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Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It

19 Sep 06 - 12:53 AM (#1837991)
Subject: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

I just read what must have been a gag thread asking about good occupations for folksingers and I had to laugh. I have been making my living as a folksinger for 47 years and I am still an active teacher and performer. It is not difficult to do once one learns how and where to ply the trade. I don't even have to travel any more. There is so much work available in my area, enough to support dozens of purveyers of traditional music. It is just a matter of defining the market.
Clubs, pubs, festivals and concerts seem to be the venues of choice for Mudcatters but those represent only a fraction of the options and they areoverloaded with applicants and, unless the performer is a well known draw, they pay bubkes. (I can make more in a low paying Senior Center than I can at a folk club and there are a hell of a lot more senior centers to work at). Better paying venues include camps, schools, civic events, holiday celebrations, company picnics and retirement communities. Children's shows are popular, frequent and lucrative. Ethnic speciality is an asset. I do Irish, Italian, Klezmer and, in a pinch, I have bruised my pinkies strumming a balalaika at a Russian themed wedding. Oh, I do a few festivals each year but that is more for seeing old friends.
So, come on, Mudcatters. I can't be the only one earing his keep as a folksinger. Let me hear from others. I'll be glad to offer contacts and suggestions and, perhaps, we can help other talented folkies to join our ranks.


19 Sep 06 - 04:59 AM (#1838082)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: English Jon

yep. been pro for nearly 5 years now. poverty sucks!

Cheers,
Jon


19 Sep 06 - 05:21 AM (#1838097)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST

Yeah! I tried going pro - had to busk to pay for petrol - slept in the van too!

Well, the meek shall inherit the earth (If it's ok with you that is)


19 Sep 06 - 07:19 AM (#1838163)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Patrick-Costello

It's a tricky thing for me to put into words because I do make a living as a folk musician - but none of my income comes from performing.

To me, the whole performing angle goes against how I view folk music because separating the player from the audience creates this sort of a message of, "don't try this at home". I don't like that vibe, so I stay away from that side of the business.

I write music books - and I run the small publishing company that sells those books. I give people the choice between buying a book or accessing the information contained in the books for free. For some reason that works pretty well - well enough for me to be a full-time folk musician with health insurance, and well enough that our garage operation has been able to go toe-to-toe in the marketplace with much larger operations.

To me, the challenge of making a living in folk music comes down a question of balance. If it's teaching or performing you can't escape the reality that 99.9% of the good stuff in folk music is public property. The songs and the teaching concepts we use to share those songs with other people are the shared cultural property of every man, woman and child on the planet - and as a result you have to do business in a different mindset and a different rhythm than you would in commercial music.

It's not a job, it's an adventure. You won't get rich, but you'll get what you need.

-Patrick


19 Sep 06 - 07:59 AM (#1838182)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Suffet

Greetings:

I am not really a professional folksinger. Although I do a few paid gigs every year, I barely break even, so folk music is pretty much a hobby. However, I do have quite a few friends who are professional folksingers, meaning they make their living from their music, and what Mike Miller says is absolutely true. The coffee house, pub, festival, and house concert circuit is not where they make most of their income. Nor is it from CD sales, although that income certainly helps. Most of their money comes instead from playing at schools, community centers, libraries, museums, arts centers, old age homes, hospitals, etc. I said much the same thing five years ago in a thread called A Real Folksinger. It's still true today.

--- Steve


19 Sep 06 - 08:30 AM (#1838205)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Dave the Gnome

Poverty sucks?

I don't think them are the right words are they English John?

Poverty, poverty sucks.
My loom it is saying all day
Poverty, poverty sucks.
The gaffers to skinny to pay...

Nah - Maybe if you learned the right words you may earn more:-)

Cheers

DtG


19 Sep 06 - 08:55 AM (#1838229)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss

Now; which Jon is 'English Jon'? Not Loomes perchance ;-)?

If there were no professional performers there'd be a lot less going on; fewer new songs to learn, fewer good-quality gigs, and almost no CDs (if you don't gig you don't sell). Yes, there'd be still be sessions and singarounds, but those who enjoy just sitting and being entertained (of which thankfully there are plenty - including many who enjoy sessions and singarounds) would find it much harder to know what was worth going to see and what wasn't.

Unless you're retired or have really long holidays it's really difficult to find time to practice, write, research, arrange and record songs and tunes to a reliably high standard, and we do need a decent number of people willing to do that (for little reward) if folk music is to go on fighting its corner against the pressures which would otherwise snuff it out.

All paint is black in the tin and music only exists when someone's playing it.

Tom (also proud)


19 Sep 06 - 10:33 AM (#1838310)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: treewind

"Better paying venues include camps, schools, civic events, holiday celebrations, company picnics and retirement communities."

We've got a gig coming up which I suppose fits the description of "retirement community" and the first interesting thing about the booking negotiation was that they were expecting to pay us more than what we asked (which was based on usual opening bid for a folk club)

What's it like playing for audiences like that, compared with clubs and festivals? In terms of enjoyment of the gig, audience reaction etc?

