Rumor Has It
What You Pay For
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Recently, a friend and skilled musician decided to quit music. To put a finer point on it, she decided to quit trying to earn a living from her music. While she may continue to play music, she will no longer participate in the economy of being a musician.
I’m as big an advocate for music as it gets, yet when I drilled down into my feelings about her decision, I couldn’t blame her one bit.
That making a living from music is difficult is a well-known and accepted fact. Precious few are able to do it and regardless of a person’s talent or level of success, what being part of the musical grind takes can very often be more than it gives.
We tend to blame this inequity on forces bigger than us—giant record labels, touring companies, venue conglomerates, streaming services. And while those entities certainly are to blame for why being a musician can’t possibly pencil, blaming things outside our control is a way to not have to think about our own culpability.
No, I’m not suggesting you divest yourself from Spotify. I don’t choose to use streaming services, but I’m not under the delusion that Spotify cares one whit about that. But there are things we can do here, where we live, to make life a little easier for the musicians in our midst.
One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, live music will resume in our area. And when it does, we need to be prepared to pay for it.
Yes, I’m talking about one of the most sacred of our sacred cows: the $5 cover.
I’ve lived in Bellingham and have been writing about music in this region for more than two decades and during that entire time, the majority of shows—especially ones featuring a local lineup—have cost five bucks. Sure, it’s great that music here is dirt cheap and there’s definitely something to be said for the $5 cover’s role in keeping shows accessible, but let’s be real: We are straight ripping off the very musicians we claim to love and respect when we refuse to pay them what they’re worth.
The reason the ceiling of the $5 cover has been so tough to shatter is because we are stubbornly resistant to paying more. Just because we can’t stop the music industry as a whole from taking advantage of musicians doesn’t mean we have to join them in doing so. When live music resumes, let’s do things differently. It starts with putting our money where our mouths are.