The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #111033   Message #2336026
Posted By: Don Firth
08-May-08 - 04:42 PM
Thread Name: Money v Folk
Subject: RE: Money v Folk
I recall one afternoon when I was sitting in Len Hanson's office (Len Hanson was the producer of the weekly Seattle Center Hootenannies in 1963) when he got a phone call. He talked to the caller for a moment, then said, "Just a moment, please," and asked me if I was free to do a gig that evening. He mentioned how much I would be paid. It wasn't much, but I was free, so I said "Fine." He wrote down the address and handed it to me.

Hanson gave out a lot of work to those who were singing in the Seattle Center Hootenannies. People who wanted to hire a singer knew that Hanson had a long list of singers, and although he was not any kind of an agent, he did this sort of thing as a favor to his "stable" of performers.

I didn't have my own transportation then, and the time constraints were such that I had to take a cab out to where I lived to change clothes and pick up my guitar, then take another cab to the engagement. The cab fare ate up a goodly chunk of what I'd be paid, but I figured, "Oh, what the heck!"

So I sang for the requested half-hour. Then the person who had contacted Hanson wrote me out a check for the agreed upon amount.   I thanked him and started to stick the check into my wallet. He cleared his throat and said, "Umm  . . most of the entertainers who perform for us usually endorse the checks back to us as a contribution. This is a charity, you know."

No, I didn't know. Suddenly I felt myself in an awkward situation. By the time I got back home that night, the gig would wind up costing me money. Not much, but still.

The situation was similar to that described in Sean Ruprecht-Belt's post at 08 May 08 - 01:27 p.m. It was a banquet, and the people who had been invited were all pretty wealthy, and had been invited so the directors of the charity could mine them for contributions. One of the inducements to come, in addition to the food, was that there would be entertainment. The person they had originally hired had pooped out on them at the last minute, so they called Len Hanson to hire a pinch-hitter—me. Most of the people I entertained that evening could afford to spill more money than I was being paid.

I made a decision.

"I'm sorry," I said, then I explained the cab rides and the economics involved. Then I told him, "I make my living as a singer and music teacher, and no one told me that this was to be a benefit performance. In the future, you might want to make that clear." Then I put my wallet, containing the check, back into my pocket.

He wasn't happy, but then, he was anticipating getting, easily, several thousand times more than my meager fee in contributions from the assembled big-wigs.

I do a lot of singing for free, just for the fun of it. But—I established a policy early on:   If someone is making money out of the fact that I'm singing somewhere, then I have to have a cut of it. I do make exceptions, such as charities, retirement homes, and such. But—I insist on being the one who decides who I will sing for pro bono.

Dave Van Ronk once mentioned (and I have found this to be true for me, too) that he got a lot of requests to sing for free, often accompanied by the comment that "This doesn't pay anything, but it will be good exposure for you." Van Ronk then remarked, "People have been known to die of exposure!"

It's entertainment, folks (see similar thread, "Entertainment vs. Folk"). If a pop singer, a clown, a piano player, a stand-up comic, a juggler, an opera singer, or a guy making balloon animals gets paid to entertain, then why should a singer of folk songs not be paid as well?

Don Firth