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Thread: The next time you are asked to play for free....

  1. #126
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    do they (the venue) want the elements that make live music interesting?
    Some might, in view of their own competition next door where there is only CD music or sports TV.

    That is a matter of local culture, of course, but the unexpected happens. 25 years back we (Irish/Scottish/Folk) did a gig in a disco - we were sceptical about the regular audience of such a place, but not only were they wild with applause, they booed the DJ when he was trying to resume normal programme after our last song and they never stopped until we ran out of encores. I attribute it to a lack of acquaintance with our genre in that area at the time, and all we had to do was let the music do its magic.

    But it takes venue management with a lot of courage and foresight to enable this. Far between.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Well, I was just speaking of societal trends ("modernization," you know..)

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    We don't dance,
    Or sing..

  3. #128
    Peace. Love. Mandolin. Gelsenbury's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I am grateful for the contribution that free gigs by amateur musicians make to the local music scene. Of course it's true that people who play for free won't offer the same calibre of musicianship or have the same number of practice hours behind them. If you want to organise a music event of professional quality, you have to expect to pay professional fees for it.

    But the local music scene wouldn't exist without the free music offered in pubs and cafes by young musicians just starting out, or by talented amateur musicians who play in addition to their day job. Participation is what folk music is all about.

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  5. #129
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by TheArimathean View Post
    This may just be me being naive, but isn't the quality of the music being marketed of some importance? And are there really professional or professional grade musicians that gig for free? If the answer to that question is negative, wouldn't that mean that there would be a clear difference in quality of "free" music and "funded" music that would equate to a price standard?
    That's my 2 inquisitive round copper moneys...
    I think this hits the nail on the head. If you have a quality product that people really want to hear, they will pay. If you are really a hot act, they will pay big. And if that's the case, this whole discussion is meaningless.

    Of course this is all fleeting, and yesterday's star is today's one hit wonder on the Classic Rock station, but that's the way it goes. Those Tier I performers represent only a tiny percent of all musical acts. And most often, it is the singer who commands the big bucks and money. The musicians can be, and often are replaced.

    It's all about the demand. As it has been often noted, the supply side is full.

    If you are a world class Tibetan Throat singer, you probably would have a hard time getting a paying gig every week. Just not a big demand. But I think it's cool

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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Austin Bob View Post
    I think this hits the nail on the head. If you have a quality product that people really want to hear, they will pay. If you are really a hot act, they will pay big. And if that's the case, this whole discussion is meaningless.

    Of course this is all fleeting, and yesterday's star is today's one hit wonder on the Classic Rock station, but that's the way it goes. Those Tier I performers represent only a tiny percent of all musical acts. And most often, it is the singer who commands the big bucks and money. The musicians can be, and often are replaced.

    It's all about the demand. As it has been often noted, the supply side is full.

    If you are a world class Tibetan Throat singer, you probably would have a hard time getting a paying gig every week. Just not a big demand. But I think it's cool


    Can't/won't argue with ANY of that! Especially not the Tibetan throat singer part!

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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I still don't understand why it's the responsibility of the food and beverage industry to provide vocational opportunities for musicians and why it isn't the responsibility of musicians to find viable ways of sustaining themselves.

    For a long time there was an intersection of mutual interests for musicians and public houses. To some degree there always will be, but that dynamic has changed. I think a lot of career minded young players understand they need experience playing in front of live crowds, and there is such a glut of people wanting that exposure that it's monetary value has become fairly low. They see these venues as a stepping stone, not as ends in themselves and there is in fact competition for these "opportunities". They are trying to build a fan base. Gigging for a lot of these folks is really marketing.

    A lot of these places take the path of least resistance. If there are dozens of bands willing to play for a cut of the door and will bring in crowds of people to buy my product, why should they pay for music unless there's a very specific type they want they can't get for free. I don't particularly like this stuff, but this is the way more and more of that end of the musical universe simply is.
    Steve

  8. #132

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Of course it's true that people who play for free won't offer the same calibre of musicianship or have the same number of practice hours behind them.
    Not being argumentative. Just pointing out.........there's a BG band that plays at a restaurant, here, weekly. If I had to guess, I'd say they're playing for drinks and utilizing it as public practice (and hoping to pick up gigs from patrons).

    They're exceptional.

