A friend who also happens to be a talented musician from the city mentioned recently that he had Dallas shows coming up. Great, I thought. Surely that was a good starting point for an upward trajectory in his music career. While he was looking forward to the shows, he told me that the primary reason he set his sights on the big D was because he wanted to actually try to make more of a livelihood from his music.
So, he wasn’t getting paid to do shows. This musician, who can fill up spaces from Midway Craft House to bars and clubs in Deep Ellum. Who can take an audience on a journey through his own life with his poignant lyrics and beautifully crafted guitar playing.
And yet, he hardly ever makes a dime doing it.
He concedes that there are places in town that always pay artists, of course, but that if you want to get out in the music scene—through promotion, playing, anything—a lot of it is on your own dime, especially at the outset.
The average audience member might just see the lack of a price to a show or event, get excited, and decide to go or not. If they do go, they might get some drinks and food, boosting the profit of the venue itself that evening. You might even (and, I’m saying this as a service industry employee, should) tip your bartenders—also money going to the venue. But the musician? They get the occasional tip, at least a couple of free drinks and at times as many drinks as they want all night, and the exposure.
Now, exposure is not only great, but necessary for building one’s personal musician brand, especially in a city with a large musician base. Whether it be in a friend’s living room with a small group of friends or at a festival performing alongside national artists, Denton does not want for opportunity, or desire to see and perform.
Since moving to Denton nearly a year and a half ago, I’ve been able to get acquainted with a city that makes music a constant presence, a tangible testament to the unifying power of creating empowering music and sharing it with others.
This city is also full of dreamers. Whether you’re talking about a university student getting the degree they’ve dreamed of having since childhood, someone who works multiple service industry jobs to support their artistic experiences, or any mix of a person you’ll find in Denton, they have a place they’re going to, and they are always working toward achieving their ultimate goals. I’ve been hard-pressed to find people in Denton not working incredibly hard to achieve what they want, and I think the culture of this city contributes to and benefits from that.
To keep up the cycle, though, something must be done to appreciate musicians, and show them that they are not only welcome in the city, but can devote a good portion of their time to making a well-deserved livelihood off of their music. It’s not an easy solution nor is this an issue that is just arising in the city, but it is something that we cannot ignore, and that we must address.
If we continue to turn a blind eye to the lack of financial support for local musicians, we will lose a good amount of talent that makes up the backbone of this city. Whether it’s through charging a nominal fee for shows, giving cuts of profit to the musicians, or whatever mix of solutions would work in the city, it’s time that venues take a closer look at what they can do to keep talent in their community.