“I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth”–‘Substitute,’ The Who
There are the trope and the truism that are often used by parents who are concerned that their kids might go in a direction that potentially describes a future that is without hope or at the very least a recipe for continued residency.
The first is the “starving artist.” This is generally associated with some suffering individual who is in a garret, working at their art and not making a sufficient amount of money in order to buy something to eat. Of course, the starving artist could be out in the world, busking, hoping that there will be a sufficient number of tips tossed into the open instrument case to buy a set of strings and possibly a cellophane-wrapped sandwich of some undifferentiated substance for sustenance.
The starving artist is cautionary, although not as potentially off-putting as “artists only make money after they are dead.” This is somewhat more difficult to understand given that the individual is dead and consequently incapable of (a) taking it with them to say nothing of (b) making more of it.
However, the message seems to be that the artist will create works that will, the starvation occurring while that creation is going on notwithstanding, make bank for someone else after the artist is pushing daisies. Although it is known that artists ranging from da Vinci to Warhol, to name two who are dead, made money while they were alive from their undertaking, it is also true that post-mortal coil those works made a heck of a lot of more money than either could have possibly imagined.
The point is, while the odds are better making something as a musician than they are for someone who thinks they’re going to get rich playing the lottery, the odds are even better that a job as an actuarial or forklift driver is more likely to provide income consistency.
It is a good thing for the rest of us that there are those who ignore those warnings and go out and create, whether they are visual or musical artists.
But it doesn’t necessarily make their lots in life any better if there are only a few of us who are supportive of the undertakings of any of these individuals and groupings of like-minded.
The band Wednesday performed at the recent South By Southwest.
As reported in Stereogum, the Asheville-based group played seven shows. Of the seven it was paid for one.
The band’s Tweet its expenses for the trip to Austin:
• +$500 Asheville
• -$83.93 gas
• +$200 Opelika
• -$200 hotel
• -$100 gas
• +$200 New Orleans
• -$1210 Austin Airbnb 5 days
• +$134 Austin house show
• -$100 gas
• -$100 gas
• -$200 hotel
• +$750 Dallas
• +300 Little Rock
• -$84 gas
• -$105 gas
So this means that Wednesday grossed $2,084 from its trip to and from SxSW, with gigs on the way there and back, and had $2,182.39 in expenses.
This results in a loss of $98.39.
You’ll note that there is no factoring in of eating. One could argue that whether they were on the road or not the five members would have to eat anyway. But anyone who has spent any time on the road—whether it is a business trip or a vacation—knows, it invariably costs considerably more to get food out there than it does at home.
Certainly bands have to be out on the road in order to get visibility which, ideally, turns into the purchase of their music and possibly merch. However, it cannot be overlooked that the organizers of events, be they something like SxSW or some local venue, get a piece of the action. Of course, they have the venue and probably do some promotion to draw people in, which is certainly not free. But one could make the case that if it is not for the “content,” as in the performance, then that venue would be empty. So there is something of a symbiotic relation between the two. But if Wednesday got paid for one performance and did the other six based on hopes of things to come, then there seems to be something out of whack here.
Zach Schonfeld, in the Stereogum story, writes that Stephen Burdick, lead singer of the Stone Eye, responded to the Wednesday tweet: “Ya’ll gotta do some DoorDash/Instacart on your days off. We payed [sic] for our 3 night, $70 a night stay in Raleigh that way.”
Schonfeld notes, “when reached for interview, Burdick, who has a small audio engineering company, confirms that he wasn’t joking. He was dead serious.”
Burdick and his band mates seem to be pragmatic in their approach to touring, as when they have downtime they pair up and run gig-deliveries.
In response to a question posed by Schonfeld as to whether this isn’t depressing, Burdick answered, “I think it’s about knowing your worth. We’re the Stone Eye. Who knows the Stone Eye, know what I mean? We’re playing clubs to 30 people. We can’t really demand a guarantee.”
“Base pay is DoorDash’s base contribution for each order. This will range from $2-10+ depending on the estimated time, distance, and desirability of the order.”
“Promotions are additional pay for orders that meet certain conditions — giving Dashers an opportunity to earn even more. Here are some examples:
• Peak Pay: When it’s busy, peak pay may be in effect. Hit the road to earn extra money on each delivery. When peak pay is available, it will be added to the total earnings you’re shown when you’re offered a delivery.
• Challenges: Challenges are incentives that let a Dasher earn extra money for completing a certain number of deliveries in a set amount of time. . . .
• Guaranteed Earnings: Guaranteed Earnings . . .is a pay incentive for select Dashers to earn at least a specific amount (not including tips, challenge payments, and referral payments) within a set number of days. The number of days and amount depends on the offer they were sent via email and SMS.”
“Customers can leave a tip when they check out or after the delivery is completed. 100% of tips are yours on top of base pay and promotions.”
So there you have it. The starving artist turns to a food deliverer in order to make ends meet.
Perhaps this has always been the case. Perhaps all artists have had to do something completely unartistic in order to get their work out into the world. Perhaps members of bands like Wednesday have to do what members of the Stone Eye do.
Earning a living isn’t easy.
One of the performers who has clearly “made it” is Roger Daltrey. In his autobiography Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite he writes about how joining a band got him out of filing metal that would be welded into computer cabinets, working in an “asbestos-lined shed in Shepherd’s Bush,” “dreary monotonous work.”
But Daltrey understood the necessity of making money and so even when a band there was focus on that end, as well as the means to make it.
He writes about how early on the band, then the Detours, mainly played in clubs doing covers. They noticed the then-nascent Rolling Stones were doing the blues. And “That’s why Pete wanted to play a full blues set immediately.”
Daltrey was against it “because I realized more than Pete what those nights out were for our audience.” They were working-class people. “If we’d gone out and played them a load of strange music, they would have been insulted. If we went too far off on our blues trip in a great big sweep, we’d have lost them, and if we lost them we were fucked.”
And Daltrey explains what that would have meant to Townshend and him back in 1963:
“Fucked for Pete meant carrying on with his art degree, which meant lying about in bed all day smoking dope, turning up at the occasional lecture to imagine the world from the point of view of a sponge.
“Fucked for me was something quite different. I wasn’t at college. I wasn’t having my arse wiped by the state. I had a whole different outlook on life.”
Yes, it has always been this way. There are no guarantees.