Do the Math

Do the Math
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

Here's what I don't get. Say you're the leader on a $400 quartet gig, and the club owner offers you a 50% raise, but "changes his mind" a week later and cuts your pay by 50%. You wind up with less than you started with—$300! ($600 -$300) But then look at the opposite: say you have another $400 gig with the same club owner, but this time he first cuts it by 50%, then a week later "feels bad" and gives you a 50% raise. You wind up with... you guessed it: $300 ($200 + $100). Seems we jazz artists can't win—even the fundamentals of math are stacked against us!

—My Analytical Truth Hurts

Dear MATH:

But you can use those same fundamentals to directly counteract any math actions the club owner takes. For example, for a $400 four-hour gig, if he raises your pay by 50% then reduces it by 50%, you could respond in-kind by raising the hours by 50% then cutting them by 50%. Net result: $300 for a three-hour gig, maintaining the original $100 per hour. Or you could raise by 50% then cut by 50% (or, for that matter, cut by 50% then raise by 50%) the number of musicians in the band, leaving three musicians playing for $300—still $100 per player. So it turns out it's all in your hands—go figure!

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Every time I hire players for a gig, they say "when's downbeat?" This seems kind of square to me. Shouldn't they want to know when the upbeat is?


Dear Eric:

The problem is that upbeats are tempo dependent. The first tune of the night always starts on the downbeat, but the first upbeat could be anywhere from half a second (at mm = 60) to a tenth of a second (at mm = 300) later. Maybe the upbeat swings harder, but the downbeat is a constant; an indisputable truth.

Too many jazz musicians are lost souls, and the downbeat may be their only anchor. When they ask "when's downbeat?" it just shows their need for certainty and a spiritual center. Denying it to them only reveals your own spiritual void.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I recently took a steady gig. It only pays $50, and the leader gets really upset when I try to sub it out. What can I do? If I get called for a $60 gig, there's no way I'm turning it down.

—Fancy Pants

Dear Fancy Pants:

Your perspective is all wrong. Let's think big and say you get offered a $100 gig. When you tell the leader "I have the chance to make twice as much money as your $50 gig," he'll understand. But if the steady paid $75, and you could only tell him "I have the chance to make a third again as much," he'd be a lot less sympathetic.

That simple math explains why the best steadies are the ones that pay next to nothing—or nothing at all.

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