  9. #133
    Peace. Love. Mandolin. Gelsenbury's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I don't doubt it. I was just trying to insert an argument in favour of the paid pros.

  10. #134

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    I still don't understand why it's the responsibility of the food and beverage industry to provide vocational opportunities for musicians and why it isn't the responsibility of musicians to find viable ways of sustaining themselves.

    I don't understand who's necessarily disagreeing with you? Businesses are free to choose their own business model. And performers are free to choose theirs. And both sides are free to gripe about the other side not caring about or understanding their side. That's how freedom works. I'm cool with that.

  11. #135
    Gadfly Dr H's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by jv nc View Post
    Then I'd either try to build a reputation as someone who commands the fees he charges (by doing exceptional work)....or, I'd find another line of work.
    LOL. It's good to hear that life has been so easy for you, jv.

    With ten guys working for free and two guys charging, I'll wager the average homeowner in the town would by happy to have adequate plumbing done for free, even it he knows he can get exceptional plumbing done for $75/hour. So I guess you'd probably be finding another line of work. If you could.

    But thanks for illustrating what I've been talking about. When other musicians don't even feel like the profession of music deserves respect and fair compansation, well, in the immortal words of Walt Kelly, "we've met the enemy, and he is us!"
    Dr H
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  13. #136
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Londy View Post
    If some wants to play for free, so be it. Who cares?
    Because every time somebody does that, that's one more place that thinks musicians should play for free, and one less place that will even be willing to negotiate compensation for future gigs.

    Sheesh, this discussion is getting depressing.

    Y'know, in other unionized professions, you can't just walk into a business and offer your services for free. If you don't believe me, try walking into a machine shop somewhere and telling them that you'll run a lathe for them for free, instead of for $40,000/year. Even if you have 20 years experience they won't hire you because the union won't let them hire you, because if they did hire you for free, the guy running the lathe right now to support his wife and three kids would be out of a job.

    Music is a skilled profession, like any other skilled profession, and if people want the services of a skilled profession, they should be willing to compensate the skilled professional providing those services. Period.
    Last edited by Dr H; Apr-12-2013 at 4:25pm.
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr H View Post

    Music is a skilled profession, like any other skilled profession, and if people what the services of a skilled profession, they should be willing to compensate the skilled professional providing those services. Period.
    Well I would quibble a bit. Certainly, there are professions within music, but I think it's too broad to say that music, itself (iow, everyone involved with music, in any capacity) is a profession (as much as any form or phenomena, itself, is regarded as such)

    But of course, this--defining just what is and what isn't--is what we're discussi g here
    Last edited by catmandu2; Apr-12-2013 at 3:54pm.

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    Gadfly Dr H's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by jman72 View Post
    I think this is true (at least my wife tells me it is all the time) and is at the heart of the issue. EVERYBODY plays music these days- just look at the sheer number of the big music instrument retailers or Youtube and it's hard to debate that being a musician does NOT make one part of some elite group that can command pay for your talent- you're just part of the masses. So, maybe the huge number of recreational musicians is changing the way society thinks of music- not as a profession that deserves pay but a hobby that most people do for fun.
    Arrgh!!!

    Look, where I live EVERYBODY has a garden. Does that mean that farmers are no longer some elite group that can command pay for their talent, or that we should expect supermarkets to give produce away for free?

    Most people I know don't garden as a profession, they do it as a hobby, for fun. But a few do sell their vegetables at the local Farmer's Market. If they showed up at the Farmer's Market and started giving their vegetables away for free, they would be soundly thrashed with large zucchini's and run out of the market at pitchfork-point.

    If the public "thinks" that a profession is not a profession, it is up to the professionals in that profession to educate them out of their misconception.


    Of course, most people aren't GOOD musicians, but like JV NC said, for most people going to a bar, music is simply entertainment and the quality is not that important.
    Isn't it funny, though, that all these people still seem to want music?

    And live music is a draw for the business, else why would any bar ever bother to have it? Every place would have a boom-box and some crappy speakers, playing the same 6 cheesy CDs over and over. Sure, there are places like that, but unless they have really cheap drinks, really good wings, or are selling drugs out of the back room, they don't draw nearly the crowds that a place with live music does.

