(Graphic by Eric T. Styles)
Seventeen years ago, I quit my last full-time job and became an entertainer, artist and occasional jack-of-all-trades. I’ve had very little training in any field except for music, so any side hustle has been incredibly short-lived, less than two months. My chosen industry just did the big math for 2020 losses. Pollstar had predicted a roughly $12 Billion fiscal year and just announced that since the cancellation of concerts since March, we were an estimated $10 Billion short of that prediction.
Billion. $12 Billion. How much of that would have gone to me? Four figures at most. You see, most of my performances aren’t known by PollStar. The bigger dollars that I make are at novelty festivals, like Tales of the Cocktail, or corporate events that want a specific style of music that requires a director’s touch.
Then, of course, there’s playing with Squirrel Nut Zippers and my bands in New Orleans. I know the Zippers are listed on Pollstar’s database (but most of my shows are not). That is how MOST concerts in the U.S. are. Just because you’re listed in the paper for playing at a dive bar, doesn’t mean that you are listed on the national database of concerts; and just because you’re not playing at an arena doesn’t mean that your bills didn’t get paid by live performances. And, shout out to my burlesque dancer family, I can almost guarantee there are only a handful of acts listed on Pollstar, namely Dita Von Tease or anything happening at a corporate venue like House of Blues or theaters, or in Vegas.
But I digress. For the sake of this math, let’s stay within live music performances. Now, a lot of people might think that 12 billion is an inflated figure, but I don’t think that it reflects the blue-collar musicians in the U.S. who, day in and day out, perform in bars and clubs, in the streets and the subways, playing shitty cover band gigs in Bourbon Street (Nola) or 6th Street (Atx) or Broadway (Nashville) or weddings, WHATEVER, just to fund their own music career and pay their bills and still be able to look in the mirror and say “I’m a professional musician, nothing more.” I’d hope that there’s another billion unaccounted for, even if the vast majority of players have to share the table scraps of an incredibly corrupt industry.
“If that’s how you feel, why don’t you quit and get a real job?”
I have rehearsed so many excuses for why I am not qualified for gainful employment in any conventional manner. But I guess the real fact is, when I look in the mirror, I know I’m not supposed to do anything else but make noise and invite people together to be affected by it, for better or worse. I would’ve been the caveman banging rocks and sticks together at the fire pit to bring the hunter gatherers back to camp and to shew the predators. And I’d have been domesticated much like the wolves. Table scraps then, table scraps now. But the only place I’ve ever felt comfortable in this world is behind an instrument.
As this year is coming to a close, we can see the finish line for this hundred year plague. Modern science has moved rapidly in a way it never has before, and although things will be different than before, relative normalcy will return relatively shortly.
Whatever happens next, make sure to take care of the creative people in your community. We can be a hyper-sensitive ilk, prone to anxiety and depression. But it’s through those anti rose-colored lenses that we can occasionally interpret the world in a way that draws members of society subconsciously towards undeniable truths of the human condition. That’s a fancy way of saying for instance, “Hank Williams had his problems, but when he sang about them it made me feel like I wasn’t alone”
That said, I’m going to do a couple more online shows this year. Next Friday my band will be held hostage by the Consortium of Genius, 8 p.m. Then I think I’ll do my one man version of Nightmare Before Christmas in the days leading up to said holiday.
I feel very fortunate for all of the support I’ve gotten from friends, family and fans, and I hope I’ve helped y’all relax into this necessary temporary isolation, which I suppose in a way is the exact opposite what my caveman artists and ancestors are prone to do. On one hand, they inspired people to congregate, whereas I’ve attempted to inspire social distance. On the other hand, the caveman and I have the common goal of keeping our community alive, and I plan to continue along that path until it’s my turn to rest.
If you made it this far, thanks for letting me rant. Now let’s all wash our hands while singing the chorus to Jolene twice.
Dr. Sick is a burlesque manager and a member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. He can be reached at fiddlekiller.com, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook and Instagram @fiddlekiller. This post was slightly edited for clarity and the original version can be found here.