Anahata


19 Sep 06 - 10:45 AM (#1838313)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST

Hey, guys, making a living as a folksinger is a matter of recognising that being a performer is operating a small business. I can't speak with authority about working in the UK, but, in the US, there are thousands of facilities that hire folksingers on a fairly regular basis. It takes a little while to get established in an area and, until that happens, it takes advertising, publicity and, best of all, networking. I have helped many performers by introducing them to facility agents, sharing mailing lists and, for out of town acts, recomending them to venues.
The longer one works in a geographical area, the more he is known and the more he is trusted. It's just like any other business, in that respect. OK, here are some ideas you might try in your own home towns. Don't concentrate on clubs and such. That way leads to the kind of noble poverty that you have been experiencing. Look for booking agents that specialize in senior facilities.(In Pennsylvania, resident facilities are required, by law, to provide, at leats, one live performance each month. Many do more and there are hundreds of these nursing homes, retirement communities, etc within a 45 minute drive of my house. I could do one every day of the year and never repeat.) Children's programs are great jobs. People don't mind spending money for their kids and every fair, fete,
boat race, bike race, holiday celebration, supermarket opening is a potential kids job. These jobs are booked through agents and, if you are having trouble finding these agents, perhaps I can help you locate them in your area.

                        Mike


19 Sep 06 - 10:57 AM (#1838323)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Art Thieme

I'm with Mike pretty much. I made a living as a folksinger, but that "living" was never the driving force---although it was a needed aspect that was profoundly desired. That "force" was a dedication to my musical vision. It involved finding and bringing to the fore generally unknown historical ballads. Within that, I am surely "proud" to have put our son through college with nobody owing anything as a result of my being a folksinger---among other aspects of supporting numerous personal commitments.

Art


19 Sep 06 - 11:17 AM (#1838333)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST

I have made a fine living as a pro in the UK for all of my working life. Back in the 60's/70's/80's there was a large circuit of venues, and as we are blessed with a small country, many gigs were within an hours drive of each other. As the circuit began to decline the CD began to rise and by making my own I increased my income for some years. Then, as the circuit declined further, the web began to take off and my website became a great sales point, generating income without leaving home.
I don't think anyone will live a similar peripatetic life for the next forty odd years, as the cost of transport and the restrictions that will be placed upon it for environmental reasons will make the life on the road well nigh impossible. There is also the fact that we were doing it for the first time, working for a young audience of our peers who have grown old with us, and that made it exciting.
The scene now is becoming dominated in the UK by festivals and the bread and butter gigs are going. The young performers don't seem to want to start new venues and pay their dues as we did. Also the audience has now become the act, as in sessions. Many Mudcatters seem to positively dislike the idea of a "guest" dominated folk club. What they call a folk club is something I don't recognise.
However, all of this is natural as time moves on and soon it will all be history and the job of "folk singer" will be like the job of a blacksmith, or a variety artist, something to see in a Heritage museum, something that had a golden age in a time past.
The music, of course, will go on and on.
I and my contemporaries have been very lucky.
Thanks all.


19 Sep 06 - 11:21 AM (#1838334)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: number 6

Very, very hard making a living as a folksinger here in Maritime Canada ... let alone making a living period ... yes there are a few who have and some have become somewhat successful ... but there are many who do supplement their 'folksinging' by teaching music, writing or recording commercial jingles for radio, working in music stores. New Brunswick's finest folksinger (Brent Mason) delivers mail for Canada Post to pay the mortgage and feed his family.

sIx


19 Sep 06 - 11:42 AM (#1838350)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Desert Dancer

Treewind, there's been lots of good information shared here on working with retirement communities, care centers, etc., most recently on this thread, and see links within that.

~ Becky in Tucson


19 Sep 06 - 11:54 AM (#1838364)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: number 6

Played a nursing home once with a blugrass quartet ... we did it for charity. In fact I know some musicians here that perform weekly at these facilities ... again for charity. I can't see how one can take payment for performing at these facilities ... just seeing the results (smiling faces, uplifted spirits) from these people is rewarding.

sIx


19 Sep 06 - 12:53 PM (#1838408)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,#7

Playing nursing homes for charity is amateur. It's nice and admirable that you can afford to do so.

.......Smiling faces and uplifted spirits do not pay mortgages, feed and clothe children.


19 Sep 06 - 01:04 PM (#1838416)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: number 6

I know that #7. Read my post up above.

I wouldn't say it's amatuer ... if one can be fortunate enough to be a professonal folksinger, I wouldn't take categorize it as being 'amateur' for them to play at such a facility for charity.

sIx


19 Sep 06 - 01:16 PM (#1838422)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: JamesHenry

Guest #7
"Smiling faces and uplifted spirits do not pay mortgages, feed and clothe children."

Indeed not. Ever thought of getting a proper job?


19 Sep 06 - 01:58 PM (#1838450)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Seamus

Hello Mike

Just a thought - isn't there a risk of having to be sort of a state-approved artist in order to keep the care home / nursing home / school work coming - at least here in the UK, where agendas for crude political correctness and political orthodoxy always seem to creep into working procedures for most state operated or state-regulated service industries.

