Mudcat Café message #1840686 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #94811   Message #1840686
Posted By: GUEST,Patrick Costello
22-Sep-06 - 07:05 AM
Thread Name: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
> Patrick to work these places is a specialised job.

Uh . . . guys and gals, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I have made a lot of music in nursing homes, libraries, schools and things like that over the years.

I just didn't ask for anything for it.

It's not a job - and if you "get" folk music there isn't anything specialized about any of it because a honking big part of being a folksinger revolves around the ability to find a musical connection with people. A genuine 'folk singer' has to be able to do a hell of a lot more than wank out a few songs. You've got to be able to play everything from Child ballads to Tin Pan Alley, Peter Paul & Mary to the Sex Pistols - and on top of that you have to be able to improvise stuff that you never heard before.

The "trick" to being able to do that - to use music as a way to communicate with people, to reach people, through cultural and even language barriers - is that you have to avoid the whole performance angle and get into your community. As Woody Guthrie once wrote, "Inject yourself into the bloodstream of the people."

Playing background music at a convention or a restaurant is a waste of time. The job won't pay that well, the audience won't care about you and you end up slithering around on your belly like a reptile, kissing ass and marketing yourself to a point where you lose sight of what brought you to music in the first place.

Folk music is not about performing. It's about interacting. You can't interact from the stage because from the get-go you have this separation between the musician and the audience. The message is to sit quietly and watch. Sure, you can do the occasional sing-along - but the bulk of any performance is going to have the audience watching passively.

As I have said before, you can make a living (I do) - but you have to look at it from a different perspective than the modern, commercial music, pay-for-play business model.

You also have to be good. Not "I can play this many songs" good, but the kind of good you end up with twenty or thirty years after giving up everything in favor of pursuing your craft - and even then you still won't be all the way there.

Part of getting that good means playing in as many settings as possible. That's where schools and nursing homes come in. These are not "gigs" - and if you think of them as such, trust me, you are not ready to start charging people to hear you play. Nursing homes are places where you can a.)do something good for your community and b.)develop your craft.

You get something. They get something. There is no "free" here.

It's the same with teaching. As a "folk musician" you have an obligation to make sure the music is passed on to the next generation of players, but on top of that the act of teaching - if you do it right - makes you better at the task in question.

You get something. They get something. There is no "free" here.

Besides that, if you set off into a career in folk music unaware of the Blind Willie Johnson retirement plan you really should rethink your vocation because, like it or not, music, like any art, is a harsh mistress. In the end the only reward you get from this game is the music - but for a musician that should be enough.

If you want to be a babysitter, Muzak, or the wandering village idiot in exchange for a few bucks that is your right - but that isn't going to make you a pro, and it has nothing to do with folk music.

-Patrick