I am subscribed to probably hundreds of North Carolina band email lists. That’s a lot, I know. I don’t have to, but it helps me stay connected to the massive amounts of musicians in our state whose music I promote on the Local Beat every Friday evening. Most send out emails every few months or so usually promoting a gig or sometimes promoting a Kickstarter campaign or new album. More often than not it’s purely informational and promotional, nothing out of the ordinary. Every now and then though I read one that is a little different, a little odd, something that stands out.
Back in May an extremely talented North Carolina songwriter, Steph Stewart, sent out an email to her subscribed fans that struck a nerve with me. I quote:
My heart sinks a little every time I bring my fellas into a gig that ends up costing us more to play than we make. When you play for tips or a cover charge, it’s always a gamble. It’s a hard balance to find and one that most musicians struggle reaching: To get out there and be heard WHILE making somewhat of a living… or at least not loosing money. And of course, it isn’t really about the money so much in the end as it is about the art.
Me personally? Well, I’d rather play to a room of 20 attentive and appreciative folks than 1000 folks who would rather talk over our background hum. I suppose, like with anything, there must be balance. There is an equilibrium, and as an artist, I need both. The well-paying gigs fill the pockets. They pay rent and bills. They put gas in the tank and food in the belly. This is essential.
Last night we played an incredible show at the Greenbean Cafe in Greensboro, NC. We performed to a small crowd of maybe 30 and had the pleasure of sharing the stage with some talented whippersnappers from Concord, NC and a fella touring from Kent, OH. We left with a grand total of $15 and gurgling guts from our PBRs, but it was all worthwhile. You see, those 30 or so strangers connected with us. For that hour, they were bold enough to follow us into the world of our music, and they reminded all three of us that we are worthwhile. This music we make, it’s worth a listen… So maybe it didn’t fill our pockets, but it damn well filled our souls.
Thank you Greensboro. We’ll be seeing you. And as for you, dear someone… we hope to be seeing you sooner.
So much rings true in this letter. As an avid supporter of the numerous talented musicians in our area I often hear about how most of them don’t “do it for the money.” Money helps, no doubt, but that shouldn’t be the reason someone stands behind a microphone and performs for an audience, whether it be 30 or 1,000. It shouldn’t be the reason why someone creates a piece of artwork or publishes a poem. They should do it firstly for themselves and their own creative expressions and secondly for that interpersonal connection Steph talks about, that understanding bond that all people seek from others. We all have to make a living and no one is disputing that, but the best artists in our area are not doing it primarily for the money. They are not cheating themselves or their abilities.
So I want to use this letter to encourage you, the audience, the one who is so often reached out to by our local artists, to reciprocate that back to your community. Go see live shows. Tip a street performer. Buy the record from a record store. Request their music on the radio. Do your part in that artist-audience relationship. Most of our local bands are hardly doing this to make a buck, they are doing it for you.