Singing for My Supper

I’m getting paid to sing!!! And I am really concerned as to why this is something I need to announce…or any musician should need to announce or brag about. You don’t see lawyers or chefs posting on social media, “Hey guys! Guess what? I’m getting PAID for the work I do!” That would be really jarring and obvious to people. And yet, when I recently posted something on Facebook about getting a paid singing job, my lovely friends encouraged me and liked my photo and said “congratulations” as if it was this big accomplishment.

The sad truth is that it is a big accomplishment for a musician to get paid. Why is that? Why has that always been a trend? Mozart died poor and was buried in a common grave and he was…perfect. He was the most perfect composer. My eyes well with tears thinking of every piece of his music. It. Is. Perfect. Truly. He was the original example of “only the good die young”.

But it truly begs the question: Why are musicians and for that matter any type of artist in general not paid/paid well? Is it because we like our job? Because we enjoy it? Why should I be punished for loving what I do? There are certainly moments I DON’T love it. Music theory, rhythm practice, monotonous repetition, having a difficult lesson, nerves, or screwing something up in front of a large audience…these are all things I do not love about what I do. But it is a job so I have to do it. The difference between the job I do and the job almost everyone else does is that I am usually not paid. So I spend hours a day learning, practicing, repeating, physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally taxing myself, but I don’t deserve to get paid. Why?

I hesitated writing this because I thought, “So many other singers and musician bloggers have talked about this to death”. But…THAT’S EXACTLY WHY WE NEED TO ADDRESS IT. Why is this STILL happening?!

I think it is a lack of education. That is my personal opinion. People see the final product of something and assume that’s it: Two to four hours singing about love on stage in a pretty costume. Because I don’t have a 9-5 job, I’m not considered legitimate. But a lot of times musicians are working from 9 until midnight! Or beyond if you have a show opening that given week! Weekends, holidays, summer, day, night, all the time. I recently learned a large role in a very short amount of time and was losing sleep over how overwhelmed I was. I was spending hours upon hours studying it on my own and coaching it with an amazingly generous pianist friend of mine to learn it in time for a sing through of the whole opera. When the day finally came, I jumped on the underground frantically looking over as much of the music as I could before I got there and thought, “Thank god I don’t have a job so I can go to this on a Thursday in the middle of the day”. And then stopped myself like: WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO YOURSELF?! I’m so used to not being taken seriously that this is how I refer to myself. How dare I not appreciate the time and effort I put into this to create a good final project?  What is the difference between me preparing this role and someone preparing a presentation for a board meeting?  One difference: I HAVE TO SING MINE.

I see people on Facebook asking for money to go to a summer music program to further their career. I doubt I will ever see an accountant or baseball player trying to raise money amongst their online friends. And I have no animosity towards other people in their chosen careers, if anything I envy them. They know where their next paycheck is coming from.

The famous joke about actors is:

Man 1: What do you do?

Man 2: I’m an actor.

Man 1: What restaurant do you work at?

It’s true. I did work in a restaurant! I spent so much of my time having a day job that I would neglect studying and singing for dangerous amounts of time because I didn’t know how to balance having two jobs at once. And why should I? Does anyone ever ask a CEO, “Hey, where do you work when you’re not working?”

Funding is another issue artists face. In 1981, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2009, the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) came under attack by various presidents and congress members (surprise surprise by conservative republicans) and at one point Newt Gringrich wanted the NEA to be eliminated all together along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcating. So that the United States could spend more money on war and rallies telling people that gay marriage will anger Jesus. I’m stopping myself now.

In an article from 2014 discussing funding for the arts around the world, we learn that there are ten countries that have better funding and protection for the arts than the States and one of them is MEXICO. The United States provides 1/40 of what Germany provides in funding for artists. In 2007, this roughly equated to $20 per German citizen compared to 41 cents per American citizen.

How is that acceptable? $245 billion the US government has spent on bailing out banks and in 2013 arts funding was .28 percent of the government’s non-military spending.

What do we need to do to convince you that we are working? Or more importantly, what do YOU need to do to understand that what we do is work.

I’m hoping that this new chapter in Germany will be lucrative for me, it is already off to a wonderful start and I am encouraged to see an obvious appreciation for art here. I guess what so many of us struggle with is that if we lose the battle on the paycheck even when we stand our ground, we do it anyway. Because we love it. And be honest, you love it too. You love the drama, the music, the photographs that tell a story and capture history or a beautiful sunset. The costumes at the ballet and the makeup on the movie stars. You love it when sopranos sing high notes as they are dying on the stage at The Met or when the busker who does a surprisingly good cover of a James Blunt song brightens your walk to the subway. You cannot escape it, it is all around you. And that is because whether we are paid or not, we have to express ourselves which is the blessing and the curse.

I need to stop writing so I can get back to work…yes, it is work.

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