I have done
repair and rebuilding work on acoustic instruments: pianos,
guitars, mandolins, and violins.
My taste for musical activities
evolved as I got older. The industry has changed
drastically since I actually made a living at it in my
twenties. There are many more eager young
musicians, DJ's, and too much free music on the
internet. Bar owners fill their stages with "Open Mic"
participants who are not vetted for talent or
reputation, and who are willing to play for free for
"exposure". Every stage they crowd removes a venue
for paid musicians with better chops and more polished
performances. It erodes their livelihood. No
longer are young people in every town excited to hit the
bar or dance hall because a new touring band has come to
town. I toured at the tail end of that era.
Very competent musicians that I played with then now
make their living by teaching, selling in music stores,
or both. I was lucky enough to complete university
and take a sharp left turn into public school teaching
in my early thirties, so now I have a pension and will
never have to rely on music for a pay cheque.
That's a darn good thing, because I no longer enjoy late nights and commuting, and lugging equipment to gigs. I began going out to play nearby open mics with a younger friend but quickly realized that I was providing a free service for bar owners who pay all their other employees but not the musicians. They don't offer a free drink, a meal, or even their parking costs, and they don't have decent instruments set up for musicians. One legendary downtown dive had an out of tune piano with five broken keys, even though perfectly good pianos are free for the asking every week in this city. We played in rooms full of shouting bar patrons who force you to crank up your volume and sing through a p.a. to be heard, in a room with a packed-in capacity crowd of less than a hundred people. At my community Play Along I can sing while a dozen musicians are playing, and I can be heard without a p.a. At the open mics, I dragged my thousand dollar keyboard to each venue and set it up to do just a handful of songs for them, but the open mic organizer expected me to leave it set up for other players to use, possibly knock over, or spill their beer on. At another venue, a girl leapt on stage and thrust her tiny phone into my face to chord for her from a very bad arrangement that didn't match what she wanted to sing, in the wrong key, to accompany her for three minutes of "fame" singing in public, karaoke-style. This drunken party behaviour was considered normal and acceptable by the open mic organizer. What a horror show. I felt exploited. Like many older musicians, my drinking days are behind me, especially while performing; but bar owners expect open mic musicians to draw in their friends to buy drinks, and to create a party atmosphere that will encourage other customers to stay and buy more drinks. Open mic musicians are, in effect, "animators" like the ones employed at resorts and on cruise ships; but they are expected to perform the same function without being paid. To me that's completely bonkers, and profoundly dissatisfying.
In casting about for a more satisfying musical outlet, I started organizing groups of musicians to rehearse and play down at the yacht club, and then a ukulele group that ran for a few years in a private home, and a guitar group that we ran at the yacht club which migrated a year later to someone else's home. Finally I stumbled upon the fact that community centre managers are eager to find people who can organize community programming. The facilities provide free space, and sometimes free equipment for our use. Birchmount Community Centre provides us with a really good keyboard and a projector. Grateful musicians responded to my invitation, and in effect, the musicians are their own mutually appreciative audience. And we get home to bed at a reasonable hour. For all of this, I happily organize and play for free. I'll also play for free in a park with other musicians, for charity, for school fundraisers, and for nursing home and hospital audiences. Those venues make me feel appreciated. They are grateful that you bring your music to them.