How to Have High Standards When No One Else Does…
I’m a pretty darn good musician and songwriter. I know how to play bass on a crap ton of songs and I’ve even won some awards. My musical colleagues often praise my bass playing, vocal talents, motivation, altruism, and reliability. I am an entertaining performer on stage and a genuinely nice guy. This is not to toot my own horn, but rather to point out that I have value as a musician and a person. It’s this value that people seek when they ask me to play music gigs with them.
Unfortunately, I live in a town with a music scene that grossly undervalues itself and its musicians (Madison WI), and that has made pursuing music projects difficult. My kindness and altruism are something of an Achilles heel that people have exploited to gain the benefit of my talents on the cheap. I realize that’s on me, because I should say NO to mediocrity, but I don’t like it. If I want to perform music shows around here, I usually have to settle for sweat shop wages and a lot of sh!tty music venues that view bands as commodities to sell more booze (there are a small number of quality exceptions). Or, I can have higher standards and choose not to settle for that kind of weak sauce, but rather play only high quality shows, albeit less frequently, often at alternative or unconventional venues (such as house concerts).
After far too many experiences playing with local bar bands for peanuts, I decided to establish some minimum quality standards for the musical services I provide, namely the provision of top notch bass guitar and vocals for live music projects (see these standards on the ABOUT tab of this page). Basically, I’m setting boundaries on what I’m willing to do and simply asking for a fair wage to do it. I’m aware that this might value me right out of the depressed Madison music market, but that’s OK, because it’s not a very good market if it doesn’t have the high end rock-n-roll products I offer. I can literally make more money for less effort (and less miles on my car) driving for Uber and Lyft on the weekends. It’s almost as much fun too. All I am asking of the music projects that hire me is to DO BETTER THAN THAT!
But I realized I can’t change the world, I can only change myself. I am taking to heart the touchy feely saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I hope I can lead by example to add value to the Madison music scene, but I can’t be anyone else’s keeper. It’s your life and you can do what you want. If you want to keep on devaluing yourself and playing shitty bar gigs, go ahead. The venues love the cheap slave labor. I’ve chosen to have higher standards and disenfranchise the weak sauce. As Derek Sivers says (paraphrasing), “If it’s not HELL YEAH, then it’s NO.” I have value as a person and a musician and I shant settle or have my talents exploited.*
*Exceptions might be benefit music performances for charity causes I care about, such as domestic abuse awareness or saving the planet.