You’re a musician, and a singer-songwritery musician at that. So, what happens when you go to Austin? Here’s what’s supposed to happen: you pack a ukulele, a fiddle, your singing voice, and you play a ton of shows. It’s the music capital of the world, right? (You’re also supposed to see the first Regina Spektor concert of your life, which you do.) This is supposed to be a story of wild successes and new ground happily trodden upon, but it’s not. It’s more of a story of… Well, I’m still not sure exactly what.
I did a good deal of preparation for this trip. I had never played music in Austin before, and I have almost zero connections there. I did, however, have a long list of coffee shops and cafes to contact, thanks to my aunt, who lives there. By chance, I had also met an Austin-based guitar player I could potentially work with. Basically, I sent out a bunch of emails and quickly realized that the people who wanted to book me didn’t want to pay. So, I turned them down. I was holding out for a show, any show, that would give me more than one comped coffee drink and 20% off of food. I mean, come on. Send twenty bucks my way, as a token of appreciation. Or even a fully comped meal, I mean, puh-lease!
Eventually, I even got an Austin booking agent on the phone. He suggested contacting some of the coffee shops that had already offered to let me play without pay. He also told me that people, Austin restaurant-goers, typically tip pretty well.
Gah! Did I make a huge mistake? At this point, what do you do? How do you do all this and not feel frustrated? Was it bad, turning down opportunities to perform, or did I make a good choice in holding out for a paid gig, even though I never got one? Even now, I’m not sure I made the right choice.
Now I’m remembering a conversation I had over two years ago with a New York City-based musician. He was passing through Albuquerque, where I live, and had, funnily enough, just toured with Regina Spektor. We were talking about how, as a musician, your parents want you to do the paying gigs, not the ones where you’re volunteering your time and talents. They want you to be “gainfully employed.” He said he himself still does free shows and that there was a time when Regina Spektor did free shows. So, why do we do it? Because performing is such a valuable and rewarding experience. Because we love it. Maybe the compensation thing, or the lack of compensation thing, isn’t fair. Maybe we as artists and performers are undervalued. But we try to make it work financially, anyway, because it’s so much fun.
Would I do things differently next time around? Maybe. It’s hard to say. What I do know is that the trip turned into a fun couple days with my family, I saw the first Regina Spektor show I’ve ever seen, and on the drive into town I found a new baritone ukulele, on sale. Oh, I also ate a ridiculous amount of barbecue. These things are important, too.