The Starving Musicians

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By Austin Kinney
Local Music Journalist

As the musical talent of San Marcos is on a steady climb, there has been a troubling issue concerning the local musicians to make a decent amount of money from a gig, if they even make any at all. Many bar and restaurant owners don’t offer a band payment until they notice an increase in customers after periodic performances, which is fair to an extent. But should such talent be taken advantage of?

The problem arises when so many musicians lacking the courage or knowledge to negotiate financial compensation don’t mind playing for free. Because of this local norm, some bar/restaurant owners are very aware of this and see how long they milk it out without having to compensate for the band’s services.

A few local venues that offer live music include: Kiva, Valentino’s, The Marc, Root Cellar Cafe, Zellicks, Wake the Dead Coffee House, Tantra, Stonewall, The Growling, The Buzzmill, Aquabrew, Bobcat Nation, The Green Parrot, and Altmeyer & Lewis Brewing Co.

Now, most of the venues that are listed have a standard rate between $40-$75/band, split between four musicians; that’s $10-$18.75 a person. Some venues will have multiple bands throughout the evening, so it’s understandable why they can’t afford to pay each band $400. However, it doesn’t give them the excuse to cheat all of the bands by not paying any of them; it’s happened plenty of times to me.

We play for the people because it’s out job to provide the nourishment that music gives them. Photo by Christopher Paul Cardoza.

One venue simply can’t afford to pay their bands $100 a evening because that would rack up to 25% of their profit, which is unfeasible for a small business.

One particular venue offers each musician a $50 gift card to their restaurant, and a couple of those venues listed above don’t even pay their musicians a penny; they don’t even offer a continental bar tab!

In my personal experience with playing around town, Bobcat Nation and Altmeyer & Lewis Brewery Co. have been beyond generous with fair compensation. Stewart Altmeyer, (an owner of A&L Brewery) is a local drummer and understands the challenges of a starving musician.

As musicians, we play for the people because it’s our job to provide the nourishment that music gives them. It’s not right when owners look at musicians work as mere background entertainment. As a musician, we have dedicated our entire life into the passion we choose to share with the world. When venue owners choose to disregard that factor, it’s a real shame and quite disrespectful towards the artist’s craft. A band is comprised of talented, hard-working individuals who give a whole lot of love and deserve a little love in return.

Featured image by Renee Dominguez.

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