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August 2012

August 2012
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

At the end of my gig, the bandleader told me that my playing is "timeless." Is that good? Drummer in Doubt

Dear DID:

Does he pay you by the hour? If so, he may be trying to pull a quick one on you. Think about it: If you've just played a gig from 9:00 to midnight, you'd expect him to pay you for the three hours you put in. But by calling your playing "timeless," he can pay whatever he wants—if anything.

Historically, this has happened to drummers more than to any other musicians. That's how they became timekeepers; first for themselves, and eventually for the entire band. Unfortunately, being responsible for tracking everyone's billable hours carries a lot of pressure with it. That has taken a harsh toll on drummers' playing, causing them to rush and/or drag unpredictably.

It's a vicious cycle: drummers, distracted by their timekeeping duties, can rush or drag so badly that a three-hour gig feels like six hours to all the other bandmembers. So the musicians want to be paid for six hours, and the leader wants to pay for just one. Stuck in the middle, the poor hapless drummer can't keep time to anyone's satisfaction, and the stress only makes him rush and drag even more.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Are the guys who play the most notes, or play the loudest, usually compensating for having the smallest sexual parts? Eric, South Park

Dear Eric:

What an outrageous, sexist premise! Let me ask you: Are the women who play the most notes, or play the loudest, usually compensating for having the smallest sexual parts? Or maybe the largest, or, I don't know, maybe the floppiest? It's hard to find the exact equivalent here...

But of course I'm just falling into your sexist trap. What we really need to do is quit treating the genders differently and start emphasizing their commonalities. Which include the ability to be utterly unmusical in all circumstances, playing senseless cascades of ear-splitting notes that transcend gender altogether.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I am a pianist leading a trio with a well-known drummer and an unknown local bassist for an upcoming gig. Let's say the well-known drummer's name is Jack deJohnette (I wish!), and the unknown bassist's name is Joe Bleau, and my name is Jake Thompson. How should I tell the club to bill us?

1. The Jake Thompson Trio, featuring Jack deJohnette

2. The Jake Thompson Trio

3. Jake Thompson and Jack deJohnette, with Joe Bleau

4. Other—? Jake Thompson

Dear Jake:

There was a time in my life, back in my younger and more ambitious days, when I was a lot like you. I had a musical gift to share with the world, and I wasn't going to let anything stand in my way. I meant well, of course, just as you do: Music can be healing, and I wanted to be the doctor who swung everyone into good health! Sound familiar?

But how could I get my empowering message to the public, when so many bands were vying for so few gigs? I'm ashamed to tell you, though of course you understand all too well: I lowered my fee, undercutting my peers. Gigging became an addiction, and I followed the sordid path to its logical, shameful conclusion: Pay to Play.

Did I know that what I was doing was wrong? Yes. Did I think my greater purpose justified the means? Yes again. Until the day I looked in the mirror, and realized I had become the enemy.

I beg you to step back and get a perspective. The club should not bill your trio at all, Jake, no matter how they list the three of you on the invoice. They should pay you.

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