ALthough I can't think of anything particularly inflamatory or treasonable I might want to do with my guitar, I think that I'd want to exercise a fair degree of self-censorship if I'd found the particularly rich seam of work that you describe and wanted to keep working it.

I wouldn't be singing "my brother sylvest" in its unexpurgated form for example. The ex-servicemen might love it, but the junior care assistant might not, and might report me for singing it. More subtly, I'd have to think carefully about doing old rebel songs and trade union stuff. Not to mention the bodice-rippers. I know we all try to pick stuff that suits the audience best, but perhaps one's selection might also be influenced and limited by the fear of giving offence to the official view.

Do you think that this risk of censorship (if state regulation flourushes where you are) would confilct in any way with your principles as (presumably, like me and most of the other musicians I know) a free-thinking freedom of speech type of person?

Seamus


19 Sep 06 - 03:34 PM (#1838549)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: English Jon

Hi Tom - Yes, it's Loomes here!

The Charity issue is an interesting one. I see no reason why a pro singer can't do the odd free gig here and there for a good cause. I guess the point is that those members of society with "proper jobs" as James Henry (slightly patronisingly) puts it don't usually get asked to apply their professional services for free. for example, perhaps mr henry is an accountant - Does he get asked a couple of times a week to go and do the books for his local children's hospice? Maybe he's a plumber, inundated with calls asking him to donate old taps and lengths of copper pipe in order to bring fresh water to a village in africa? I used to have a proper Job - I ran a busy department in a multimedia company. A total waste of time and energy, basically.I feel very fortunate that now, as an entertainer my services are so frequently in demand to improve the lives of so many people.

Doing a free gig is, linguistically speaking, performing in an amateur capacity - There are many "amateur" musicians whose standard is much higher than a lot of pros - I think the whole guest/number6 argument is a misunderstanding - some people use the word amateur to imply poor standard, but that's not what it actually means.

Actually I'm going to stop now, as this post is rapidly becoming yet another sign of my departing faculties.

Hey ho.
J


19 Sep 06 - 04:34 PM (#1838606)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: vectis

The Travelling Folk regularly do gigs in retirement homes and for other charities.
The best thing is to see their faces when our oldest performer stands up as he is frequently older than the residents.
Some are a bit sad when most are too far gone to respond but most of the time they love a sing song, so that's what we give them.


19 Sep 06 - 04:52 PM (#1838618)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: JamesHenry

Hi English Jon, Irish Stu here.

It wasn't meant to sound patronising, so apologies to all if it did.
Guest #7 gave me the impression that he/she was finding it hard to make ends meet and was slightly resentful of the fact that some professionals were able to fit charity gigs into their busy schedule.
I actually interpreted his/her reply to number6 to be unwarrented and posed the offending question as in "needs must when the devil drives." Anyway, my interpretation may have been way off course.
And no, mr henry is neither an accountant nor a pluber, nor I should add a banana bender from Queensland.


19 Sep 06 - 04:55 PM (#1838621)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: number 6

Regardless ... a true artist (professional or amateur) whether he is performing for charity or for money always gives his best peformance.

sIx


19 Sep 06 - 04:56 PM (#1838622)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss

Yo Jon-boy - it's been too long! (I had a hunch it was you but the osteopath sorted that. Congrats on the MU gig by the way - that's fantastic news all round).

Yes - the Uk folk world is a strange conundrum. Amateurs employ pros and pros employ amateurs. Some amateurs are far more professional than the pros, and some pros are way more amateur then the amateurs!

Keep smiling, use a watertight contract and try to stay in tune - that's my motto!

Tom


19 Sep 06 - 05:53 PM (#1838647)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Brakn

I'm not exactly what some people would call a "folk singer" but I do make a reasonable living singing and have done so for the last ten years. Some of the songs I do would perhaps be termed "folk songs". I've not got much of a voice but I do know the words and I do get booked back.

To get back to the start of this thread.........
There is plenty of work out there if you make the effort to get it, though there will come a time, I'm sure, when everyone will get to the stage where you have to ask(beg) for gigs.

Getting work is down to a lot of different things.
.....(off the top of my head)........
your material, your act, self promotion, will you travel, your fee, etc etc.....

It's not easy - but who said it would be.


19 Sep 06 - 07:26 PM (#1838702)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: number 6

Good points Brakn .... yes, one can make a living and it would not be easy. As I mentioned above in this thread, here in the Maritimes the demographics are against you ... i.e. not the most densely populated area of Canada, therefore the number of decent paying gigs would not support you, the 'industry' is not here so to speak ... which in short means the demographics pretty well is against you .... unless you move to where the 'action' is .... so, in this case it is what are you willing to give up for being full time folk singer .... in the case of Brent Mason (mentioned above) and a couple of others I have talked to here in the Matiritimes they are happy being a part time folkie making a living doing a 'job' than packing up and leaveing the part of the country they love, where there soul is and where there is soul. In other words they can put a roof over their head, still play gigs, cut cd's and live in an environment which is much more rich than get on the yellow brick road in Toronto, and Vancouver.

sIx


20 Sep 06 - 12:53 AM (#1838827)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Stephen L. Rich

I've been doing this for 37 years and I wouldn't trade a minute of it.

