The Jazz.com Blog
February 15, 2009 · 7 comments
That big elephant in the corner of the jazz club that no one is mentioning . . . is our current economic recession. Even in good times, the jazz world seem to on a shaky financial footing, but what will happen over the next 12 months. Jared Pauley, a regular contributor to jazz.com, asks some hard questions about the bottom line. Readers are invited to comment below or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. T.G.
The entertainment industry has always been able to weather economic hardships from the Great Depression to the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s. With the current economic situation coming down hard on almost every sector of business, especially here in New York City, I pose the question: Is jazz recession proof?
Being an active musician and member of the community I get the feeling that the jazz scene here is going to be hit pretty hard in the coming months because of the economic climate. When Mayor Bloomberg is cutting the city budget by up to 10% across the board in 2010 I have to wonder when the club circuit here in New York is going to start really feeling the effects.
As the city faces a $4 billion shortfall and as tourism starts to decrease because of the global connection between financial markets, itís only a matter of time before clubs start to curtail their business aspirations. I know many of you might be thinking that people in New York will continue to pay the ridiculous prices that the clubs charge but the majority of people that frequent clubs like the Blue Note are tourists. When I performed there I played for a house full of. . . Japanese and Danish tourists. Common sense suggests that since tourism is sliding so will the revenue for local New York City jazz clubs.
While music wrestles with its own fate amid the current financial crisis, is the Obama administration prepared to bail out the music industry? Within the more than one trillion dollars allocated for spending in both stimulus packages, how much of the money is being used for the arts? Both economically and particularly culturally the United States is at a standstill. The idea of being a working performance artist has become a joke in recent years. I often wonder how all of us are going to survive on just music in the coming years given the current rate at which the industry is sliding. Given how quickly politicians are mortgaging our future, it freaks me out to think where private and public arts are headed.
An acquaintance of mine that works at Jazz at Lincoln Center recently informed me of the struggles facing the famed NYC organization. While they havenít been laying people off, overtime has been largely eliminated from the picture in the face of a decline in ticket revenue. If not for the annual subscribers, JALC would be in much more trouble with the decline in general ticket sales. Can I propose that Wynton Marsalisí salary be capped just like the proposal to cap CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Sarcasm aside, if an organization like JALC croaks, weíre in serious trouble my friends.
And when all of this business collapses, who feels the brunt of the impact? The musicians. Many of us in this small community realize how difficult it can be to make a living off of jazz music. I am not sure what the markets are like in Los Angeles, New Orleans, or Chicago but I would be interested to hear the specifics. If they are anything like NYC then we have some serious issues to address. Some of my friends and peers have resorted to playing Eastern Asia for month long engagements as opposed to struggling for survival in NYC. The money is a little better and the work is much more consistent and frequent. How has America come this far only to necessitate the export of our creative artists to another part of the world? Instead of Europe, now itís China. Maybe some of these issues rest on the notion that people in the United States donít consume music using the old business models. It seems with this change in aesthetic jazz music has been lost somewhere in the world of fictional translation.
How many people reading this have been to a jazz show recently in Manhattan? If you have, then you know the pains lying ahead for your wallet. Being a jazz fan in Manhattan can deplete your monthly entertainment budget in one night. When a fan has to shell out twenty-five dollars plus a two-drink minimum for one set of music, somethingís wrong. First, the sheer amount is mind boggling compared to NYC in the early days. Second, even with the increase in covers and food/drink the musicians are still getting the short end of the stick. I feel like I am cheating the musician when I know how little of my money actually makes it into their pocket.
If you go across the East River to Brooklyn and enter the world of hipsters in Williamsburg, you experience the bitterest portion of the NYC musical market. Ask most musicians how much money they make playing in Williamsburg. Large majorities of people that reside in Williamsburg are notorious for not paying covers or giving support when the money bucket makes the round. On the other hand, itís not uncommon to encounter people splurging on fifty-dollar bar tabs. Where do the musicians fall in this wacky game of musical chairs? Club owners in both Manhattan and Brooklyn can act as if itís an honor for musicians to have the privilege of gracing the bandstand of their establishment. Has the consumption level for live music changed so much here that thereís no turning back? Even though club owners and the upper class might not feel the full damage of financial collapse, the people who do are the high school kids and the twenty something undergraduates that have devoted their lives to music. Whatís waiting on the other end for these kids when itís their turn?
I personally challenge the jazz community at large to weigh our own collective fate. If the business model thatís in place now stays the way it is, jazz might very well be in its last years as a vital performance art. Other than private philanthropy or government intervention, how else can jazz music survive? Where does Americaís music rank on the list along with terrorism, stock-market collapses, and Botox? Not too high and the people that lose out are the young generations that grow up missing out on their own culture because we failed to adequately preserve it. Hopefully our Miles Davis-loving president can do something in the coming years for the arts. It kills me to see how pitiful our culture has become given our rich history in the development of music.
This brief article is my small attempt as a musician and a writer to engage my community with open dialogue. I am really tired of having conversations about who plays better than whom or who did what the best. Letís move onto to something more meaningful. The musical atmosphere is changing rapidly with each year. Are we as a community doing enough to make our voices heard? What can we do to ensure jazz music survives another fifty years? I know we can do something, what do you think?
This blog entry posted by Jared Pauley.