What it’s like


You want to know what it’s like?

The majority of musicians love what they do. It is a lifestyle and more often than not, a labour of love. Most of them didn’t study it in any kind of traditional way. They might have taken lessons for a few years, probably back in high school, but mostly they continue playing out of love. It is an outlet for expression and just because they couldn’t afford to study music at a University level does not mean that that door should be closed.
They found other like-minded and like-inspired musicians who shared their passion and love. Despite going though different phases, bands and friends, they continued to pursue their craft. But it had to be a hobby for the majority of them.
There is a host of different answers for a host of different people. The majority of musicians had to get jobs outside their passion. Some jobs took preference over their love, whether briefly or for an extended period of time. Some of them fell behind never to play again, save for a few informal jams, but I can assure you, the love and passion still burns for many of them regardless of how intense.
The rest soldiered on to find new forms for their expression. New bands were formed and bands disappeared, only to show up in new forms and so on and so on until they found a group of people who shared an ideal and understood where their love of music resided and what it truly meant for them.
Maybe this group of like-minded, like-inspired musicians all have had to take full-time jobs. Jobs that don’t necessarily always allow the time for band practice or even personal practice. Maybe some even struggled to find a job and had an income below minimum wage.

Imagine you were part of this group of musicians and had to find a place to rehearse, because neighbourhood garages and living rooms were too loud for the neighbours to bare.
Maybe this rehearsal room costs a couple hundred bucks for a few hours of rehearsal AND writing new material.
Maybe one practice a week isn’t enough.
Maybe band practice twice a week isn’t enough and you need to have a personal, quiet time practice by yourself. Maybe that costs money too.
Maybe you broke strings, skins and shed too much wood and have had to pay for the upkeep of your instruments.
Maybe your equipment runs the risk of getting stolen from time to time and you are unable to afford insurance.
Maybe you land a gig and it is the most exciting thing, because you get to bare your souls to an audience. Or so you hope. You hope for an audience to listen and like your creative expressions. You also hope that they like you enough to come to another show, in hopes to build a fan base to help relieve some of the financial burden. So you market and advertise for your shows in the capacity you can with the hope that you can get a good attendance.
Because it costs you to play at a night club. Venues want to see money, even though all you and the band/s really cares about is a heart-felt, passionate performance which the attended can (hopefully) appreciate.
So what happens when there is a poor attendance?
You and the band/s (about 3 bands per show) pay in however much you didn’t make from your puny R20/R30 cover charge. A “successful” night would be if you made (anything.) over a grand at the door (after deductions from club/engineers/door staff/etc.). That’s a little over R300 PER band.
That one gig, that took weeks of practice and rehearsal, over and above full days of work, only succeeded in paying for ONE practice.
Maybe your band has a few songs ready to be immortalized in a recording. How much is that going to cost? Well whatever it is going to cost, a percentage is more than likely going to come out of your band’s pocket.
Because you love what you do.
Are you making any money?
Fuck no, but does that mean you have to stop doing it?
Maybe. Maybe eventually.
Do you want to?
What if your band is lucky enough to land a sweet gig, but the organizers say: “We’d love to have you on the bill, but we are unable to sponsor or pay you/for you. You going to have to find your own way.”

The majority of musicians have jobs and much of the time it is difficult to do some of the things that are required from a band, extraneous from performing, practicing and writing.
Why not get a manager?
Cos we can’t necessarily afford to pay for two practices a week, pay for upkeep of instruments, finance a decent recording and play shows too poorly attended to be paid.
Maybe because of the poorly attended show the venue gets annoyed because you didn’t bring in the numbers you hoped for.
Maybe clubs stop doing live music because it doesn’t bring in the money.
Maybe there are only a few places left that have live music…

True musicians and artists are not necessarily concerned with money. They are concerned with the expression of their craft as an individual and as a group. They care for the platform for their expression because they need it, because it is part of life itself and that platform is mostly concerned with money because in these times money is the savior of all and without it they will not be safe.

That’s what it’s like. I do what I do because I love it, so I will do what I love to my capacity. If one can’t even do that, then what is the point of doing anything?
I do know that with more helping hands the burden will be lighter.


P.S  This is written purely from my experience in my local alternative rock scene in Cape Town, South Africa, although I am sure there are others around the world who can relate.

A thought on music…

Music seems to be what everyone is talking about at the moment.  With the Grammy awards and another tragic death, I could not help but think what music really is and what it means to me.  I am a musician and have relationship with music.  I believe everyone is different and thus their relationship with music, from the way they perceive it, to the way they play and understand it, will be different.  This is just my thoughts, feelings and views about music.