    To most people, a $10 mow from the kid down the street is just fine- and so is the local band jamming away at the bar for little or no pay.
    Where I live most kids get $20-40 to mow an average-sized lawn. Yeah, you could probably still get the 8-year old next door to do it for $10 -- good luck with the lawsuit when he cuts his toe off and you get sued for the medical bills.

    BTW, in your neck of the woods are there a whole lot of kids champing at the bit to mow your lawn for free?
    Dr H
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  16. #139
    Gadfly Dr H's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    You must create an experience people can't get from a recording. Unfortunately, you can't prove you're able to do that by a demo recording, so you must create a reputation as well - and the reputation should include that the experience is available for a fair price.
    The traditional way to do that was to do a live, private audition for the person booking the bands. Also, a lot of clubs used to do trial hires of new acts for a couple of off-nights, so they could judge things like draw and audience reaction. If these were good, then you'd be offered a more extended contract, or better (e.g. weekend) nights.

    These days you can send in a DVD of your act, especially of parts of previous live performances, if you have them.
    Dr H
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Red_Label, I like your attitude. You value your own skills, and believe that others should also, but got yourself into a position where you don't have to rely on them doing that.

    I've pretty much worked myself into the same headspace over the years. As I said earlier in the thread, at this point in my life I can play where, when, and what I want, since I no longer need to make my daily bread from doing it. But I still feel a kinship with my fellow musicians, and it irks me to see them still getting screwed.

    <sigh> It's not only musicians, though. I know plenty of artists who complain that people willingly pay $25/hour for someone to paint their livingroom wall, and then expect to get a portrait to hang on that wall -- that someone labored over for a month -- for free.
    Last edited by Dr H; Apr-12-2013 at 4:33pm.
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    Gadfly Dr H's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Gelsenbury View Post
    I am grateful for the contribution that free gigs by amateur musicians make to the local music scene. Of course it's true that people who play for free won't offer the same calibre of musicianship or have the same number of practice hours behind them. If you want to organise a music event of professional quality, you have to expect to pay professional fees for it.

    But the local music scene wouldn't exist without the free music offered in pubs and cafes by young musicians just starting out, or by talented amateur musicians who play in addition to their day job. Participation is what folk music is all about.
    It's not like I think that no musician should ever play for free, just like I don't think that no chef should ever cook for free, or that no plumber should ever fix a leaky faucet for a friend for nothing more than a beer.

    But really, what pub or cafe that's together enough to consider having live music is so destitute that they can't at least offer each musician minimum wage for their services? It's not so much about how much pay is offered (at least sometimes), as it is about the distressingly present attitude that no pay should be offered at all.

    I don't know any bar or club owner (and at this point in my life I know quite a few) who expects to have his bar tended, his food cooked, his tables waited and bussed, or his floors swept, for free. Hell, he doesn't even expect the goon who stands at the door -- and just looks big and ugly to scare away undesirables -- to work for free. Why, then, would he expect this of his musicians. Yet, all too often, he does.
    Dr H
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    I still don't understand why it's the responsibility of the food and beverage industry to provide vocational opportunities for musicians
    It isn't their responsibility to do that. They can always operate their bar/cafe/restaurant/club without music, if they want to.

    But if they decide that they do want music, then they should expect to pay for it, and budget for it, just like they expect to pay for, and budget for every other ammenity they provide to their customers, from furniture, to food, to booze.

    Are you aware that you can't just start a for-profit dance club and play commercial CDs every night without paying royalty fees to BMI, ASCAP and the like?

    Why expect to get live music for free, then?

    But, as you say, it's not their responsibility to have live music; they can always choose to pay the royalty fees instead, or to have no music at all.

    I'm not sure what the market is for a bar with the atmosphere of a Trappist monastary, but if you think you can make a go of one, more power to you.
    Dr H
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Well I would quibble a bit. Certainly, there are professions within music, but I think it's too broad to say that music, itself (iow, everyone involved with music, in any capacity) is a profession (as much as any form or phenomena, itself, is regarded as such)
    If you want to be philosophically picky, that can be said about any field of endeavor. Plumbing is a skilled profession for some plumbers; others maybe just like to play with pipes. Some people raise vegetables for a living; some just like to play in the dirt. Some people become doctors because they know they can make a good living at it; others do it because they feel a vocation to caring for the sick and injured, and work for nothing in third-world countries.