Stephen Lee


20 Sep 06 - 05:55 AM (#1838957)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Big Al Whittle

Theres two things here:-

1) being a musician - a shakey enough project in itself
2) being a folk musician

I've never had too much trouble earning a living as a musician, but you do need a relatively uncluttered homelife. You're a small businessman, and you require that level of support any such person will need.   Either that, or no homelife at all, and a string of divorces behind you.

Being a pro folk musician is something I couldn't aspire to. Well i did for a while - when I was too dumb to work out that I was never going to be anybody's sweetheart on the UK folkscene. By the time I started playing on the folkscene in the 70's, after a long apprenticeship - it was either be traddie, or a folk comedian and I was and am neither.

I will say this.

i made a good living for a number of years - playing in old peoples homes and the like. i was lucky enough to get shown how to do the job, by an agent who charged me a fortune in commission and worked me too hard. But after 18 months I knew the job and went independent, and I was in immediate and constant demand - could have worked three or four gigs a day - seven days a week. Now I've packed it in, there aren't too many who have taken my place - I've tried to show a couple of people the elements of the job - but its not an easy option - if you're doing it properly, you will have no compunction about taking the money - which you should have worked very hard for.

The whole point about those sort of gigs is that you make contact - physical and emotional contact. You see, think about it - you go in there, the radio is on - totally ignoring them, there are no tv channels for these people - they have no economic importance to anybody in society, so nobody gives them any attention. It is up to you to do that.

A trainee club singer of any kind at one end of the room in splendid isolation singing Shania Twain is what they usually get. Some daft bugger singing folksongs and worrying about which finger to stick in his ear and whether he's in DADGAD would be another such entity.

Singing to folks is not necessarily folksinging.


20 Sep 06 - 06:06 AM (#1838966)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Big Al Whittle

I think, on reflection, that's the the problem I was trying to express on the Folk Britannia thread. Surely the folk music of this country should at least impinge on its citizens.

Watching the line up of usual suspects, who get all the tv that's going, all the major league reviews, all the festival mainstage appearances, all the Mercry prizes, all the radio time, all the folk radio, all the recording contracts - its bloody hard to imagine any of them being in demand for singing in an old folk's home.


20 Sep 06 - 06:17 AM (#1838979)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: greg stephens

I started the other "OK occupations for a folksinger" for obviously tongue-in-cheek reasons, because there are a few contributors to Mudcat who regard it as part of the definition of folk music that its performers are amateur. I really dont know how they recocile this belief with the fact that fiddlers who have worked conscientiously for the last 500 years in creating an incredible body of folk music, and always been paid for doing so, but there you go.
   Anyway, my position, als is that I am not a lumberjack, shepherd or cowhand: nether am I a social worker, librarian or accountant. If the Lord spares me till Oct 2, I will celbrate 45 years since my first professional gig as a guitarist. Apart from a miserable attempt(for three months) to do a proper job, back in the 60's, I have always been a folk musician. It's not something I am particularly proud of, neither am I ashamed. I took it up because I can't be bothered to get up before lunch, and this seemed the only viable career.


20 Sep 06 - 06:37 AM (#1838998)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)

What an interesting thread. I'm really impressed by Mike Miller's positive attitude and enterprising spirit. Very refreshing and inspiring. One question I'd be interested in the answer to: is your choice of material affected or determined at all by the type of venues you play or do you feel you have the freedom to play what you like? Or is the situation somewhere in between? If so, how do you choose your material for different situations?

Best of luck.


20 Sep 06 - 06:40 AM (#1839000)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: greg stephens

Somewhere earlier in this thread their was a query as to whether you needed a different approach when playing retirment communities or folk clubs. Is there any practical difference nowadays? (he asked innocently)


20 Sep 06 - 06:41 AM (#1839001)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,MC Fat

I'm going 'legit' in two weeks and becoming self-employed with Music as a part of that self employment. The messy bit will be telling some people that I won't be able to do work for just 'expenses' any more but then they have two choices they either go for a professional approach or hire a monkey cos I can't work for peanuts. So all of you out there I'm available for hire plus if you want to buy any pub quizzes there on sale too !!!


20 Sep 06 - 06:45 AM (#1839003)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Big Al Whittle

break the news gently MC! and best of luck with your venture!


20 Sep 06 - 06:50 AM (#1839009)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: muppitz

I'm not a professional folk singer, but I do get booked from time to time and my boss at my day job has pretty much got used to not seeing me on a Friday during the summer, and possibly a Monday depending on the festival.
I have no problem telling people at work where I am going or what I do, so I suppose I could say that I am an almost semi-professional folk singer and proud of it!

muppitz x


20 Sep 06 - 07:20 AM (#1839023)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: English Jon

Hi Tom - Cheers! The MU Thing has been very interesting so far - might even be able to do a bit of good for everybody this way, it's amazing how hard the union works behind the scenes.

