Roots Report: Tip Your Musician!

Okee dokee folks … Very often I am asked about the subject of musicians performing for free. While most of the general public may not know how much money real musicians make and actually have an opinion about it, musicians and folks in the music biz certainly do. First, let me say that very few musicians ever get rich playing music and that these days the whole “rock star lifestyle” is pretty much a myth. Just because you see someone in concert or hear them streamed doesn’t mean much. Fame doesn’t always equal riches. Online music services only pay musicians a small fraction of a cent per play. Nowadays music is still downloaded for free or bootlegged and no royalties are paid to the artist for those downloads. And regular radio — do people actually still listen to it? There are famous folks out there who have the title of musician, but they are really just corporate products with a lot of hype but not much to it. I saw something recently that a famous musical couple (I think it was Mariah Carey and her husband — whoever he is) have a shoe collection between them of about 3,000 pairs that they spent close to three million dollars on. That isn’t being a rock star. That is being Imelda Marcos. Their lifestyles are more about greed, excess and glamour than music. They were lucky enough to achieve fame. That is what fame really shows us — the lucky ones. Not that I don’t think Carey has some talent; I just don’t think she has “millions of dollars worth of shoes talent”! And she is not necessarily better than other singers who are not household names.

On a good night, a real, local musician MAY take home about $100 – $175 for a gig. That is on a GOOD night. Some folks may think, “Wow! That is pretty damn good for a few hours of work.” #1: That few hours of work is the culmination of a lifetime of lessons, rehearsals and crappy no-pay/low-pay gigs. #2: There is a “meme” that pops up on Facebook from time to time that states: “A musician is someone who loads $5,000 worth of equipment into a $500 car.” That is pretty accurate. Musicians have lots invested in instruments, accessories (strings, capos, picks, batteries, etc.), sound gear and promotional materials that allow them to play a gig. None of that stuff comes cheap! #3: You may see the musician play a two- to three-hour show, but there is so much more to it than the performance. They first must book the gig, which in itself takes a lot of time, then promote the show (using social media, posters and flyers), load up the gear, drive to the gig (remember, gas is not cheap), unload and set-up gear, sound check, play the show, mingle with the audience to TRY to sell merchandise and garner fans, break down and load up the gear, drive home, and unload the gear. This can be a long night — as long as any other person’s eight hour day job. I am sure I could continue but I will stop at #3. For now…

Some promoters always try to get musicians to play for free for the exposure. When starting out, a musician may want to or have to do this but a seasoned pro should never have to play for free. That is what open mics are for. How many people do you know who would do their job for free — for one day or even for an hour? When you pay a cover at a venue to hear a band, not all of the door receipts go directly to the performers. A large crowd doesn’t always translate to a big payday for the act. The venues take a cut of 30% – 50% and they also may have a minimum amount that must be covered before the band is paid ($200 – $300+) and then they still take a percentage after that. It is understandable; venues have overhead and operating expenses. On occasion an admission is charged and the performers are not paid. This is not commonplace, but it does happen. I think it is important that folks know this information. People are often unaware.


Getting back to my opening question: Should a musician play for free? That is entirely up to the individual who has to weigh the benefits of a freebie. What will you get? Can you accept tips or pass the hat; will you get a meal, or at least a beverage? You would be surprised what you won’t get. Are there so many acts on the bill that the performers are just filler to keep the patrons drinking before the headliner? You must realize that these days most folks just want to see the headliner and maybe will pay attention for one opener, but keeping their attention for multiple opening acts is a stretch. A musician has to know what they’re getting into and understand it. A musician should not go into the red for any gig. Musicians have overhead, too. I don’t recommend that freebies become habitual; it undermines the value of yours and everyone else’s music. The occasional benefit show is fine. There always should be some kind of compensation and it needs to be acceptable for the performer. Exposure isn’t always enough. Yet another old saying: Musicians die from exposure.

Musicians need to speak up when they are at the microphone. If it is a tips or pass the hat gig, folks have to realize this. You will be surprised how generous people can be when they understand that is how a performer is compensated. Audience members should make it a habit to tip the performer, be generous in a pass the hat situation, and/or buy artist merchandise (CDs, t-shirts). Usually all or most of that will go to the performer. Usually. If folks want live music to continue they have to support it monetarily. If people will pay $100 – $200 for a big name concert ticket or even $5 for a cup of coffee then they should be able to come up with $5 – $20 to pay a cover charge or feed the tip jar for a local performer. Musicians may thrive on applause, but they can’t live on it. Why do musicians do it? Some will say that music chose them, some because it’s the only place they fit in, and others just play for the love of it! Musicians should be treated with respect and compensated for their art just as anyone should be for their job. Did I make my point or talk myself in circles again? Now I will let you know about some shows that you can support with your presence and pocket.

