It’s not easy to make a living as a musician or a “creative.”
As anyone knows who pays their rent and buys their food from the fruit of their creativity, it’s a tough life. I hate it when people who don’t live by their creative output think that musicians, artists, writers and actors do what they do because they choose a “lifestyle.” Think about what your life would be like without music, art, film, theater, our overall culture. Pretty damn dismal, right?
Often, when you’re a creative person, you just don’t have the quality of life that you deserve, and that others (who don’t work nearly as hard) enjoy. Creatives have to create. It’s a pity that most of them can only afford to be creative as a hobby, and have to work another job to pay the rent. Who enjoys what creative people do? Everyone who lives in this community, that’s who. Everyone who comes to New Orleans or Louisiana because of its culture, that’s who.
Some creative folk have no choice but to live below the poverty level if they opt to make their creativity their life’s work. I don’t think I would be out of line to assert that most musicians make well under the average annual poverty level amount. That’s just awful.
This doesn’t make creatives ignorant of what they need to make a living. Most just can’t make a decent living, have a home to call their own, have health insurance, and be able to feed and clothe their families in the same ways as, say, a white collar worker, a bartender, a restaurant server.
Musicians do what they can to survive: they work two, three jobs. They teach. They hustle work. In a conversation with a local musician this afternoon, for example, we discussed how much money he made playing gigs on Frenchmen Street. “We make 20 percent of the bar and restaurant ring for a night,” he said, “which [last night] came to about $75 a man for quartet, including tips we got from the audience [consider that most musicians don’t necessarily have a nightly gig]. “What gets me,” he said, “is that we can play and when we politely pass the tip jar, many times we get nothing.” He told the story of playing on Frenchmen, going to a large table of over 12 people, making his tip pitch to the table “We appreciate your tipping the band, as this is the way we get paid at the end of the show.” He said he got an entire table of people who basically looked in the other direction so they wouldn’t have to tip the band.
Sad, and just sorry.
Everyone knows they are supposed to tip a server or a bartender; it’s become common knowledge. Why doesn’t your average shmo who hits Frenchmen (or Bourbon) understand that musicians are the underdogs (lower than wait-staff, apparently, in the payment department) and at least tip the damn band?
I guess you might say that these cheap twits may not care about live music, and don’t appreciate it. Whose fault is that? The musicians? Nope. I think it’s the fault of our culture and the disdain that many people have for musicians. But in some ways, I also fault the club owners; they should step up and make sure that the musicians are paid a decent wage and are receiving tips—if that’s the only way the musicians can be paid (I’ve ranted about this for a long time). If you won’t charge a cover, charge a two-drink minimum or something. Get the musicians paid. It’s the right thing to do.
New Orleans has made its bones on the backs of creative people and the hospitality industry workers. They all deserve to make enough money to allow them to rise above the poverty level.
There’s been a movement to help support the live music scene in this city by creating a fund to help support the creative element of our society from the taxes charged by hotels and restaurants. These businesses—as well as the others who capitalize on creative output as a great attraction for visitors—should come forward to create a sustainable means to help nurture our creative community. It’s only right. Musicians (especially) and other creatives have put money in the hospitality industry’s pockets for a long, long time. Now help put some duckies back in their pockets…and I don’t mean a few tips.
Let such a fund earmark it for housing, education, clothing, food, health needs of creatives. Every little bit helps. We need a strong, healthy working class of creative people, or else we are going to eventually lose them.