James Henry - I probably owe you an apology as you got both barrels of me in sarcastic mode - Sorry, I'm a bit cranky at the moment (I've not been well you know) - I think I read a lot more into that post than was actually supposed to be there, so sorry.

Cheers,
Jon


20 Sep 06 - 07:45 AM (#1839032)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Scrump

Well, if I could make a decent living out of being a pro folk singer, I'd certainly be proud of it, and I tip my hat to those that do! But I realise it's not as exciting as it might seem to others, as any musician who has spent significant amounts of time on tour will tell you. As weelittledrummer said, it helps if you don't have too much of a home life (family etc.) to worry about.

I'm realistic enough to know I'll never be able to go full-time professional, partly because I don't want it badly enough. I guess I'm happy playing and singing for enjoyment (and the occasional few quid if I'm lucky), with the chance to meet like-minded folk wherever I go, to be privileged to chat to my heroes occasionally, etc., etc.
What I would like would be a day job that would allow me to take more time off to indulge in what I regard as a major hobby rather than a potential full-time living. Maybe when I finally retire... ;-)


20 Sep 06 - 11:00 AM (#1839170)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Hi. Mike Miller here again. I got frozen out of Mudcat contact for a couple of days so I am late in responding to the kind folks who have answered. Let me try to cover a few points.
Nursing homes, retirement communities and other senior gigs have, in common, a much older audience than folk clubs. Another difference between the two audiences is their musical tastes and tolerances. The folk clubs are more lax in areas like prompness, appearence and professionalism. This does not mean that you will need a tuxedo for the "altes", but showing an audience respect by dressing in something other than workclothes is never a bad idea. Senior jobs are booked by Activity Directors (sometimes called Recreaters). They value reliability, neatness and audience involvement.
Senior facilities, in the US, are usually, privately owned and operated. There are municipal and state run nursing homes but they are in the minority.
I am not, quite, sure how to respond to the questions about repitore "integrity". I am an entertainer. It is my job (and I love my job) to entertain my audience. It is not their job to provide a forum for my integrity. It does not bother me to sing Chistmas carols or old gospel songs, even though I am not a Christian. I sing "You Are My Sunshine", a song written by a racist but beloved by all American audiences. My song list is determined by my audience.
They are my customers and I love them, I really do.
The big difference between being a professional and being an amateur is in one's attitude. Mine is not better than the hobbyist's, it is just different. But, if one choose to turn pro, it is wise to adopt a pro approach.
I have spent a lot of time talking about senior jobs (there is a lot to say and share) but that is only one area of the market. We haven't, yet, touched on commercial, industrial and civic jobs. They pay better than nursing homes and there are plenty of them.

                   Mike


20 Sep 06 - 12:36 PM (#1839270)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: BlueSage

First a question for Mike Miller: I'm curious as to why you characterize Paul Rice (composer of "You Are My Sunshine") as a racist? I'm not familiar with his history, but would like to know...

I make a living from my music but not completely as a folk singer; although the majority of my income is derived from performances, I also have to teach private lessons (clawhammer banjo) to make ends meet. I happen to live in the most "Republican" state in the U.S., which means the assisted living facilities here in Utah have no Gov. funding (or live performance requirements) for entertainment. So they are out as a potential source of income. I do play the occasional rest home, but usually have to do so on a donation basis as very few care facilities have the funds (or at least are willing) to pay.

My "bread and butter" comes from private parties (company parties, weddings and convention work). I'll take local festival and concert work when I can get it. Out of area gigs are tough as you need to make enough to cover travel, lodging, meals and the extra time (when you could be doing local gigs).

There really are no clubs that feature folk music in our area so that's not an option. The musicians who do work the clubs (country & rock acts) don't make enough to go full time anyway.

I'm not getting rich but am able to support a modest life style which suits me just fine...

Mike Iverson


20 Sep 06 - 04:28 PM (#1839447)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Nice to hear from Mr. Iverson. Yes, I am sure that facilities are not as plentiful in his neck of the woods but he does have the right idea about company parties and conventions. I do some of those, too. They pay well but, in my experience, they usually come through agents rather than directly. I hope he will comment on that.
"You Are My Sunshine" was composed and recorded by the late, unlamented former Louisiana governor, Jimmy Davis, who was a major opponent of integration in the turbulent 60's. If old Jimmy had a colaborater, and if that collaberater was more progressive, I appologise.
I forgot to mention that I do a lot of strolling jobs in the warmer weather. I once had a long term job at a casino in Atlantic City doing Itaian Mandolin at their Sunday brunch. It paid ok but not enough to make up for all the commuting. I prefer using tenor banjo for strolling at civic and commercial events because it carries well, it suggests gaity and, if you're wearing a banjo, no one asks for Rock. (Oh, occasionally, someone will request "Dueling Banjos" but I tell them that Steve Mandel is unavailable)

                         Mike


20 Sep 06 - 04:47 PM (#1839467)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: JamesHenry

Thanks Jon, it's forgotten about already.
Good luck with the aformentioned gig.


