Certainly, it’s always great to get paid for doing live gigs and recordings, but there are actually times when it really “pays” for you to do gigs and not get paid! Yes, some people would call this “paying your dues”, which of course, we all have to do, and I certainly did, but my most effective way of describing what can take place in a career is “just when you think you’ve paid your dues, you get another bill!”
No truer words can be spoken, as it really is a fact that it takes longer, and is harder to make it than anyone can really imagine. I can remember my early days of doing gigs and recordings in Woodstock, and having to actually remind the people who were hiring me to play on their albums to pay me the bus fare of 9 dollars, because that was actually all they were paying me for playing on an entire record. But as far as I was concerned, I was just so happy to be on any recording, (and they knew it, too!) that I was still thinking I was being paid what was to be expected! After all, I was just a kid of 19 years of age, and was still so “green” as to not even realize how much I was being “used” by these folks.
The same thing happened to me on some very far-off and very far-fetched gigs too, such as the several Bluegrass festivals I played back then, where I can even remember one where I was paid the sum total of $30 for 3 days of performing down in real Hillbilly country in West Virginia! Not only that, but right after I was finally paid the $30, the artist then asked me if he could borrow it!! Believe it or not, not until I ran into him walking in Greenwich Village about 10 years later, the first thing he said was “Arlen! I owe you thirty dollars!!” And then he paid me back right on the spot….talk about weird!
The real message I am trying to get at here, despite my ramblings, is the fact that you will find that there simply are times when it’s all about the gig, the exposure and the music, and the fact that any money would be involved would be strictly icing on the cake. I just had a gig like this recently, and even though I had to crowd it into a very busy schedule, it was as rewarding as can be. It was a tribute to my old friend and musical compadre, Levon Helm and also Rick Danko of The Band, and it was an evening of simply incredible music, with an all-star band! Much to my surprise, even though I had no expectations of any money, especially since all proceeds were to go to the American Cancer Society, I still sold many, many of my own cds after the show, and I was paid some travel expense money by the club!
Regardless of the money, if you can take away from any gig the kind of rewards I took away from that night, you are definitely doing the right thing. I will continue to do the right gigs at the right time, and most of all, for the right reasons, and the audiences will never forget you for it…and needless to say, you will never forget those incredibly rewarding moments! Keep up the good work, and make sure that when you don’t get any money, you get rewarded in other ways! It’ll stay with you forever!