Here’s an exchange I was forwarded (on condition of anonymity) that, while being both aggravating and darkly amusing, reminds me how easily non-musician administrators forget that we performers are actually trying to make a living from this kind of work. It’s a job–honest!
With Administrators like These….
I’m chalking up the attitude exhibited by the administrators in this email exchange to ignorance of the actual economic situation of their musician employees. This institution also happens to pay quite a meager per-hour scale to their employees, require unpaid meetings on a regular basis, and do a host of others things that make me think that this is an attitude that is unfortunately ingrained in this particular institution. I’ve changed names and omitted any revealing references (though I’d love to expose the school I’m actually talking about….I’ll be good….). This correspondence, while only bouncing between a few individuals, was also sent to the entire institution’s faculty, which is how I got it….and no, I don’t work at this place! Never have. Also, I couldn’t help editorializing just a bit–my remarks are in italics during the exchange.
Do you have any contractors you work with, music school or otherwise, who ask for “favors” like these? Leave a comment and let us know!
You Play Now!
Administrator: On _______, 2008, [Retail Outfit #1] is celebrating [Random Anniversary]. In honor of this milestone, there will be a concert in the store on _________ from 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM — first floor by the fountain. A grand piano will be available.
[Retail Outfit #1] has invited [Anonymous Music School] faculty members to perform– string ensembles, piano trios, solo piano, singers… etc. This will not include any student performances—it is strictly for professional musicians.
If you have any interest in participating in this community event, please email me so I can give you contact information.
Musician #1: Is there any pay offered to musicians for this event? If not, I would think it would be a disservice to the music profession to have professional musicians provide free entertainment to solely benefit a for-profit business.
Note the “crafty dodge” employed in the response–a classic administrative deflection tactic intended to befuddle the poor helpless simpleton musician mind:
Administrator: Dear [Musician #1],
As I have told all of the musicians who have expressed interest in this event, you will need to contact [Random Administrator #2] to find out about compensation. She never mentioned any type of stipend to me, and as I stated in my email, it is a community service event for the patrons of the store.
While the event does benefit [Retail Store #1], the excellent visibility helps create greater awareness of our faculty and of [Anonymous Music School] for those same patrons. Hopefully, that awareness translates into inquiries and future registrations. While I agree with you that compensation seems appropriate, I am sure [Retail Store #1] sees it as a way for musicians to serve the community, while promoting their talent and their school. I suspect she invited other community music school faculty too.
[Musician #1], please contact [Random Administrator #2] to get more information about the event. Thanks.
What’s that? It’ll create “excellent visibility” for the institution? Yippee! So do concerts…and I get paid for those. “Serving the community,” you say? Are the caterers volunteering their services? How about the security guards? The store employees working late?
Pay up, cheapskates. By neither securing payment from the store or offering up some compensation yourselves, you’re sending a message: our faculty have nothing better to do than to drive to downtown Chicago and play for free, with some possible…exposure? For what–some more random young students at this music school, which, by the way (this is lovely!), takes OVER 50% of what parents pay the school for lessons as “administrative costs.”
You take over 50% of all lesson payment for these “administrative fees,” yet you can’t cough up $100 as an honorarium for musicians for an event that will benefit your institution? Classy….and you make this guy to yet more unpaid busywork to even find out about compensation? You can’t just do it yourself? OK…gotta cool down…NOW I remember why I vowed never to work for these guys….
Musician #1: I called [Random Administrator #2] and she said that there is NO compensation – not even parking or a gift certificate. While I also believe in promoting the awesome faculty of [Anonymous Music School], this is an inappropriate way to do this. [Retail Store #1] would not think of asking a practice of doctors to come and provide free medical assistance to their employees, nor would they ask an accountant firm to perform services for free. They would not ask secretarial students to file receipts or ask that bartenders and wait-staff to work for free just because it is their [Random Anniversary].
Music teachers have bills to pay and families to support. Our teachers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on their musical education and spent way over that amount in practice hours honing their craft. If we are a music school, we need to teach our faculty as well as our students that our craft is worth a price.
Musician #2: I completely agree with [Musician #1] on this. The public at large does tend to subscribe to the notion that musicians will work for nothing for the publicity. If [Retail Store #1] wants musicians to entertain their patrons, or if [Anonymous Music School] wants musicians to entertain at [Retail Store #1] for the benefit of [Anonymous Music School], then someone should provide compensation. In no profession, outside the performing arts, are professionals expected, or even asked, on a regular basis to perform their professional duties free of charge. Personally, I do a lot to provide community service, but I do not subscribe to the notion that musicians should perform for nothing. Unfortunately, there are still too many professional musicians willing to work for nothing. So the public continues to subscribe to this notion.
Think they got paid?
We’re Lower than Dirt, Huh?
During my educational certification program these past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the differences between a professional (doctor, lawyer) career path and a paraprofessional (paralegal paramedic) career path, focusing on how teaching is in some aspects a true profession (highly regimented, standardized, governing boards, re-certification at regular intervals) and in other aspects a paraprofession (not self-regulated, practitioners held in lower esteem than other professionals, debatable body of unique knowledge). We’ve discussed this profession/paraprofession dichotomy endlessly in class, writing papers and considering how exactly teaching fits into these two paradigms.
Well, guess what? My other career of musician apparently isn’t even a paraprofession by many people’s standards! So, then, what is it? Some sort of circus freak show? Why are we treated like trained monkeys by our own administrators, the very people who should be advocating for us?
What bothers me most about this interchange is the callous nonchalance demonstrated by the administrator I quoted. Believe it or not, there actually is a way to approach musicians and ask them to play for free. It’s not this approach! Also, this kind of event, which is not a benefit/fundraiser but really just a gig, contracted out by a retail chain (and it’s one of the biggest chains in the country, by the way) trying to “cheap out” and hire musicians from the local music school. After all, it’ll be a noisy event, and these musicians are really serving as window dressing, like dancing bears in a toy store; who cares how the musicians sounds, and why ay them if you can get a bunch of warm bodies for free?
Is this encounter just an anomaly…or have you had similar experiences? Let us know!