20 Sep 06 - 04:57 PM (#1839477)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Jim

Sorry if this has already been mentioned; I didn;t read the whole thread.

Pete Seeger mentioned in "Johnny Appleseed Jr." once that he is not a professional folksinger, rather a professional singer of folk songs. He said that anyone who does it for a living is no longer a folk singer. Folk singers are those who sing in kitchens or on front porches and do it for the fun of it. According to Pet you can be a folk singer even if you have no "folk songs" in your repertoire.

Now let's not get into,"What is a folk song?"


20 Sep 06 - 06:17 PM (#1839541)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: BlueSage

Mike, I now see where your connection to racism and the song "You Are My Sunshine" comes from.

"You Are My Sunshine" was copyrighted by Jimmy Davis but he actually purchased the song from the composer, Paul Rice, and then copyrighted it under his own name. Jimmy Davis had no part in writing the song, just in making a bunch of money from all the royalties!

Thought I'd set the record straight before anyone got the idea that Paul Rice was the person you were referring to...

Mike Iverson


20 Sep 06 - 07:38 PM (#1839589)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Mike, I take you at your word. I am more than happy to deny Ol' Massa Jimmy any props for creativity.


21 Sep 06 - 08:01 AM (#1839887)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Fortunato

Mike, it's a good thread. Glad I happened by. I enjoy your perspective. I'll have some fun with it if I may...

"The play is the thing". Show business. Trod the boards. Up in the bright lights. What's your dream, chuckie? Do you have trouble getting up in the morning (Howdy, Greg). Do you want to meet girls? Be adored by the masses?. Are you unable to be away from your fiddle for more than a few hour?

Dreams and passions and bone laziness, etc., pull us into Music, Folk Music. But Mike is dead on when he says, in effect, when the lights go down (if you had any), you are a small business person. Now friends, that's a different skill set from plucking strings.

Mike is sharing what you gotta do if you aren't 22, a pheNOMINal picker and cute as hell and lucky as hell. If you aren't any of those or even if you are, read, question and get schooled.

...and the aging picker lifted his head and said, Hey Mike can you get me gig?"

cheers,
chance (PS, Greg, me old china, how the hell do you sleep late at your age?)


21 Sep 06 - 10:45 AM (#1840024)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

I would love to be 22, a picking wizard, and cute as hell. Hell, I'd sell my soul to be any one of those things, and it has nothing to do with being a professional performer. Of course, in the invisable reality of cyber-communication, I could say that I am tall, blond and sinewy but who would believe me?
Alas, the realities of the business are static but there are silver clouds too. Dave Gillies, is a juggler. His troupe, The Give and Take Jugglers, have so many jobs that he has had to form auxiliery teams to cover days that are double booked. He never travels farther than a few hours for a show. I asked him, once, if he wishes he could have been a "star" like Penn Gilette or Michael Motion and he said, "I am a star. I have been recognized by strangers and people call me with jobs. Isn't that a star?" Well, I had to admit that he was dead on right and, since that day, I have taken delight in my own stardom. I truly love performing and I am grateful for my audiences and my profession, so grateful that I feel an obligation to help other, less experienced, performers with whatever tricks of the trade I have picked up. Most Mudcatters will never be pros. That's fine. Everyone should have a hobby (mine is bridge). But, for those who are struggling with career entering snags, we, old timers, should be available for guidence.

                      Mike


21 Sep 06 - 02:06 PM (#1840192)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: SouthernCelt

Suffet, you say in part:
"Most of their money comes instead from playing at schools, community centers, libraries, museums, arts centers, old age homes, hospitals, etc."
Although I'm not performing for pay, my experience has been that most of the venues you list can get all the local amateur volunteers they need to entertain and don't have to pay. Of course they may occasionally have to suffer through a poor quality performance but their philosophy seems to be "What the hey? It's free!" An exception to that might be when some of these are holding fund raisers and the like and need to impress donors so they hire quality pros. Then, though, they usually don't go with folk music but with pop or dance music suitable to the expected guest age range.

What you're saying may be true for your locale, but it's not true everywhere.


21 Sep 06 - 02:28 PM (#1840201)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Patrick Costello

I was a kid, the idea of taking money from children, the elderly or the infirm in exchange for making music would have been looked at as something pretty freaking vile.

Folks, the only thing I can say is that your view of the music - and what your get out of it - has been twisted into something sick.

Music students are not a source of income.

Children are not a source of income.

Old people are not a source of income.

They are just people. People who happen to need help. People who need somebody to come along and make them realize that they are not entirely alone. That somebody cared enough just to show up.

If we're going to call ourselves folk musicians, part of that "job" is going out there and helping those people. Not for money, to to build a career or to network yourself. Just because it's the right thing to do.

You can make a living without selling out. It just takes a worldview wider that the thirty-six inch circle around your feet.


