by Mary-Ann Brandon
This particular series was inspired by a conversation that I had with La Veta resident, Reed White. Reed and his wife are in the process of opening a restaurant and they aim to offer performances. By his own admission, White is not a professional musician but he loves to play and wants to encourage other non professional musicians to play for the public with no exchange of money. He found his inspiration at the Park Side open mic shows. He says “There’s something magical that happens between an artist and an audience when no money changes hands, not even for tips” On the other hand, he expresses concern for full time musicians who must feed their families. “I believe it is absolutely true that musicians and artists are among the most exploited of all those workers who are not in the upper echelon.” White worries about the viability of keeping a restaurant open, that offers live music, if he must pay professional musicians. His idea is to try to find amateurs who will be willing to offer their service in exchange for food or beer.
To break into live music is no easy feat. Many iconic musicians over the decades have turned to busking for their start. Some performed on the streets, others, including Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Durante, Billy Joel and even opera star Andrea Bocelli, used cafe busking as a means to get a career rolling. In this model, the performer relies on tips from the audience for their compensation. Some of the most enchanting buskers I’ve ever witnessed have been on the streets of Paris, France where this practice has been elevated to a true art form.
Local professional musician Dave Aurelio, who performs more than 100 shows per year, has set a minimum price for his service. Yet, he admits that he will donate his time for benefit causes that he feels are worthy. Many professional entertainers share this policy.
La Veta resident, Ken Saydak, who has made his living for 40 years, exclusively in the music business, offers his take. “When a culture compensates artists for their talents, it admits that art is vital to the community’s overall health and vibrancy. Musicians provide a “product” of social value, even though it exists simply as vibrations in the air. When I listen to a Bach cantata, for example, I’m grateful for those patrons of the arts who freed the composer to spend his time channeling beauty rather than having to flip mutton burgers to pay the rent.”
Says music business veteran, Fred James, (for purposes of disclosure, my husband) “Open mics are a great forum for amateurs to become comfortable in front of an audience. However, the idea that all music should be free is pure exploitation. Something special happens when the music is good. Musicians and songwriters deserve to be paid for their work as in any other profession.”