Vancouver musicians march for money at Occupy Music

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Vancouver folk musicianWyckham Porteous is hoping the rally he is organizing later this month will send a message to operators of some local venues. Calling the event “Occupy Music”, Porteous is planning to stage a march along Commercial Drive next Thursday evening (October 25), to draw attention to what he describes as an inability for many local musicians to make a living wage.

“The actual wage of a musician now is probably almost 100 percent less than it was 15 years ago,” he told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It’s getting much, much worse—at one point there were various places you could play and make something. Now there’s very few places you can play and make anything.”

The march is scheduled to begin outside the Libra Room on Commercial Drive at 6 p.m. Porteous said the venue is “symbolic” for him of a lot of other establishments around the city, noting further marches outside local businesses will be planned.

Rico Bondi, the owner of the Libra Room, refuted the claim that the restaurant doesn’t adequately compensate performers.

“We’ve never not compensated anybody, and to say we’re not compensating enough, I think that’s ridiculous,” he said in a phone interview. Bondi explained the Libra Room gives musicians a percentage of sales, as well as food and drinks, and cover donated by audience members. He argued musicians need to market their performances in order to generate a profit.

“If you want to make money in this business, you’ve got to go out and hustle—you’ve got to put your name on Facebook, you’ve got to put up posters, you’ve got to tell your friends, and have them show up,” he said.

“They have a chance at the Libra Room to polish their skills, to create an act, and they can do it all at a very young age,” he added, noting many East Vancouver musicians have performed at the venue.

Porteous indicated he hopes the protest will help to generate awareness of the economic situation that many local performers face.

“I just feel it’s time that musicians themselves have to stand up and say this can’t go on,” he said.

Comments (3) Add New Comment
Soundman
Good on ya Wyckham for bringing attention to the harsh reality for many musicians (and live music venue operators). As a sound engineer at a live music venue I see both sides of the picture. I have seen nights where touring bands walk away with just enough to cover their travel expenses and the owners of the venue lost money because it costs them as much to operate the venue when it's a quiet night as it does on a busy night. I think a more balanced revenue sharing system could be developed ,and some provincial labor guidelines to ensure musicians are not left out in the cold,but like the owner of the Libra Room says, If people aren't coming out to check out live music and buying drinks and food then its hard to pay well.
I think Steve Edge and his Rogue Folk Club have really dialed it in. Promotion of the events is sooooooo important.
Steve Edge and the Rogue Folk club pay well, have well attended events and treat the musicians well.The only negative is that they rarely showcase local acts.
Obviously the overhead for an organization that runs on volunteer labour is tiny compared to running and staffing a Lounge or Bar so it is hard to compare.
I still find it hard to comprehend that people will bitch about a $10 cover to pay a local band, while they simultaneously spend big money on their cocaine addictions,etc....
makes me a little cynical about peoples priorities...
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Cry Me A River
“The actual wage of a musician now is probably almost 100 percent less than it was 15 years ago”?!? ... Are you kidding me? I guess you just crawled out of your cave, but here's a newsflash for ya: the entire music industry is in the shitter!

Explain where you are coming from .. are you saying you play guitar in a small restaurant along Commercial Drive while people eat dinner? You think you deserve to make a "living wage" off that?! Do these patrons come there to actually watch you, or just to eat & you are simply background music?

Coming from a long background of both musician & booking/promoter roles, & I agree with this venue owner 110% ... it's up to YOU to get your name out there & bring in a draw! A promoter/booker can throw up a few ads/posters, but they are NOT your manager/publicist! They really have nothing to work with you can't do your part ... & they have all the risk & the bills to pay! Are you really that in-the-dark on how this all works?

I'm sick of hearing bands/musicians whining about this same tired entitled argument over the years ... there's a trillion "musicians" out there - some just have a firmer grasp on reality that it's simply a hobby unless the blood, sweat & tears are shed & you're willing to put in the work & sacrifice!

Call it 'musical evolution' ... those who can't figure out how to survive will get weeded out.
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Clarence Pratt
With respect to this issue, Mr Porteous raises a good point. If a restaurant, bar owner engages a performer, that performer shoud be paid, and insist on being paid. The argument raised by "Cry Me a River" is specious, assuming that the establishment will be open for business with or without performers there is no "risk" for the management, the daily costs are assumed to be "fixed" therefore, if a performer is engaged and brings in just one "fan" that might otherwise have gone elsewhere, the establishment profits. If the performer promotes the show, it is free promotion for the establishment and of course would be encouraged. The second scenerio is when a promoter/ owner etc brings and act into a venue that gains most of its income from attracting people to see "live" acts. In that case, assuming that the place would not be open unless there were performers appearing at the venue, it is somewhat reasonable that the venue and the performer share the risk, the performer has to promote as much as possible, as does the venue since the performer will appear only briefly, but the venue will be there next week. That being said, no performer should work without a guarentee and no venue should ever ask the performer to do so, though in Vancouver it seems to be the only way. "Cry Me a River" "s point is well taken, in these kinds of venues, the risk is shared, and performers have to realize early and never forget that, while they may think they are in the music business it is not the case, they are in the liquor sales business. Owners/managers do not care if you have a golden throat and and make the angels weep, they care about the relentless singing of the cash register. If you sell booze you are great, it not you are "bad". Performers, if you want to stop working for nothing, join the union and get active, if enough do so, the union can bring pressure on the establishments for you, and don't be dissmissive of collective action, if you don't help each other, who will help you. If you allow yourself to be exploited, someone will come along who will be willing to do so, as in the case of the unpaid intern. Your experiences may be different from mine, but my fourty plus years as a "performer", have taught me that this is a business, not an art form, not a calling, not a gift from above, not an avenue of dreams and "success" has nothing to do with talent, skill, hard work or genius, if you doubt that look at what sells. If a place that is regularly open engages you to play, get a contract, show up on time, dress well, do the sets as discussed, don't get drunk or high, turn down if the management asks, be as professional as you can, demand a payment but be flexible if there is a blizzard, or storm, or the place is empty because of a bad food review. From my perspective both of these folks raise good points, the "music scene" is different now, but only because of the fact that performers are willing to be exploited now, in the halycon days no performer would work for nothing, and no establishment would ask that. The last point is for "performers", if you hire musicians as a leader, you pay them, not the establisment.
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