-Patrick


21 Sep 06 - 02:44 PM (#1840211)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Jim

Hey Patrick,

Perhaps teachers, cooks in cafeterias and old folks homes, nurses and workers in old age homes, etc. should also volunteer their services. They are also making money from students, old people and children.
As a musician, I don't like to be taken for granted. If these places have the money, I think the entertainers have as much right to be paid as anyone else who performs a service for them. Too often it's expected that musicians will donate their services for free and most of us have done so at one time or another. How many plumbers or electricians can say the same thing?


21 Sep 06 - 03:11 PM (#1840229)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

To Southern Celt, let me say that my father used to tell me that there is nothing you can sell that someone elese can't sell for less money and less quality. Of course, you can't compete with free, if the facility's only concern is price. I can assure you that the Philadelphia area has dozens and dozens of performers who do it for fun so I must be a lot better than they are or I wouldn't be working at all. What I sell, to my clients, is a known quality level, a dynamic stage presence (honed by successful experience), reliability and a show that will reflect possitively on them. Activity directors are like everyone else. They understand that they will be held responsable for the shows they present. To paraphrase Shoeless Joe Jackson, "If you're worth it. they will pay"
Patrick, you might as well say the same about farmers and teachers and, by extension, everyone who works for a living. My profession, while not as lucrative as many, is an honorable one. I believe that the subject of the thread says it all.

                Mike


21 Sep 06 - 03:13 PM (#1840230)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Maryrrf

I really don't see why it's inappropriate or shameful to charge for performing in nursing homes, libraries, schools, etc. Nothing wrong with amateurs who wish to donate their services there, either, but in many cases these places do have a budget for entertainment. Although performing can be fun (and the entertainer should at least look like they are having fun while performing), there is a lot of time and work involved.   The songs and arrangements have to be learned, a program has to be planned, there is transportation, sound equipment, and other preparation, not to mention the performer's time. An hour's gig is not really an hour, it's more like 3, by the time you get there, set up, lug your sound system back and forth, etc.   And I don't see why giving music lessons should be any different than say, tutoring somebody in math or a foreign language. I don't understand where Patrick Costello is coming from at all, and why he feels that anyone who is paid to teach or perform music in schools, etc. is selfish or that their view of music is twisted into something sick. That is terribly harsh...


21 Sep 06 - 04:41 PM (#1840275)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Big Al Whittle

Patrick to work these places is a specialised job. the majority of folk musicians would just be another noise like the radio.

The demand for people who can do the job is simply enormous - your phone never stops ringing. If you send a friend who is a folk musician - usually they phone up to complain - don't send that idiot again. the work is hard physically - it involves forming some kind of a relationship with everybody in a long and often odd shaped room, and knowing how to set up a PA that allows you to literally dive around the room without it feeding back - the equipment you need runs in to well over a thousand pounds and wears our regularly.

Most people can't be arsed with them. And I from what you say - you seem to be another such who can't be bothered with them enough to find out the realities of the situation. there is no career path - it leads nowhere - except to the next residential home. the pay is small. You make a profit by working a lot.

Speak not of something which you know obviously nothing. Its bloody offensive. And if I may say so - so bloody typical of the arrogance which permeates the folk establishment.


21 Sep 06 - 04:49 PM (#1840279)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Maryrrf

That is a good point. You wouldn't be singing Child ballads and such at these places - it has to be crowd pleasers and singalongs tailored to the audience.


21 Sep 06 - 04:57 PM (#1840282)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Honest to Betsy, weelittle, it's not so bad as all that. While nursing homes are not the most lucrative of venues (typically in the $85- $150 range), the shows are not the trials you make them out to be. Some audiences are more responsive than others but, as I have learned, an inability to applaud does not mean an inability to enjoy and appreciate. Besides, senior doesn't have to mean senile. I play at many retirement communities where the audience is older, to be sure, but as alert and open as any folk audience I have seen.
It is true I do other kinds of venues but, when I am available, I am glad sing for the altes. Hell, I'm one of them.

               Mike


21 Sep 06 - 05:18 PM (#1840294)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Jim

Right on, Mike.
My wife and i did a seniors' home 2 weeks ago. We played a lot of jigs, reels and waltzes instrumentally (hammered dulcimer, mandolin, guitar, mouth harp and banjo), but also did songs like Tennessee Waltz, My Buddy, Let The Rest Of The World Go By as well as some more contemporary stuff and homemade songs. I even snuck in some Guy Clark, Todd Snider, Hayes Carll, Townes Van Zandt and Bob Snider songs. Sittin' In The Kitchen and even Too Late To Die Young Now went over very well. For anyone who knows it, I substituted "an awful lot of other stuff that I forgot" for "And bags of pot and other stuff that I forgot". We even managed to do almost all the requests. It helps that I'm 62 and she's 53, so we're not that far from the "home" ourselves.

We're doing a kids show at the public library next week. I like to think I'm not that far from childhood not to be able to identify with the kids. They'll even get some of the same tunes as the old folks.


21 Sep 06 - 05:41 PM (#1840301)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Big Al Whittle

Guy Clark.....baby you just don't know when you're being ignored. Because god knows you're ignoring their tastes. The reaction to an artist who has actually bothered to find out what is required takes the top of your head off. they are BRILLIANT audiences - that and only that, keeps you content to do a quite poorly paid job.

people don't tend to be in these places if they know the words to LA Freeway. Either their body or their mind has gone walkabout. Its not about age - you can get Alzheimers sufferers in their 40's.

