If I were a decent guitarist (not even close), I’d probably be like my friend Brian, who spends his every spare minute playing in a band. Most of the time, though, he’s helping people select lumber or providing counsel on paint and caulk selection at the local building supply store.
That’s his day job. Damn near every musician I know has one.
I write about music, an avocation with a time-to-dollar ratio that’s likely on a par with the money my friend makes on the coffee house/private party circuit. Computer software consulting pays my bills, but music stokes the bank of my soul.
Looking at box office receipts from bands like the Stones and Aerosmith, it would appear that the music business is a no-brainer road to catered backstage parties, with overflowing bowls of brown M&M’s everywhere. The truth is that most musicians are like my friend Brian, playing for love and barely breaking even after expenses like gas, meals and guitar strings are tallied up.
Thus, I was amused when someone asked me recently why Chris Jones, the embattled owner of Middle Earth Music Hall, seemed content to operate at a loss.
“What kind of person,” he mused, “is proud that he’s never made money?”
He was no doubt referring to a Valley New story where Jones admitted that the club had “never been profitable.” Jones went on to say that he viewed Middle Earth as a refuge for people who’d “given up on the bar scene” but still wanted to listen to good music.
Interestingly, the person asking the question about the club’s profitability is affiliated with an ostensibly charitable organization. He, of all people, should know it’s possible to think of “profit” in non-financial terms. Chris Jones got into the music business for an altruistic reason I can entirely appreciate. In an interview, he told me:
We were at a show one weekend and I liked the band. It was the New Nile Orchestra. I wanted to see them in Bradford, so I asked around and found a way to book them myself. We did it in a 300 seat auditorium. One thing led to another, and every two weeks I’m doing shows in the auditorium.
Eventually, he had to move the shows from the auditorium (Bradford’s town hall), and opened Middle Earth in order to have a permanent location. In the last four years, he’s presented some wonderful, often unheralded, talent to music lovers everywhere.
To my mind, it’s as much a church as a club. What emanates from it cleanses the soul.
Via Lefsetz, Al Kooper weighs in on a career that’s been satisfying for him in spite of the way it worked out financially:
FYI, I don’t get any artist or producer royalties for Child Is Father To The Man, Super Session, Live Adventures, I Stand Alone, (They didn’t even give me a friggin’ gold record for Oddesey & Oracle). No royalties for Free Bird, Sweet Home Alabama, Gimme Three Steps, etc. Obviously I didn’t come into the biz for the money. I came in for the love of music and when the sharks smell that, you’re through financially.
It ain’t about the money, it’s about the music. People who are passionate about it understand. People who aren’t don’t – or worse, as Kooper indicates, they’re in the business of screwing money out of people who are.