Some local musicians sing the blues

Some area musicians are growing increasingly angry over what they consider discrimination by some local music venue owners and promoters who they say offer them gigs for “peanuts” while paying high-dollar fees for out-of-town acts.

Some are even talking about forming a union.

“Take a look at some recent shows around here,” says one, who asks not to be identified because he says doing so would cost him what little work he is getting now. “Local musicians don’t get the good gigs.”

The musicians who are upset point to events like the  upcoming Floyd Town Jubileee, which is proposing paying out-of-town groups fees that may run into the thousands to perform while fees for local range from $50 to $250, according to a preliminary budget provided Tuesday to the Floyd County Board of Supervisors.

Few local performers make a living just from their music. Most have day jobs and then spend evenings playing local gigs for small fees or  for “tips,” money contributed by attendees.

A number of local musicians have complained they are too often asked to play for free or for “gas money.”

“Floyd is known for its vast array of musical talent,” says one native musician. “Yet some here feel that our talent is not worth paying for.”

Music promoters tell me the out-of-town acts can have greater drawing power than a local band that has a loyal local following but not the widespread appeal of a regionally or nationally-known band. Most venues try for a balance of local, regional and national talent.

It’s a contentious issue and one that remains just below the surface in Floyd County’s sometimes volatile music scene.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

13 thoughts on “Some local musicians sing the blues”

  1. I am in complete sympathy with our local musicians. I also think that restaurants should pay musicians, rather than expecting them to play for tips. In fact, it can discourage patrons from going to an already expensive restaurant where they also are expected to tip the musicians (as deserving as they are of being paid for their performance). In essence, this practice amounts to indoor “busking.”

    • I’ll try again. This is a suggestion on your part, or a demand. How does it work out in your mind? Should there be a cover charge to pay for the music? Or is it a 3 burrito minimum? Both parties have risk, not the customers. The musician gets a place to play to build an audience and hopefully a following +, the restaurant gets something else to attract patrons. The restaurant competes against other venues for musicians and the musicians choose the best outcome for agreeing to any.

      I probably missed something, I’m a guy.

      • Are you addressing me, Mr. King? Restaurants should pay the musicians who perform in their establishments, pure and simple. The restaurants are receiving a service that attracts clientele. If a restaurant hires a national act, which has been fairly infrequent in Floyd in recent years, then, yes, it is reasonable to have a cover charge. On the other hand, If the music is intended primarily to add to the ambience of the dining experience, then the restaurant should pay the musicians. Surely, you have traveled outside this area? This practice of musicians having to work only for tips is not standard. It seems that the wealth of musical talent in Floyd lends itself to a situation whereby musicians are not fully appreciated…certainly not appropriateely compensated. It is the restaurant that benefits financially — not the musicians.

        • And, pardon me, but the restaurant patrons are the ones who pay the musicians in a “tip-only” restaurant. (By the way, it seems there is now only one restaurant in Floyd that books musicians to work just for tips.) You may not feel that restaurant patrons undertake any “risk” in this equation. I certainly wouldn’t call it “risk” because it is my choice whether or not to patronize that restaurant but, as a restaurant patron, I DO pay the musicians. The restaurant gets a significant benefit for free, which ultimately causes some of their potential patrons to think twice about choosing to dine at that particular restaurant. It’s unfortunate for the restaurant owners that they don’t factor that aspect into their equation.

          • What about the other factors you don’t consider? The food business sells food, the musicians are selling music. What value do you assign to having a place to perform? How much is the alcohol license and liablilty insurance worth?

            I have seen this relationship work in many different ways. I have worked the door collecting cover charge, or just gone along with my musician friends to be a volunteer roadie, unloading and loading equipment.

            I was going to the Pine Tavern when they still had the swivel pedastal stools and 1950 lunch counter. I forget how many owners have come and gone, or at least operators. The food service didn’t gain any business when the music started. Like most places, it wasn’t a music and food event, it became a music event.