When the mind retreats it tends to take very well worn pathways - its your job as an entertainer to find what they do remember - actually the lacunae of memory is often surprisingly detailed. For this you need a vast, almost encyclopeadic knowlege of popular music   You find people who remember every song Jolson sang, all the words to sinatra's hits, every darn song their grandparents taught them - with verses YOU didn't know about. Like I say that's the job - if its done properly.


21 Sep 06 - 05:53 PM (#1840311)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Big Al Whittle

that is the buzzz! with that kinid of work, not showing off that you know Guy Clark's latest album, or all 97 verses of The Siege of Delhi - its reminding THEM that they know stuff - that their vessel is not empty, that they did acquire stuff on their journey through life - buried treasure that the young nursing assistants know nothing about!


21 Sep 06 - 05:55 PM (#1840314)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Bert

Thanks for starting this thread Mike. I have read it all and with all that good advice, I might just give it a try myself.


21 Sep 06 - 07:52 PM (#1840394)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

Go for it, Bert. You, too, Jim.
We should, really, start talking about other venues for folksingers. Museums are fertile ground, so are libraries. If you can handle it, day care centers use folksingers on a regular basis. A friend of mine started doing pre-school programs and found his week full with steady clients. I would have done some, myself, but I have a little trouble getting down on the floor for certain songs. Tempis fugit.
Touching on nursing homes again, another friend has established a regular route of monthly and bi-weekly dates and we're not talking RT, here.

                   Mike


22 Sep 06 - 07:05 AM (#1840686)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Patrick Costello

> 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


22 Sep 06 - 09:37 AM (#1840788)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Maryrrf

In the presence of the purity and righteosness of Patrick, I now see the error of my ways. I confess that I have sinned. My view of music is sick and twisted, and I have committed a sick and vile act in accepting the $50 offered to me by the library to entertain on St. Patrick's day. My only excuse for this craven deed is that my world view isn't any bigger than the 36 inch circle around my feet. I just don't "get" folk music, being only able to wank out a few songs, and I wouldn't be able to play anything by the Sex Pistols if my life depended on it. I guess that's because I was so busy wasting time, slithering around on my belly like a reptile, and kissing ass. I'd have been better off dealing drugs or be a prostitute on the side than to have done a little gigging in the folk music field, since I'm a total sell out. I ended up being a babysitter, muzak and the wandering village idiot in exchange for a few bucks.

I'm going to bow out of this thread now because it has gone way over the top. Patrick, I'm sure you're sincere, a fine musician and possibly a nice guy but you come across like some kind of hellfire and damnation preacher. Don't you think you're blowing things out of proportion?!


22 Sep 06 - 10:07 AM (#1840808)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Mike Miller

I have been avoiding responding to comments that suggest we are, in some way, immoral in our career choices. Such comments are so out of place in a guild like forum that they are beyond reply. In a Panglossian best of all possible worlds, I suppose we might entertain such discussion, in the finite atmosphere of 21st century reality, it is gibberish.
I hope that Mary will stick with us and not be distracted by the yapping of every dogma in the manger. For those who wish to discuss professionalism without distraction, I am open to direct contact, even though I haven't figured out how to get back my regular Mudcat identity. (I've tried and tried but I've failed and failed. The next time Dick Greehaus drives down to Philly, I'll enlist his aid).
Anyway, my e-mail address is   musicmic@peoplepc.com and I'm not getting chased out of this thread by anyone.

                         Mike


22 Sep 06 - 10:27 AM (#1840818)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST

Good post Patrick. I didn't detect any hellfire and damnation or even yapping dogma. What you stated are good points.


22 Sep 06 - 11:16 AM (#1840861)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: Fortunato

In this thread as in all others, it is my approach to totally ignore the posts I do not want to encourage.


26 Sep 06 - 03:20 PM (#1843955)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: BlueSage

For those of you not familiar with Patrick, you should know that he actually has a lot of helpful insights sandwiched in between the inflammatory remarks in his posts. Pat has devoted much of his life to helping the music community with free on-line instructional materials but he does tend to be an absolutist; everything is black and white for Pat.

Read his posts, take the good and leave the rest. You won't change his mind by trying to reason with him.

Pat and I disagree on subjects like teaching as a profession (my students would kill me if I quite teaching and took a different day job), but I do agree with many of his ideas.

You have to admit, he does get the dialog flowing in a passionate manner whenever he posts to a thread...

Mike Iverson


26 Sep 06 - 05:24 PM (#1844038)
Subject: RE: Professional Folksinger, and Proud of It
From: GUEST,Jim

Hi weelittledrummer,
There were some quite bright ladies and gentlemen in the retirement home where we played. Alzheimer's was not a common ailment there. We didn't choose L.A. Freeway, but did do HOMEGROWN TOMATOES and it went over quite well with this crowd. Heavenly Houseboat had some of 'em singing along too.