    But I suspect you knew what I meant, given current context.
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  21. #144
    Barn Cat Mandolins Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr H View Post
    Look, where I live EVERYBODY has a garden. Does that mean that farmers are no longer some elite group that can command pay for their talent, or that we should expect supermarkets to give produce away for free?

    Most people I know don't garden as a profession, they do it as a hobby, for fun. But a few do sell their vegetables at the local Farmer's Market. If they showed up at the Farmer's Market and started giving their vegetables away for free, they would be soundly thrashed with large zucchini's and run out of the market at pitchfork-point.
    Actually, I do farm as a profession. And there are lots of gardeners everywhere. And they do give their produce away for free, or sell it in their front yards for prices no farmer could compete with (this big bag of tomatoes for 25 cents or whatever). But it's a free country and it's fine for them to do so. I have never noticed another farmer complaining about it.

    But in the world of agriculture (more accurately, horticulture), many of us have been put out of business by another competing force. With the globalization of the specialty produce industry, I found I could no longer compete with the imports. Quite simply, they can import it cheaper than I can grow it. The fact that my produce was of a higher quality meant nothing. When the prices fell due to imports, the prices fell for all of us. I had to adapt or go out of business.

    I adapted. I switched to wine. My farm is again profitable. This was a very expensive transition and quite stressful, but my farm survived.

    So, what's the message for musicians? I am not sure. Maybe there is no message. But it might be that some musicians need to adapt to survive. You might not be able to do business the way you want to, but instead you may have to set yourself apart in the marketplace to compete. You might have to deliver something that the paying venue (the customer) sees value in for his/her business. These are business people. If it does not make them money, they will not pay for it. That's not an ethics-based or artistic decision; it's a business decision.

    It could also be that your actual competition is not who you think it is. Are there as many venues in your area offering quality live music as there used to be? If not, why not? Did the business owners determine that paying for a good band did not return profit to their pockets? If not, why not? Could it be that in this world of recorded music on every device one possesses, in every place one finds themselves in every waking moment, that good live music is not the draw it once was? If that is the case, your competition is not the musician playing for free, it's the saturation of the environment with auditory stimuli (or some other such confounding variable).

    We (all of us...musicians, luthiers, farmers...all of us) are all trying to survive in a world in which the old business models just don't work any more. There's no use complaining about it. That won't change anything. All we can do is adapt.

    Maybe the farmer gardener analogy is not a good one. But if it's going to be used, there's my take on it. It may have been a hypothetical situation for you, but it's my reality.
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  23. #145

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr H View Post

    Y'know, in other unionized professions, you can't just walk into a business and offer your services for free. If you don't believe me, try walking into a machine shop somewhere and telling them that you'll run a lathe for them for free, instead of for $40,000/year. Even if you have 20 years experience they won't hire you because the union won't let them hire you, because if they did hire you for free, the guy running the lathe right now to support his wife and three kids would be out of a job.
    There are NO musician's "unions" in my area to deal with. I'm sure that if the venues in my area had to deal with that hassle, most/all of them would forgo live music altogether. As a performer I LIKE having the freedom to work my own deals with venues and don't need/want any meddling middle-men involved in my business transactions.

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  25. #146

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr H View Post
    If you want to be philosophically picky, that can be said about any field of endeavor. Plumbing is a skilled profession for some plumbers; others maybe just like to play with pipes. Some people raise vegetables for a living; some just like to play in the dirt. Some people become doctors because they know they can make a good living at it; others do it because they feel a vocation to caring for the sick and injured, and work for nothing in third-world countries.

    But I suspect you knew what I meant, given current context.
    Well, yes, in fact I find that generalizations are often awkward (such as in this case). There is quite a wide spectra of human experience, and valuation. It's nice if everything is black & white, however...

    No offense meant, and with all due respect...those are all highly standardized and controlled vocations (which is generally how we go about determining what is/is not a profession, its monetary value, etc.)--difficulty ensues with such qualitative and subjective phenomena (as with music and the creative arts)

    I will grant you that coming to consensus on valuation is an arduous process -- a look at even medicine reveals just how so: things have to be measurable, quantifiable, etc, to be meaningful--in the sense of having overt worth and "societal" consensus, etc

    Not that I necessarily advocate any of this, though ; )
    Last edited by catmandu2; Apr-12-2013 at 6:01pm.

