Where music is an appetizer...



You’ve probably been in a Charlotte restaurant and noticed that a musician or musicians were playing over in a corner somewhere. I’ve played many a dinner gig and have noticed something that you might find interesting. Let me tell you a story…

The bass player for my band and I sometimes do duo gigs in restaurants for some extra money when our band takes a break from doing shows. We had been playing about once a month at a NoDa restaurant (that shall remain nameless) and had been digging it. We played a couple of sets for a couple of hours, had a few beers and grubbed on some good food.

As with most restaurant gigs, the crowd didn’t really care about the music but, after all, they’re there to have dinner and drinks and probably didn’t choose that spot because they wanted to hear some live music. That’s the name of the game when it comes to these kinds of gigs — your music is part of the restaurant atmosphere/ambiance and usually doesn’t take center stage by any means (as an aside, it always makes me laugh when I hear musicians griping about not getting enough attention when they’re playing in a restaurant. If someone digs your music, that’s cool, but remember that folks came out to that restaurant to, well, eat.)

Anyway, we’d played this gig several times and I asked the manager what he thought. He said he thought it was great and said he’d call about booking a date in February. So, he calls me up and wants us to play on Valentine’s Day. He also wanted us to play for an hour longer than we usually played. Naturally, I asked him how much extra he would be paying for the extra time and he said “nothing.” So I replied, “Well, we normally play for a couple of hours and get paid X but you want us to play for an hour longer but still get paid X?” He replied, “If you don’t want to do it, I’ll find someone that will” and he hung up. I tried to call him back to negotiate, but he wouldn’t answer — call blocked.

This is a puzzling thing about playing live music in restaurants. As a paid musician, you’re an employee like any other. But, since you play music, you’re not a REAL employee. After all, the manager wouldn’t ask his cooks to work an extra hour off the clock would he? Of course not... but the standard rules often don’t apply to paid musicians in these settings. This is because the music is most often just part of the ambience and not the focus of attention and because there are a slew of other musicians out there who are looking for “bread gigs” that help pay the bills.

Now, I’m not getting all socialist on you or anything. A musician’s union that tried to get musicians on the same page and would negotiate contracts with venues would raise all kinds of problems (Indeed, Bill Hanna has some funny stories about a jazz musician’s union that used to represent jazz musicians in Charlotte).

But I am saying there are many Charlotte restaurants that jerk musicians around and otherwise don’t respect the musician’s art. And if you’re a musician and you complain about poor un-professional treatment, well, don’t expect to be playing there next week.

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