A little over a month ago, a friend that had recently volunteered for one of Amanda Palmer's new music videos brought to my attention an insanely awesome opportunity for brass and string musicians - She was looking for professional(ish) crowd-sourced musicians to volunteer in their hometown. I immediately shot an e-mail to the guitarist/arranger/horn wrangler, Chad Raines (@radchaines), and I attempted to sign up for three shows (DC - Carrboro, NC - Atlanta, Ga)... Unfortunately, Chad wrote me back and told me that there were only spots for NC and Atlanta, so I had planned to do only those two shows. Being an aspiring musician, I looked at this entire thing as an opportunity to meet and speak to someone who had been successful in the music industry. What I got out of it was way more than I ever expected. I got excellent friends, and an education in Rock 101.
When I met up with the band in Carrboro, North Carolina, I was greeted in the parking lot as I was walking toward the venue door by an awesomely polite and "Louis CK-ishly" hilarious Alto Saxophonist named Alec (AlecSpiegelman), and his partner in crime, who ended up being one of the coolest guys I've ever met, Tenor Saxophonist Kelly Roberge (@KellyRoberge). These guys took me in, showed me around, ran the horn sectional like professional musicians, briefed me on the evening, and offered to hang out with me from the end of the sectional until the end of the night, they treated me like real musician friends, and made sure that I was well taken care of. My first impression? This is a tightly run ship, and these cats aren't strangers to the classical world. After hanging with them a little longer, I found out that Alec did his undergrad at Oberlin and grad at Harvard, and Kelly did his undergrad at Oberlin, and grad at New England Conservatory.... I immediately realized that I wasn't fucking around with amateurs here... Immediately following our rehearsal, Amanda came out of nowhere, greeted me with an awesome smile and super high-fives, and was polite, courteous, and just downright cool as fuck
During our down-time, I heard stories of what has been branded as the "kerfuffle" - The nonsensical internet banter about Amanda Palmer's 1.2mil Kickstarter, and her call for volunteers.... Before I move on, I want to fill you in on a little bit of my background as far as playing for free, playing for money, and paying to play. I am a classically trained musician. I began playing tuba at 12 years old. At the age of 14, I was marching in a Division I Drum and Bugle Corps that toured the entire country, playing a show every night for three months, and ended the summer with a gigantic event, The DCI World Championships... How much did I get paid to do that? Nothing. I PAID $2,000 for the opportunity to do that. And I continued to do so for 4 years. The most talented musicians in the country between the age of 14-21 still do it every year. I've played with multiple professional ensembles for absolutely free. For the LOVE OF MUSIC. All through college, I played everything for free. On occasion, you could find people searching for holiday musicians for a brass quintet that would pay about $50, but those were few and far between. After all of the playing for free, I arrogantly, and unfortunately close-mindedly decided that I was "too good to play for free", I decided I was going to take the "paying gig" and join a military band... I was absolutely miserable... Immediately after my time there was up, I decided that's no longer what I wanted to do. The paycheck wasn't worth the boring, monotonous, old marches we played, and the people in the unit were just dreadfully difficult to be around. The collective state of mind was everything I never wanted to become. I felt like a yellow crayon in a box of black markers... I moved on... In January 2012, I decided that I was sick and effing tired of playing these concerts that we prepared for fucking MONTHS and MONTHS and MONTHS to a crowd full of people that only respond with a golf clap. And, that's if there's even a crowd at all. I have taken my tuba, I've taken my electronics, and I've taken my drummer, and I've created a product. Right now, my only goal in life is to sell that product in the most rocking fucking way possible to the passionate crowds that already exist. The rock crowds... In this mission, I have played MANY gigs for free, spent thousands on gas, and I break even on every trip, and every little tour that my band does. Am I upset about not making much money? Fuck no! Why? Because I'm having the time of my fucking life, and Amanda Palmer's gift of opportunity was a gigantic stepping stone in my mission.