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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    With ten guys working for free and two guys charging, I'll wager the average homeowner in the town would by happy to have adequate plumbing done for free, even it he knows he can get exceptional plumbing done for $75/hour.
    I've been saying this all along. The average listener doesn't care......especially when it comes to average music.

    I said a while back....if I wanted to make a living playing music, I'd ask myself how Brad Paisley stayed as busy as he wanted to.....at the price he commands? Then, I'd ask (if this was the case) why I didn't.

  27. #148

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by jv nc View Post
    I've been saying this all along. The average listener doesn't care......especially when it comes to average music.

    I said a while back....if I wanted to make a living playing music, I'd ask myself how Brad Paisley stayed as busy as he wanted to.....at the price he commands? Then, I'd ask (if this was the case) why I didn't.
    Because Brad is pretty mind-blowing?

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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr H View Post
    But if they decide that they do want music, then they should expect to pay for it, and budget for it, just like they expect to pay for, and budget for every other ammenity they provide to their customers, from furniture, to food, to booze.

    So if you owned a bar and I walked up to you and said "I'm opening a new micro brewery, and I'd like to give you 10 cases of beer to give away to your customers", you would turn me down?

    Would that fair to the other brewer down the street? No, but it's my decision. Just like it's a band's decision to play for free if they feel they need exposure. All bands do this. At some point they need exposure, practice in front of live audiences, etc.

    Where you and I differ is that I see this more as a supply issue (bands willing to play for free), and you see this more as a demand issue (bars taking advantage of established bands by using free acts). The reality is no one can force the brewer to give away his beer, or force the band to play for free.

    Where we agree, is that neither of us wants to play for free.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    This discussion, to some extent, ignores an important point: musicians play for free because they enjoy playing music! Now, I'm sure there may be plumbers who love plumbing and do it for nothing in their spare time, landscapers who wouldn't think of charging for the soul-stirring thrill of running a power mower over someone's lawn, etc., etc. But let's agree that they constitute a very small minority of those professions.

    The musician who plays for nothing at an open mic or a club-sponsored jam, is being compensated in a non-monetary way. He/she is expressing him/herself, enjoying the approval of the audience, bonding with other musicians, improving his/her craft. Many of these "amateurs" have little wish or expectation of getting paid, turning "pro," making a career in music. There are probably not, as discussed above, similar groups of amateur plumbers who would turn out for "open sink nights" at the local plumbing supply store.

    You can't blame club owners for accommodating musicians who are willing to play unpaid, because these musicians get enjoyment and satisfaction out of doing so. And you can't attribute to these musicians, underhanded motives and a desire to prevent other musicians from getting paid. If the "volunteer" musicians stopped showing up, the club owners might have to start hiring musicians. Or they might hire a DJ, or install a karaoke machine. Or put up a bunch of TV's tuned to sports channels.

    Telling club owners "what they should expect" is foolish, IMHO. They're dealing with the environment as it is, which is that there are musicians who enjoy playing whether they're paid or not, or are at least willing to work for the "tip jar" and maybe a beer or two.

    Look, most of us play music, right? Did we get into doing it because we thought it was the most profitable career, or because we really loved the act of playing music? Some of us have gone on to do it for pay, some have even done it for a living, and I assume some are making "real money" doing it. But how many of us would say, "If I don't get paid, I don't even take the mandolin out of the case; it's the money that motivates me."

    So rather than slagging the club owners, and the musicians who play for little or nothing and "take jobs away from us," let's understand that playing music, and in some cases performing, is a recreation as well as a profession. People play all kinds of sports for their own enjoyment; no one seems to think that the guys playing softball on Saturday are depriving some professional athletes of gigs. People join art clubs to paint for their own enjoyment, and we don't accuse them of ruining the market for professional artists. I write a bunch of posts on the Cafe; should I relinquish my space to a professional writer?

    As someone who plays (semi-)professionally, I really do understand the frustration of musicians who work hard, develop their craft, and yet find it difficult to achieve the level of professional success they think their talents deserve. But one has to realize, as I quoted way back near the beginning of the thread, that "it's hard to make a living doing what others are willing to do for free." And people are willing to play music for enjoyment and self-expression, as well as for money.
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    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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