After playing live together since 2008, Puss n Boots — Sasha Dobson (vocals, drums, acoustic guitar, bass), Catherine Popper (vocals, bass, acoustic guitar) and nine-time Grammy Award winner Norah Jones (vocals, electric guitar, violin) — have at last taken their collaboration into the studio and on the road. No Fools, No Fun, their debut album, includes five original songs –- two each from Dobson and Popper and one from Jones -– and seven cover tunes, all culled from Puss n Boots’ live repertoire. Since the group came together they have all learned to play new instruments: Jones the guitar, Dobson the guitar and drums, and Dobson the pedal steel. They are all veteran musicians. Jones is best known for her sultry voice and piano and her award-winning CD, Come Away With Me; Dobson is a jazz singer-songwriter, and Popper has been part of the bands Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Jack White’s Peacocks, and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Over the years, Puss N’ Boots have performed at the Bridge School Benefit, played stadiums with the Beastie Boys on the “Get Out The Vote” tour and joined Wilco onstage at Madison Square Garden, singing background vocals on “Jesus, Etc.,” a song that Puss n Boots interprets on No Fools, No Fun.

Band member Catherine Popper says, “We talked about recording for a long time. The record is a snapshot of what we do, warts and all.” Puss n Boots’ take on the classic Neil Young track “Down By The River” was released as a digital single this past spring.

“‘Down By The River’ is one of my all time favorite Neil Young recordings and I’ve always had this fantasy of playing it and rocking the guitar solo,” recalls Norah Jones. “I never really thought I’d have the guts to do it, but that’s sort of what this band has always been about, trying new things. We always egg each other on, whether it was Sasha playing drums, or Cat singing an original song for the first time on stage.”

“We rage onstage,” says Sasha Dobson. “It’s exciting to think the positive energy that’s created from this band could reach beyond a small club in Brooklyn.” You can experience this energy live when their tour makes a stop at The Met in Pawtucket on Thursday, October 16. For more about this show, purr over to

Back in the ’70s, Jethro Tull was just one of the many bands I would often go to hear at the Providence Civic Center. I loved the mix of the acoustic guitar, flute, and bluesy rock band. Ian Anderson was the wild front man twirling his flute and often assuming a flamingo-like pose as he played. Over the years the Jethro Tull line-up has changed, but Anderson stayed at the helm. A few years ago I saw Ian Anderson perform with a small ensemble at Vets Auditorium and it was great to hear some of Tull’s classic songs live again. Anderson has calmed over the years and sat through most of the performance. He now looks more like a guy who just got off of a Harley-Davidson after a long ride. For 45 years and with over 60 million albums sold in its career, Jethro Tull has been characterized by Ian Anderson’s trademark acoustic textures created with ethnic flutes and whistles together with acoustic guitar and the mandolin family of instruments. Ian Anderson is back with his new CD, Homo Erraticus. In 1972, Anderson’s band Jethro Tull released the iconic concept album Thick As A Brick, based on a poem by the then 8-year-old Gerald Bostock. Recently, Gerald Bostock reunited with Anderson and collaborated on Homo Erraticus, which is based on an unpublished manuscript by amateur historian Ernest T. Parritt that examines key events of British history with a string of prophecies stretching to the current day and the future. On Wednesday, October 29, Ian Anderson will bring the Homo Erraticus tour to the Providence Performing Arts Center. The concept album Homo Erraticus will be performed in its entirety followed by a selection of Tull classics updated with video and theatrics. For more about this show, trill over to

Before I run out of space, here are a few more shows to check out this month. On October 4, Scotland’s North Sea Gas makes their tenth appearance at Blackstone River Theatre, October 17 has the RI debut of the Swedish group Väsen, and October 25 brings Paddy Keenan, who has been referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes.”

Stone Soup Coffeehouse at Slater Mill in Pawtucket has Geoff Muldaur on October 4 and the Bluegrass Gospel Project on October 18.

Singing Out Against Hunger will host an open mic with Gary Fish on Sunday, October 5 at Sandywoods.

On October 10, Austin-based singer-songwriter Shelley King and Cary Morin will perform at The Village located on 373 Richmond Street in PVD.

October at the Mediator Stage Open Mic features a CD release party for Don Tassone’s new CD Songs From 4 Corners on October 9, on October 16 is Michelle Cruz, on October 23 is Patty Daddona, and on October 30 is the Halloween Open Mic Party with the band Whalebone Jackson.

Rock Out Against Domestic Violence at The Church Street Coffeehouse in Warren on October 11 to benefit the Women’s Resource Center.

Nine-time Motif Music Poll winners, Pendragon, will open for Gaelic Storm at The Met on Sunday, October 12.

Music at Lily Pads has Blanca Altable and Chuchi2 on Sunday, October 12 at 3pm.

The Narrows has Richard Thompson on October 15, but that is sold out. You really should get on the Narrows mailing list to avoid missing shows like this. The Tubes are on October 21, Steve Forbert is on October 24, and Los Lobos are on the 30th.

The College Hill Contra Dance will take place Friday, October 17 at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pawtucket from 8 – 11pm. Warren’s Coffee Depot Open Mic will hold their annual fundraiser on Fri, Oct 17th to help cover the cost of the music permits. There will be no feature and participants play three songs.

Catie Curtis, Marc Douglas Berardo, and Mary Day are at Manchester 65 on October 17.

Beyond Blonde will play their final show on October 19 at the Seafood Festival in Newport.

Chan’s in Woonsocket has Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge (Punch Brothers) on October 10, Maria Muldaur on October 30 celebrating the 40th anniversary of her hit “Midnight At The Oasis”, and Ursula George do the vaudeville thing on November 1.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!  John Fuzek