Open Letter to the UK Jazz Community Pt IV – No More Sidemen!

photo of Steve Lawson and Michael Manring on stage together at the Brookdale LodgeAnother thing I touched on in part II was the issue of ‘sidemen’ who have no sense of ownership of a project. This is a big problem when a large part of the cost of any particular gig is paying the musicians. If only one of you is doing the work to get an audience, but four of you are getting paid for playing the gig, something’s wrong.

So, my suggestion is that band leaders need to stop thinking in terms of ‘sidemen’ when booking players – stop hiring people just to play on the gig. This works well all round – when we start thinking like this, we end up having the opportunity to bring a whole lot more to a gig than just playing – we bring with us an audience, some marketing ideas and a whole load of enthusiasm.

Everyone needs to spread the word about the gig – I’m amazed at the number of musicians out gigging music they don’t appear to have any faith in at all. I just couldn’t do it, at least, not for the kind of money available on British Jazz gigs!!

We really need to start believing in the music we play. I don’t release music I don’t love, I don’t play with people who make music I’m not committed to, because I HAVE to be able to tell people honestly what I think of it. Playing well is not enough. For way too long, musicians have behaved as though there are loads of people out there just waiting for them to release something, and all they have to do is put it out, email a few friends and it’ll be fine. That’s bollocks. Think about the number of adverts you see for a new pop record. Think about how many of those records you STILL can’t be bothered to go and listen to. It takes a heck of a lot of talking to get people to even bother to listen to what we do.

So, it’s not a hard and fast rule, but my next suggestion for UK Jazzers is:

  • Think twice before hiring any musician who doesn’t have a blog.
  • Ditto for Twitter.

It doesn’t have to be some elaborate thing. It can even be just on their myspace page. But they have to be actively promoting it, updating it with gig news, recording news, details of media that’s out there online, whether it be video on youtube, photos on flickr, or albums that the other members of the band have recently been playing on. If the people in your band aren’t doing it, get ’em onto it. It’s really not enough to have one person in a band ‘doing promo‘ – this isn’t promo, it’s much bigger than that.

Bottom line is this – none of us can do this on our own. It’s not a competition. There’s way more potential audience than there is music right now, and we need to work together. So get writing, getting blogging, get Tweeting, and start letting the people who might love your music know that you love it too!