Back to the "kerfuffle" - Not ONE SINGLE MUSICIAN THAT I SAW had less than a fucking AWESOME time. It was the best time of all of their lives... The problem here, with the "kerfuffle," is that too many musicians spend thousands of dollars on degrees in Music Performance, and they graduate with hundreds of playing hours, and they feel entitled to a paycheck immediately after school. The problem with these hundreds of hours of playing time are that they are all taking place within the walls of the university that the music student attended, thus leaving the musician seemingly "inexperienced"... Leaving them with one choice - Win an audition... Well, unfortunately, we live in an age where the symphony orchestras are suffering. The public has completely lost interest, and the contributors are literally dying. Soon, there will be no jobs for classically trained musicians. It's up to the musicians to find alternate forms of income and expression. These music students also graduate with a "pop music is inferior to classical music" mentality, These students need to understand that, in reality, music is music, and what makes people move is what matters. An author can write a brilliant 47,000 page novel on the theory of tree evolution, but if no one gives a shit, then no one gives a shit... Classical musicians need to branch out. Go where the money is. Play smokey bars, learn to improvise, network, create your OWN beautiful music, and for God's sake - JAM! The opportunities will arise! Stop being so uptight and demanding money. Music is about having a good time. Not wearing a tuxedo with a stiff asshole.
Amanda seemed genuinely concerned in what the crowd-sourced musicians had to say about the entire ordeal. She was completely willing to sit down and listen to every single musician's opinion with open ears, and it was clear to me that she meant to offend no one with asking for volunteers. If anything, I feel that she was on our side in making that decision. We, The amateur musicians that just want to hop on a stage and rock face. The musicians that don't need money to have a good time making people dance. She gave us this brilliant opportunity to stand in front of her CRAZY fans and rock our horns to her awesome new music. To do that for a few nights in a row, I require no money.
Alright, alright - Back to the tour and what I learned - The North Carolina show was PACKED OUT!!! I have never been in front of a more pumped crowd. It was absolutely wild. When we walked on stage for the first number, I knew that this is where I wanted to be for the rest of my life. On stage. In front of that many crazy people!!! I mean, how many times in the history of rock has an artist said, "Hey... Come play with my band for a night. I don't care who you are, just get your ass here!" ??? When? When has that ever happened??? I had such an incredible time that I stuck to my word with Chad and drove 8 hours to play my SECOND show in Atlanta show the next day. This is where I learned the most. I was able to watch, listen, and study the sound guys do their job during the soundcheck. How many times does a classical musician get that opportunity? Never... I watched Jaron run around like a wild-man. He's the guy that makes sure that shit is in check. I was able to see what the band does back stage in preparation for the show, I got to witness the gorgeous string rehearsals. The crowd-sourced musicians hung out in the green room with the band and were treated as though they were part of the band. It was so freaking awesome that I had to give it one more go. The band had a day off the day after Atlanta, and it gave me the opportunity to drive home to Alabama and do some thinking. I shot a text to Kelly that said, "Feelin' Crazy... Need a tuba for NOLA?" and instead of Kelly answering me, Amanda tweeted "Tuba player from NC&ATL wants to DRIVE TO PLAY NEW ORLEANS?... FUCK YEAH!" --- I knew I had to go at this point... So, I packed it up, and headed out to New Orleans for my THIRD show with Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra... Holy freaking shit. It was the best show of all. The string and brass sections were both full of excellent players, they played Jherek Bischoff's music like absolute (paid) professionals would, then they pumped it up for Amanda's music. It was just an incredible night. It was my "review" for the course in rock that I had just taken. By the beginning of the New Orleans show, I had a firm grasp on how everything ran, all the way from the beginning of the night until the end of the night. It was incredibly beneficial for my career in music - At every show, Amanda mentions the name of every musician on stage and gives credit where credit is due. My Twitter account EXPLODED every single night! I thank Amanda Palmer GREATLY for this WONDERFUL opportunity that was so difficult for me to let go. And I also thank everyone in the Grand Theft Orchestra for treating me like I was a part of the huge family that is the GTO. I wish you all the best of luck on the rest of you tour! LOVE!!!
PS - In the end, every musician was tipped out quite unexpectedly, and quite generously. So, those who were willing to volunteer and say "Fuck the Kerfuffle!" were thanked for their awesomeness.
MATT (Leave Comments Below!)