A cousin once declared that he was going to sign up to study comparative religions. He had been looking at the History Channel and Youtube documentaries. I raised my eyebrows.
"Do you like reading?" I asked.
"Do you think you would be able to sit with books for hours to research?"
“Not sure. I can learn though.”
"Well do you know that in order to bring you that hour of a lecture that it’s really months and years of research that takes place to distill that information down to you?"
“Hmm…didn’t think about that.”
And so we scratched the idea of that desire. I did tell him to think it through, however, not being one to discourage someone from a deep desire. I believe that the timing may not be right at one point but at some other point the individual may be ready. The result was as expected. We both knew that he was more of a hands-on personality rather than the sit-and-research one. He decided against the idea.
When someone approaches the artiste for a ten-minute performance and says, "This is good exposure. You know the Prime Minister will be there and so and so other body" or "is just ten minutes. You can’t reduce your cost?" I am tempted to launch into story-telling mode. The former approach is already a write-off for it is insulting. The second approach we can perhaps work with because it reflects a general perception of the art form.
I exclude the genre of music that we categorise as popular music – Soca artistes and the big chutney bands – because the costings are different on account of the genre of music that they perform. But such artistes don’t fit every scenario and that’s why there are other types of music that exist for exactly this reason. Life is not just a big fête.
There are various types of clients – the ones who have no clue, the ones who consider all musicians and singers as just "entertainment," and the venue-focused clients, for whom venue and food are top priority while "live music" comes in at the bottom. And it’s all quite puzzling when my rational cap blows off with the wind. I focus on the live music aspect here. Why live music when a CD could do the same job if your focus is background music? Why? Because live music adds a measure of status to a programme. Yet, the general view of the musician as lowly, continues to prevail though her presence, we assume, is meant to add a level of status to the event.
This is a personal issue but it is also a cultural one. How we think about music and musicians (I use this term to cover singers and instrumentalists) is really rooted in the function of music within our social framework – a luxury item, a seemingly unimportant activity, one that cannot generate a reliable income. Yet think of a society without music. It is essential to our mental well-being.
And furthermore the days of the plantation are gone. This is no longer a casual affair. Even education has entered this age of entrepreneurship and musicians like everyone are entrepreneurs saddled with bills, rents and general living costs.
As a way of enlightening the population, there are various categories of musicians. The professionals, the amateurs, the in-betweens. There are different types of music: pop, classical, jazz, soca, chutney, etc. Then there are novelty instruments, the ones that are rare, and then there are those which certain musicians have perfected and have earned themselves a name because of it.
Certain types of music also require the development of a particular skill set. So, costs include: years of practice, time spent in continuous education, rehearsal time, arriving at the venue and waiting time. So a ten-minute performance is really about all of the above and more. Ten minutes in reality becomes at least six hours on the day of the event when one factors in commuting, sound checks and mandated arrival times in addition to waiting your turn to mount the stage.
Think of this like a bottle of rum. That’s not just a bottle of rum. There are steps in this rum-making – from the back-breaking task of harvesting sugarcane to bottling the final product. But we pay for it because it satisfies our image of the business model. And packaging counts for there is status value in it. Let’s not forget that.
Perhaps it’s about time that musicians begin to think seriously about their products and packaging before anyone else begins to take us seriously. Or else, the refrain is our heads will continue for years to come: "is jus’ ten minutes."