A Buck, a Mark, a Yen, or a Pound

For more than 30 years, I haven’t had to worry much about money. Not that I had a lot, but I always had enough. I have no family, and my needs are modest. For the first 25 years I had a steady job, and when I got laid off I moved in with Mom, so for the past six years I haven’t had to pay rent. The health insurance ain’t cheap, but I manage.

So now I’m turning 60, and all of a sudden I have to start worrying about where the money is going to come from. It’s weird, and I don’t like it. My lifestyle remains anything but extravagant … but I recently rented my own house. (It’s a 3-bedroom house, and I need every square foot. An apartment just isn’t going to cut it.)

The economy is kind of in the crapper right now, which doesn’t help. I still have as many cello students as I did last year — not enough to pay the rent, but enough that I’d miss them badly if they were gone. But the magazine writing work is slow.

Since I play music, it’s very natural to think about how I might be able to make some money at it. But the prospects are not good.

I was in a band for a couple of years, and we had occasional gigs, but I quit last December. I like the guys on a personal level, and the music was very decent, but the quality of the gigs wasn’t good, and there weren’t many of them either.

Anyway, the band never did any of my tunes. It wasn’t exactly a creative activity, unless you count improvising a few solos. I’m not a great improviser. I prefer sitting down and working on music in my computer. And there’s no market whatever for that, as far as I can see.

The last offer I had of a paying gig … in April, the music director of the Pleasanton Playhouse offered me $35 per service for 21 services as a cellist in the pit in the production of “Beauty & the Beast.” By the time you factor in the hours of practice I’d put in learning the parts, that would be less than $10 per hour.

I didn’t take the gig. I told her I’d do it for $50 per service, and I never heard back from her.

I wonder how much Pleasanton Playhouse was able to lowball Disney on the rights to the show. Do you suppose PP was able to say, “Oh, we’re poor! We don’t have much of a budget! Could you give it to us for half as much?” No, probably not. Probably they shelled out every cent this giant corporation asked, without blinking an eye, and then balanced the budget by ripping off the local musicians.

In the summer we have outdoor music here in Livermore, put on by an organization called Livermore Downtown. Two or three years ago, the band played a few of those gigs. I believe we got $100 per man for a two-hour gig. That’s not enough to pay the rent, but it’s reasonable. Then Livermore Downtown discovered that they could refuse to pay the musicians at all, and bands would still sign up to play! Now they pay nothing.

If I were a bandleader, I’d tell them, “Oh, okay, fine. We’ll play for nothing — and then we and our friends will all go around the corner to Strizzi’s and order a big meal with expensive bottles of wine, and they’ll feed us all for free, right? Because having the musicians dine at their restaurant will be good promotion for them, right?”

Hmm — I wonder why Livermore Downtown would think they can treat the musicians any differently than they’d treat other businesses?

I’m still mulling this over. I don’t have any answers yet. There may not be any answers. But I do have to pay the rent. The landlord is not going to say, “Oh, you’re a musician! Why didn’t you say so? Don’t worry about the rent, we’ll take care of it.”

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