Thursday, October 15, 2015

Getting Paid to Play

Zestful Blog Post #128

Symphony season has started up again, with all its challenges and profound joys. I play the timpani in the South Shore Symphony Orchestra, a young, semiprofessional ensemble that will give concerts this season in Sun City Center and Carrollwood, Florida. (Local friends: first concert is a 2 p.m. matinee this Sunday, Oct. 18 at the UCC in Sun City Center.)

The musicians receive a percentage of ticket sales, and that's unusual. So far, the pay amounts to hamburger-and-gas-money. But having played in orchestras where every key person—conductor, executive director, owners of concert venues, program printers—gets paid except the musicians, this makes me happy.

See, somehow the deal is that musicians are supposed to play for the love of it, and we should even feel a little dirty accepting money for a job well done. Creative types work for nothing all over the place, and it seems a given that everybody’s supposed to be OK with it. But I say to hell with that. If the marketplace will yield up money for your efforts, you ought to get a fair share.

Because the money is a symbol of respect.

In the case of the performing arts, many organizations rely on donations besides ticket sales, and boards of directors and volunteers serve for no pay, which the performers should rightly appreciate. It all depends on popularity: “The Lion King” rakes in big bucks, “Turandot” doesn’t cover costs. That’s a fact of the marketplace as well.

As for authors, we’re actually in a pretty good position these days. You can get a publishing contract with a royalty schedule, or you can self-publish and keep control and the profits. Yet writers have many opportunities to give it away: to news and gossip aggregators, literary journals, and so forth. Even social media amounts to unpaid contribution of content.

 [Part of the large percussion array required for the upcoming SSSO concert…]

The trick is to figure whether the free exposure will do you enough good to justify the effort. The prestigious literary journals, most of which pay nothing, are routinely read by major players in the publishing business. A piece on a high profile pop culture web site might get valuable notice as well. Sometimes, of course, you don’t know, and it’s a crapshoot.

But with the growing number of ways authors and other creators can reach and build an audience, I feel we should husband our talents and output and make sterner choices about how and where to release our material.

It’s better to get paid to play.


- My friend Jessica Strawser, editor in chief of Writer’s Digest magazine, is going to be a debut hardcover novelist! She got a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press the other day, and wrote about it here. Congratulations on getting paid to play, good buddy!

- I heard from Nimrod Journal (speaking of prestigious literary journals) that they’re looking for submissions for an upcoming issue themed: Mirrors and Prisms: Writers of Marginalized Orientations and Gender Identities. Everything’s at this link: Nimrod

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  1. You have a life full of variety: writing, swimming, music. You, m'am, have my R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

  2. Rowe, thank you!! And you, my friend who is so ardent about getting good as a writer, have mine.


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