Monday, 26 January 2015

Jams, open mics and the ever changing music biz...

During the 90’s I ran a band called Gypsy Heart. We were a country-rock quartet playing primarily top forty “new” country. It was a good time for a hard working band. The Gypsy Heart Band had two collapsed recording deals, played every area festival, bar, dance hall and had a decent fan following. After 6 years as a country rock band and 3 years of playing whatever we wanted, the group disbanded. Click here to see an old video of the band.
The Gypsy Heart Band early 90' and my son.
Many of our engagements would call for 5 consecutive shows or more plus a Saturday and Sunday “jam” at the same venue. Nothing ever stays the same including the music business. As I once heard the manager of D.O.A. say at a seminar, “you have to be like a cat and always try to land on your feet”, it also really helps if you have nine lives!
Over the years and as things evolve, the jams also started to include the “open mic” where basically you can come in and strut you stuff with or without a backup band. Nice concept and a lot of fun for those trying to get their feet wet on a professional stage. From a band’s standpoint, landing a steady jam at a venue is a sweet deal. A regular gig of any kind is always welcome for a musician. Plus it is cool to be able to socialize, mix and mingle with other musicians.
Shelly Dubois Band at a jam in 2009
Venues are really keen on the open mic / jam concept because every jammer, every open mic participant brings along several friends to listen and share their moment in the spotlight. All their friends buy drinks or meals boosting the proprietors revenues. Plus the venues have an opportunity to listen to new bands or entertainers that might be a good fit for their venue. Really a “win win” situation when handled in an honourable way.
That being said, I do take issue with venues that don’t pay or grossly underpay a host or a house band to conduct these events. Most often these are the same venues that never have other musical events, concert shows or dances. At that point one begins to suspect that the motive is to put bodies in seats without having to pay much for the entertainment. Oh sure you have the promise of a free beer for the entertainers or you didn’t have to pay the door charge because you are singing (not always the case), but the six friends you dragged along paid the cover charge and bought a beer each easily paying for yours plus a profit. Lately, I’ve seen several incidents of popular bands building a large regular attendance for “jams”, only to have the venues slash the pay rate, handing it off to those who would work for less. A race to the bottom for working musicians. Trouble is, there is always someone willing to play for less. In a world of fewer and fewer gigs you can’t blame the musicians, although I find the trend disturbing.
Myself and Glen Foster with Donny Ginter Band.
Open mics, jams, open stages, by all means lets support and attend these gatherings. Be sure to also support and attend other music events as well. Dances, coffee houses, house concerts, restaurants with live music and of course nightclub / pub dances need people to show up to keep them viable. It’s easy to confine yourself to a glowing screen and correspondence with friends through the ticky tacky of your laptop or smartphone, but that won’t let you be immersed in the great feeling and vibration of live music. Celebrate life with your friends and others by attending a local musical event. A little research on the web will quickly let you know what’s happening musically in your neighbourhood.
Until next time, Brother T