to furniture, the alcohol and the travelling. I got to the stage where I was sick of the sight of my instrument and when I eventually jacked in and got married, I gave up playing for some months.

Nowadays, I have loads of tunes upstairs but can’t find enough time to play, have more gigs than I can do and turn work down. Having been there, done it and now getting past it, my greatest delight is in passing on what I have learned and in giving encouragement to beginners.

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Encouragement in particular to beginner bodhran/spoon players, no doubt, Geoff.

Not to make anyone self-conscious or anything, but…

There’s a LOT of lurkers here at The Session, Matty, who don’t participate but do check in, and some of them are what’s known as "famous" touring types, though the ones I’m aware of would laugh themselves onto the floor at the thought of anyone thinking them famous…

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Touring musicians. A couple of my muso friends are so large that it is quite a tour just to walk all the way around ‘em.

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Hi Matty,

Well, the way I make money to live on and put myself through school is through performing, teaching, and adjudicating music, so I guess that makes me a professional. It’s definitely possible to make a living this way, but it is very different from playing music as an amateur.
The truth is that winning the All-Ireland is not an automatic ticket to stardom, or even to having a secure career. If you’re an American, to go on a Comhaltas tour will cost you more money than it pays you because of employment taxes and things the Irish government imposes on non-Irish citizens. Adjudicating at fleadhanna pays $200 for a grueling 12-hour work day. Teaching privately is one of the most satisfying and lucrative things you can do professionally, and a very stable source of income, but not "glamorous." Traveling around to teach workshops, eg at summerschools, has its own set of frustrations. To make a living and enjoy your life doing this, you have to passionately love and feel value in what you’re doing, and minimize the number of things that you’re doing that are musically unsatisfying but you’re doing them for the money. I have got to the point where I just don’t take unsatisfying gigs anymore. I much prefer playing sit-down concerts over playing background music or bar gigs or weddings. I have also been incredibly lucky in having very motivated, talented students for the most part, the kind that don’t make you cringe when the doorbell rings.

As to how being professional affects your skill as a musician, all too easily it could cause you to stop advancing if you let it. If you have do so many musically unsatisfying gigs that you become uninspired, don’t want to take your instrument out of its case, or play if you don’t have to,etc, that’s a really bad thing you’re doing to yourself. You do have to be aware of what other musicians are doing, and this is a competitive business, but the healthiest way to look at this, in my opinion, is "What does that person have that I would like to develop in my playing?" and take inspiration rather than defeat from the realization that someone is doing something you don’t or currently can’t do. But you also need to have a realistic idea of how good you are in relation to people offering similar services, and demand that rates and the types of gigs that you deserve, refusing to settle for less.
This business is certainly not for everyone. Many of the most well-known Irish musicians don’t make their living entirely from music at all, anyway…Brian Conway is a lawyer, Matt Cranitch is a professor of engineering, etc. But nowadays it is getting more and more possible to actually make a living as an Irish musician, and people are going for it. The University of Limerick’s degree program in performance is designed to give students music business skills as well as performance training, unlike many conservatories. Many Irish music giggers in the past have had to learn all of this sort of thing the hard way; the fallout is that very few seem to belong to the union, the rates for Irish music gigs are relatively cheap compared to other gigs, people don’t use contracts and get burned again and again, there are issues over newly composed tune copyrights, etc, all in the name of "informality," "it’s folk music," "loosen up, we don’t need a contract." I think Irish musicians would have a very hard time charging union rates, for one thing, unless all of them banded together and did it. Many of the major players, of course, now have detailed contracts; Liz Carroll and Billy McComiskey both register their tunes with ASCAP.Only time will tell what the future of professional Irish music will bring…but hopefully it’s moving in a positive direction!

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Geoffwright’s comment re paid amateurs / professionals is an interesting one. I tend to think of the definitions purely in terms of skill level - many musicians I regard as outstanding professionals can’t make a full time living out of it - but in monetary terms it can be a grey area. That issue had a high profile here a year or so ago when the government tried to change taxation laws to disallow tax deductions associated with a "secondary" income being claimed against a "primary" income.

The intent was to stop (for example) a wealthy businessman/doctor/lawyer/whatever setting up a "hobby farm" and then claiming farming expense deductions against their main income under tax concessions that are supposed to benefit genuine primary producers.

Unfortunately, the way the legislation was framed, it also swept up any musicians and other artists forced to supplement their income with other employment, who were to be declared "hobbyists" if the income from other employment they exceeded income from their profession. It would have affected me to some extent - my music income isn’t huge but is enough to be useful - but would have made a big difference to "non-mainstream" professionals. It generated a lot of discussion at the time about what constituted a professional, amateur, hobbyist.

I don’t remember what the upshot of it was, but there was a lot of clamour and I’m sure the government had to make changes as a result of it.

My accountant was instructed by the tax office at the time to "counsel" me and one or two of his other clients on the issue - which he did with his tongue very firmly in his cheek!

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"Here" being Australia - sorry!

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how would you go about getting enough gigs for the income to be "useful". I’m a student with a HUGE overdraft and need advice on this as currently i can only get 1 or 2 a month. Is it shameless self promotion thats required or does anyone have a marketing strategy for traditional music?

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Mike,
To become a gigging muso, you really do have to take on anything that comes, be it classical,scots, jazz, irish, teaching or even old-tyme and modern. You have to play in as many different types of bands as you can and absorb enough of the style to become useful.
You have to get the contacts as well - bandleaders, and both established and up-and-coming giggers. If getting out and meeting/making contacts is self-promotion, get out there and do it.
You have to either lower or extend your sights as well - there is work out there outside the traditional folk scene which will supplement your traditional gigs.
I can still have fun putting a traditional flavour into the music when playing for sequence dancing etc. even though playing gigs like that is never traditional music.
Get a website and get your face around all the sessions within 30 miles - someone will know where the gigs are.

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Mike,
The music markets itself. It’s your gigs you need to market. try doing a few freebies to get your playing known as well as knocking on doors ad nauseum. As soon as you stop looking for gigs, the work trails off unless you’re the Chieftains or summat. Oh and keep your repertoire fresh.

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Matty-

My band doesn’t tour yet, but I have hopes that it might someday. I play in Celtic/Folk Rock band (Fiddle, Flute, Bodhran, Guitar, Bass…3 strong females front the band and do most of the singing). We play in and around the Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota USA area. We have been playing together for about 5 years (some members have revolved) giging out consistently for almost 3. All of us have safe day jobs with nice benefits so the transition from moonlighters to professionals would be a giant leap of faith on all our parts. We are currently planning and colaborating on our second album (self financed and distributed).

By the way, I went to the concert you all had here in Minneapolis on January 26th. I had a great time and you all were awesome. I look forward to seeing you all in concert again sometime.

~Autumn

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Geoffwright speaks the truth! To make useful money, you’ve either got to be a hot-shot in a specialty that has enough adherents to make it viable, or be prepared to take on work that wouldn’t be your first "artistic" preference. (My abilities are limited, but I’ve been able and willing to fit into all sorts of situations, which brings me work that isn

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Hey, I’ve just finished at music college. I have a few contacts and have some gigs but I am just starting out really. So anyone with some experience got any advice on getting started for me?