Music for me is 1st and foremost about expression.  For me that is what it ultimately comes down to.  Music and the industry (I hate referring to a music industry) has grown and changed so much over the last couple decades, not to mention the centuries.  Before (over-population) back in the day there would only be a few people who were gifted and talented at playing an instrument.  They were either lucky or wealthy enough to study or naturally gifted enough to teach themselves.  They were the few musical entertainers.  Now, everyone can afford an instrument and are able to teach themselves through friends, schools and internet. Everyone can play a guitar and thanks to media hype, they have subliminally sold our musicians a life style.  Everyone wants to be rock stars and earn crazy amounts of money by making music.  The industry is now over saturated with “musicians” who have jumped on the band wagon to make a buck.  They have exchanged their musical freedom for a false ideal of what they are lead to believe is the music life style.  You see young musicians in bands who are so excited, so keen to make a name for themselves that they focus so much on promotion and getting fans that the music is only a small percentage of who they are.  They want to do music for a living.  They want to get paid.  Who has the money?  Record labels. The machine.  There are so many possibilities using the internet that I think (and really hope) record labels will become a thing of the past.  I see bands so concerned in turning their music into a living that they forget why they first started to play. 

Mainstream music makes me ill.  The way they do everything.  There is always an ulterior motive.  Record labels are more concerned about making money and pushing music to the population in order to sell more.  The music has become a commodity, not an art. With the rise of technology the opportunist has snuck in and “produced” tracks in a computer and put some nursery-rhyme-esque melodies over same sounding electronic beats and passed it off as a composition.  Now who am I to judge what music means to different people?  I cannot rightfully say that music is better than that. We all have opinions.  I’m careful when it comes to criticizing anything creative.  No one is better than another, we are just different people on different a phase of our musical evolution.  No right or wrong.  What I do find wrong is people who take advantage of technology and just mindlessly create music just to sell.  They sell to make money to become famous.  But what makes a musician who is on all the radio stations, MTV and has all the festival gigs, more successful than me?  Is it really that their music is more important than mine?  It’s all about budget.  Money.  Money doest make you a better musician, just allows you better marketing schemes.

Musicians love the idea of making money of their art. They want to share it with others.  But what do some of those musicians exchange for fame, money and good gigs?  Their record label may convince them to write their songs differently, aim it at a particular market and tour extensively so all their billions of fans can enjoy their music.  Some bands tour for years at a time and still make nothing compared to their bosses.  Record labels end up owning the musicians art.  They have record deals, sweet gigs, millions of followers and they get paid to do the thing they “love” to do.  Their love and art has turned into a machine to make their owners (the labels) richer and gives the musicians a false sense of living the dream.  The sickest part is that the label will own your art even after you die, continuously making them money.  It’s an emotionless machine.

And for the few who take advantage of the technology to make music for idiots just because the industry has bred a MTV idiot generation, you are no better.  Instead of spreading culture, consciousness and expression, you are contributing and feeding the machine.  We are now too afraid for their to be imperfections in our music.  We can correct everything with computers from timing to pitch.  It’s this fear that has sucked the human feel of music right out of the mainstream.  Everything is now computer generated or corrected. Music was never meant to be perfect.  It’s the imperfection that makes one musician differ from another.  I want to hear the musician with all their flaws.  I don’t want to hear perfection.  If music were suppose to be perfect we wouldn’t be playing it. 

I play music for the love of it, for the expression of it.  I love to share my music with others, but I wouldn’t do anything to get my music heard.  Music has given so much to me that it would be an insult to create it with a preconceived notion of making money off of it.  Pure music is love and I would be damned if I feed it to the machine, it’s better than that.

At the end of the day however, we have made our own bed to lie in.  Our greed of the “lifestyle” has warped our mentality and we have exchanged our ideals for material wealth and fame.  We are now living in the by-product of our choices.  Are we too far down the road to make a change?  I’ll continue doing things my way and I encourage you all, in whatever “industry” you are in, DON’T FEED THE MACHINE!

Deep end of the studio…

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Last Friday I was asked to do an emergency 3 hour studio photo shoot for musician, Kyle Pietersen. AWESOME. Unfortunately, truth be told, I have very little studio and lighting experience. I understand how light works but haven’t had the opportunity to play around with different lighting techniques. This stressed me out. I had about 3 and a half hours to try capture 5 or so different options to promote his album which is to be released shortly. Although I lacked hands on studio and lighting experience, a bit of common sense really does go a long way!
I found thinking things through a couple of times before I actually did it really helps. It was really a great exercise being thrown into the deep end like that. There is a definite feeling of accomplishment, especially when the client is happy, which I’m happy to say he was!
We did the shoot at Black Dog Studios in Observatory, it’s really a fantastic studio and I really encourage the Cape Town photographers to check it out. It’s in a central area and more importantly the vibe you get from the place is stimulating and creative. The owners are great and they really interested in developing the photographic community, which is always brilliant. Whats even better is that they have a communal darkroom for hire! I think its great because I think that is going to be my next step…Developing my own prints!

For the folk out there interested in what I used for this shoot I shot on my Canon 30D. Mostly using 50mm 1.8 and for the wider shots I used my ol 18-55 Efs lens. It definitely needs an upgrade! Lighting wise I’m not too sure what make they were, but they were great. I used one beauty dish and one flash light with softbox, all shot with radio trigger.

That was my shoot and I can definitely say I’m keen to get back into studio to shoot more…When the wallet allows!

Check out Black Dog Studios at http://www.blackdogstudios.co.za/