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Artist Profiles


By Published: October 22, 2003

"This wasn’t the first time it had happened that night, but I decided it would be the last time it would happen to me. I stopped in the middle of the song, gazing bemusedly at the familiar surroundings, this very restaurant where I’d started singing again after a 23 year hiatus and had been singing twice a month for at least a year, and decided I didn’t want to sing there anymore. Did I have another venue to replace it with right then? No. And I wasn’t making any money to speak of. But I knew I’d NEVER make any if I continued to put up with stuff like that. Without making a scene, I calmly put the microphone down, packed up my stuff and left. Significantly, the table of ten never knew I was gone. I politely told the friend of mine who had booked me there that I didn’t expect to be paid because it wasn’t about that. I didn’t walk out with money in my pocket, but I still had my dignity intact. It was about keeping a steady course toward what I was trying to accomplish musically. When I freed myself from that type of treatment, it was like opening a clogged drain. It’s amazing the improvisations you can accomplish when you can hear yourself. I had no trouble finding venues to replace it with."

Two years ago

"One rainy day, drenched and huffing and puffing from bringing in and setting up my own sound equipment, I decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore either. It was a difficult decision to make: Did I want to go through the extra hassle of setting up my own equipment every time I had a gig? What did that say to customers who saw me doing that? What did it tell the venue owners and managers? I didn’t like the answers I was faced with. How could I request/demand higher pay if I was bringing in my own sound system and setting it up myself? I decided that night that my next professional step would be to sing only at venues that had their own sound system and sound engineer, i.e., clubs, concert halls and festivals. But how would I find these gigs? Did I have lots of those coming up on my calendar? No. Slowly, over time, I began to replace the old way with a new way of thinking. I didn’t have anyone - musician, manager, booking agent - encouraging me to take these steps. It’s how you see yourself in your worst moments - victim or victor - that can keep you down or turn things around. I also learned this: those who are not doing it will not encourage you to do it, either. But it can be done ."

"Another thing happened around that same time that reinforced my decision to choose my venues carefully: While still living in Richmond, I was having dinner with a friend in a restaurant that played jazz on their sound system. At first, we were the only ones there and, to my surprise, they were playing my CD when we walked in. Neither the maitre’d, the bartender nor the waitress recognized me, which was just fine with me. Not long after we had been seated, a couple walks in, sits at the bar and starts talking to the bartender about the music they’re hearing. With their backs to me, they never saw me, and one of them says to the bartender, "That’s René Marie singing, isn’t it?" The bartender says, "Yes, that’s René. She’s singing in concert at such-and-such a place this week." "Yeah," the customer replied. "I heard about that. But tickets are $20! Why should I pay $20 to hear her when I can just go to so-and-so’s restaurant and hear her for free?" Admittedly, I was definitely in the right place at the right time to have heard that, but it underscored the validity of the direction I wanted to go. It just takes knowing (and trusting that feeling when you DO know) when you’ve had enough. Sometimes club owners, managers and booking agents will try to convince you otherwise. They will try to convince you that you are reaching too high too soon or too far or for too much. Yes, they will try to talk you right out of your dignity, try to convince you that you should take a loss for the love of the art. But no one should make that decision of when to do that except me. I learned the hard way that no one can take advantage of you unless you let them. And ignorance of the way things work - from their perspective and ours - is a sorry excuse. They will cry money problems, staffing problems, the economy, the war, etc. But my viewpoint is this: I run a business too. Why should I take a loss (musically, emotionally or financially) so that you don’t have to?"

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