            Then there is the capacity of venue issue. When it’s full, it’s full. This defines both how much to charge and the best possible outcome.

            I don’t disagree with you beyond your reasoning. I’ve worked in the restaurant business too. I think servers should get better base wages, but I don’t think they would like a no tip option.

            Some might avoid a restaurant with music. They go for good food and maybe a quiet conversation. An acoustic solo background is not the same as full on blugegrass or grundge. That’s the risk, what works where?

            It ain’t fair or easy. The musicians could lease or buy their own space as a cooperative and then figure out what they fail to understand.

            Unless you have a problem with free enterprise, it’s all about making a deal. It doesn’t even have to involve cash. Paid in trade or some barter might be the best solution for both parties.

  2. That’s a shame. When I used to travel down your way, some years ago, it was listening to local music that interested me, not seeing some band brought in from elsewhere. Floyd was known as a great source of local music from the hills.

  3. Anyone’s value is what someone is willing to pay for, and comparative options. I don’t know if it takes a union to change the situation. If the musicians don’t like the deal, stop showing up. If the money is better for out of towners and all else is equal (as implied), the band should promote itself and only play where the pay is better.

    It’s not personal, it’s just business. I still believe in voting with my feet and wallet. Anything done too cheaply will gladly be accepted. Everyone likes FREE.

  4. Everyone believes that music just happens, musicians play for the love of it. We are fortunate here in Floyd to have so many venues for LIVE music. Live music makes a huge difference it enhances what ever you are doing, eating, wandering, dancing, listening. For a musician there is nothing like moving people and having them so enjoy what you are doing that they cheer. It is hard work to do that. Most players start as kids and practice for years and then form groups with other like minded musicians who then in turn practice more. It is a long hard journey. MUSICIANS NEED TO BE PAID FOR THEIR EFFORTS!!!
    Lets look at forming a union. It can’t work locally. You would need all of the music venues to be forced to use only union musicians or suffer the consequences for not using union players. This unfortunately is against the law in Virginia. The idea of paying people less because they are local is ridiculous. Pay should be based on what the market will bear. We have musicians here who have to go else where to play, where they draw crowds. Which means they could draw an audience to a local event.
    Listen to live music pay for it, enjoy it.

  5. Anyone who moved to Floyd to make a living as a musician moved to the wrong place. The fact that some money can be made is great. It is always a balancing act and, as J. King says, it’s business. Why they call it “show business.” If you like the music, tip the musicians, buy the CD. Saying someone else should pay the musicians is passing the buck. Hire locally? Sure, as much as you can but, again, it’s “business” pure and simple. People love “free,” always have and always will. There was much grumbling when the Country Store bumped their admission to four whole dollars, up from three. You get a heck of a night for four bucks. But some will object, just the way it is.

  6. A union would be great but it ain’t gonna happen around here. I’ve been playing music in this area for 12 years and I never made any considerable money playing music until I left this area to play gigs. I played in basically one town in west virginia on a regular basis for 3 years and made about $7000.
    Here’s why I believe things will never change very much in this area.
    -The need for music as entertainment is not as great as other areas. There is too many other things that people do for entertainment (i.e.-movies, video games, internet)
    -too many small venues, coffee shops, and places that only fit a handful of people. Those businesses can’t afford to spend money on bands.
    -business owners in general do not work well with local musicians because they cannot see the quality of musicianship very well.
    -too many folks would play for free if the ones who want pay hold out which goes back to the business owners not recognizing good acts versus bad ones.
    My advice for anyone wanting to make money in music is find a home that has limited forms of other entertainment and a place where people in general will pay for talent local or otherwise. Or just get good enough to play on a regional level. There are ways to make money but don’t depend on the town of Floyd. It ain’t gonna happen.

  7. That’s a shame. When I used to travel down your way, some years ago, it was listening to local music that interested me, not seeing some band brought in from elsewhere. Floyd was known as a great source of local music from the hills.

Comments are closed.

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse