Being a professional musician has, for the most, never been a quite profitable job. If you have to live by your music and make ends meet somehow, and if you seek to play your own sound but the audience, for instance at weddings or corporate events, loves to hear popular and well-known covers, can be a struggle indeed. Not only is it just tough to become popular with your own art – that’s only natural – but also do you have to overcome bureaucratic barriers and eventually meet people’s demands.
I was wondering how the situation in Munich looks like? How can musicians make their own music popular and how do musicians make a living out of their music without having a solid record deal and a good selling record? With so much competition in town and so many obstacles – what keeps them going? What’s the situation of the organisers, who sit on the other side of the table? And could the city do more to support music in Munich?
What’s going on?
In 2015 the city of Munich decided to start a support programme to fund rehearsal rooms for bands in Munich with a monthly payment between 72 and 202 €. Sounds ok so far but looking into the details many musicians felt disillusioned.
Musicians have to have their residence in Munich and that their band exists since at least one year. But there’s another snag coming with that: they also have to have an officially recognized degree in music. This of course excludes all students, hobby musicians but also all self-educated professional musicians who need to make a living but happen to have no official degree.
Wolfi, bandleader of Woolf & The Gang
The amount of money invested for the following three years between 2017 until 2020 is 55.000 € – broken down that’s 1.527 € per month. “That’s a joke!”, Wolfgang Schneider, singer, bass player and mastermind of the local German funk band Woolf & The Gang says. It doesn’t seem to be very much and is known to invest quite some money into classical music. “They seem to have enough money for that”, he continues looking sceptical.
Mrs. Heike Lies from the cultural department of Munich doesn’t agree: “No one was ever interested in funding rehearsal rooms. But to do more for musicians was one of Mr. Reiter’s (the city’s mayor; ed. note) proposals during his campaign in 2014. The funding is just one part of a whole. The entire resolution contains many different programs, available for everyone, with or without a musical degree.” So only the very funding for rehearsal rooms is tied to a musical degree. All the other measures are not and the entire program’s budget is at 105.000 €. Here 40.000 € are invested in upgrading existing rooms to serve as a rehearsal room (e.g. sound insulation) and 10.000 € go to events and activities of the musicians who can participate in the program. On top the city invests an additional 39.235 € for personnel costs.
The city’s effort to support musicians is obvious
Still there’s that single criterion of a musical degree that might send a wrong message, as it seems to set the bar to be accepted for the funding quite high. Mrs. Lies: “It can be any musical degree. You don’t have to come from the university. And we encourage everyone to get in touch with us, no matter what. I have always found an alternative for somebody calling and not meeting the necessary requirements for a rehearsal room funding.” Indeed there are many different possibilities like promotional awards and scholarships, so it is always worth trying to get in touch with the city (see further information at the bottom of this article). The problem with opening the rehearsal room funding for everyone, Mrs Lies continues, would be that the budget would still remain the same. “But I very much hope that there will be more money in 2020!”
Finding a rehearsal room isn’t quite easy anyways if you struggle in financing it. Some quite well equipped incl. drums, PA, etc. and inviting but some others down in the basement, not well ventilated with old furniture, small and/or far out of the city can be rented for around 200 € per month. And that goes for a shared usage with other bands of just a few hours per week up to. Switching a day can be difficult if the room is occupied and finding the room being used, even though you booked it, can happen as well. “Having your own rehearsal room can go for 300 to 500 € per month depending on the location”, Tim, the drummer of Woolf & The Gang says.
If there are three or four musicians in a band, the costs can be split. Still for many musicians on a small budget this is serious money. And as a band leader it can be hard to find fitting fellow musicians, especially if you have to ask them for money first. It can be cheaper if the rehearsal room is somewhere on the outskirts or in an industrial park. The downside is a time-consuming journey but on the other hand bands can play as loud as they want.
Because what comes with a bunch of people playing music usually? Noise! And what comes with those who don’t have the possibilities in driving far out to play but need to meet somewhere central? Neighbors! If a band is too loud, which is almost always the case, neighbors will have them out in a drum fill (“a short musical passage, riff, or rhythmic sound which helps to sustain the listener’s attention during a break between the phrases of a melody”, source: Wikipedia).
And if the room is insulated well, then finding a time when it’s free is another topic. Schedules are full, especially in the afternoons and evenings when people have time. Lucky those who can rehearse during the day, freelancers or students for instance.
So there are many obstacles if you want to play your music. The biggest might be to play live at a concert. Of course this is the very goal of every musician – to stay on a stage and make music for an audience, friends and family who come to see you, must be one of the greatest feelings one can experience in a lifetime. No doubt about that! But the greatest feeling comes with maybe the toughest task!
Requests into nothingness
“Organisers receive dozens of requests by bands who want to play live at their venue – and they just got no time to listen to the songs.” Wolfi from Woolf & The Gang says. “In nine out of ten cases you don’t even receive an answer. And in one out of ten cases your request is declined.” He says that for an A&R (artists & repertoire, someone at a record label responsible for talent scouting and guiding artists through their career; ed. note) it might not be easier to send out such requests since it’s not their own music. “But as a musician not even receiving an answer feels like a slap in your face every single time!”
The Popa Raff Band: Raffaele, Jasmin and Jörg (not in the picture is Alex, the drummer)
Also Raffaele, bandleader, singer and guitar player from the Popa Raff Band, complains: “I’ve written several requests after I played once at their festival – and got no answer. Only after a while he (the organiser of a festival; ed. note) angrily answered that I should stop annoying him!” He had been upset and they had a small fight but in the end they concluded that their characters and mentality, since they are both southerners, is the reason they were fighting and in the end they separated with laughs. A happy ending – still it must be hard to receive a “no” and even harder if acts don’t even receive an answer at all. This uncertainty whether or not the organiser has received your email or what he or she thinks about your music must be hard to take, and it becomes harder day by day until these doubts turn into a certainty, knowing that there will never be an answer.
On the other hand it’s also a tough job for organisers to get everything done to everyone’s satisfaction. As said, some organisers receive a lot of requests and some might, but some might not have the time to listen to all of them. Besides that, they have other obstacles to overcome. The organiser of the local festival “Ois Giasing” though, Tuncay Acar, insists that they do listen to every single music of a bands request: “This year we didn’t receive so many requests, just 60 or 70 maybe, but we do listen to everything we receive – of course we do! But since the festival has a specific international topic with world music, we organised all acts by ourselves and by connections.” Speaking of organisation he’s going up the wall a bit: “We need more small stages and venues in the city. But this must be financially bearable as well. Do you know how many things you have to consider when offering live music?! Sound insulation, technique and equipment, booking, advertisement, fees, catering and accommodation for the musicians, federal obligations, modifications, parking lots, toilets, bar, staff, social security, trallalala – that is a 24/7-job!” As an organiser considering a DJ with just some equipment needs much less effort and is much less costly than putting a band on stage, he finishes.
Another situation is the competition nowadays. Mike, the trumpeter of Woolf & The Gang, tells me that the competition is just way bigger and better than it used to be. “Back in the days, like 20 or 30 years ago, there just weren’t that many reasonably good musicians out there.” The reason to this is YouTube and several other platforms on the web, where everyone can make their first and further steps in learning an instrument relatively easy, he says. “Back in the days you had to know someone who would give you a 1 on 1 teaching. And if you did, sometimes, if it was someone with good skills, you kept it to yourself and didn’t tell anyone. Of course you had to pay for it as well – not so on the web.” In fact there are hundreds of good tutorials, pages and channels out there, for instance on YouTube, that help you picking it up and improving beginners skills to a some more intermediate level, and that’s just the free content. Paid content can take it even further in some cases. Of course this doesn’t replace receiving lessons from a real teacher and playing in a real band, not to mention gaining on stage experience in front a crowd, but the first steps are much easier nowadays and can be done from the sofa.
By far the best thing to have is some connections to the scene, good ol’ ties to people who just decide who goes on stage – and who doesn’t. “They just happened to know the guy at the cultural department of the city (Kulturrefarat; ed. note). Then this guy changed the department or such and they were out – they tried getting booked again every year but no chance!”, Wolfi says about a friend whose band happened to play at the local and quite well-known Streetlife-Festival several times. That’s also the reason Woolf & The Gang played at another very popular and big festival: the Theatron Musik-Sommer on 3rd August of this year.
Job vs. Concert
Going through all of those obstacles might not even end up in playing just a great concert in the end. That’d be naive to think. And as a professional musician earning your bread and butter with your music, you will have to step back of that and sometimes deliver the sound people want to hear. No matter what and if you have to throw up at every refrain – it pays the rent!
“Especially if you haven’t been played on the radio yet, where I want to be eventually, you have to play what the people want to hear”, Raffaele says. “Sometimes I get a call for a job because people like to have me around with the mandolin, and then you have to play such things”, he says while he’s striking up “O sole mio”, the famous Neapolitan song. “O sole mio – and then people make jokes about it. They are fulfilled in their clichés about Italy. And that’s totally boring for me!.” Just let him speak for himself:
After all, musicians sometimes also have to deal with the organisers and they aren’t always treated in the best way. A band needs space, so one or two tables less for the owner is less money earned. “Sometimes you get treated like the last scum. You’re occupying space, one table is minus 300.- € plus you have to pay for the musician who earns as much money in three hours as the waiters in one day!” But he does not intend to do such things any longer:
Being paid off well at a concert is highly appreciated of course. Not only does a musician need the money to pay his rent but also is it nice to have your work appreciated since in the end it is also work and a service that is delivered. Certain gigs can bring just 200 to 300 €: “Sometimes you get paid even nothing and if you ask the owner then they look at you with big eyes saying that you can even be happy to have had the opportunity to play!” says Tiemo, the trombone player of Woolf & The Gang. As if they should be happy to even deliver their music to the crowd, as if this is no work but only fun. He continues talking about his other band “Wireless” and another band they were playing with: “But we also once received 2000 € for a concert!” That is indeed a decent income and having such gigs every now and then can make up to paying bills quite ok.
And there are also real concerts, yes – not jobs, but the actual true concerts! At least Raffaele would make that difference since a job is just something you do to get paid but a concert is something else: “We often play gigs were people want to listen to our own sound and the money is good too with such events. It’s just great to have the place filled with your own fans, with people who take their time to listen to your sound, like it was at our album release party on 21st September (see the following video; ed. note).” These concerts are very important for musicians, were fans start moving when they hear the funky guitar riffs of Woolf & The Gangs song “Nummer Eins” (https://youtu.be/Rmr9oJtPO-U) or listen to Popa Raff’s album “Iside Dea Luna” all day. Raffaele continues: “This special flow and lively interchange of energy between the band and the audience – a circle that is good for everyone involved.”
Raffaele, Jasmin and Jörg at the Radio Klassik contest 2015 (2nd place) having fun together on stage!
One income option though is very common among musicians: teaching. Whether they’re giving private lessons or work as a freelancer for a music school, this means a steady income for many musicians. Several music schools in Munich offer a variety of classes for singing and playing many different instruments. One lesson is usually 30 minutes and prices range from ca. 80 € to 120 € per month for one private lesson per week. That goes to the school but what stays with the teacher? Musicians tell that they receive around 20 € for one lesson and that’s net of course and since musicians are employed as freelancers in most cases one must deduct insurance, taxes and other costs. Private lessons are better paid and range around 50 €. So making a living out of it is definitely possible but no bigger steps can be taken by that for sure.
Raffaele also gives lessons for a school and privately since many years. I wanted to know what his drive behind giving lessons is: “Of course it’s not only about the money! When I see a young guy struggling on the guitar, I’m keen to help him out with whatever problem he has.” Asking him if he’d still give lessons even if his band and the new album “Iside Dea Luna” sells platinum he totally agrees. He might choose his students though but he’d always continue passing on his knowledge.
That’s what’s going on
Musicians somehow are heroes. Why? Because they go for their dreams, they struggle and even after falling down, they keep on going – especially since they don’t really have to. And surely they do it for themselves in some sense, but they also do it for you, for the fans. They compose, write lyrics and deliver a message through all of those obstacles they have to overcome until they can be on stage to do so.
Guys like Raffaele and the Popa Raff Band, as well as Wolfgang and his Gang – they’re one of that kind. These are the ones who would do almost anything to be on stage and never quit with their passion just because it doesn’t bring enough money or because an audience of five are the only listeners and those are the one roadie, the girlfriend of the drummer, two waiters of the venue and the old dinosaur on the bar sipping away one beer after another for hours paying no attention. They don’t give a fuck – that’s true dedication!
And there are the others – the organisers of events and the officials at the city of Munich. The former try to make a living as well, working hard to satisfy their guests and I’m sure many of them try their best to give musicians a proper stage to perform. Despite many formal problems with legal regulations, the problem of scarcity in potential opportunities to perform doesn’t lie in the organisers themselves but in the pure lack of venues in Munich. The offer just doesn’t meet the need of musicians who want to be on stage. Here the city comes into play. With its funding program for young bands including many other possibilities like scholarships and promotional awards, the city undertook their first steps in supporting the music of the city – and ease the struggle for at least some musicians out there.
It also has to be considered that there are many other issues the city has to deal with and funding rehearsal rooms or small bands in general can drop in the priority ranking quite fast next to other problems. Still there are people like Heike Lies from the cultural department, the members of the city council who proposed the resolution in 2015 and not to forget the mayor Dieter Reiter himself. They do have an ear for those topics, literally, and try to raise awareness and support, both for organisers/venues and musicians.
Music is just another form of art and it’s known that it’s not necessarily art that sells the most. It’s a matter of taste with it’s quality not often easy to measure. What is good music anyways? And what’s the price of it? Most people will surely go through the roof when you perform the ska remix of Haddaway’s 1993 hit song “What Is Love”, like the band Skameleon does: https://youtu.be/G9CF1vXmtrQ (no offence, I admit that this sound sets the roof on fire, but it’s not that hard to do since it’s a classic song, known by everyone, basically copied & pasted into a new genre). But at the same time those people will need some time to start moving when Woolf & The Gang performs “7 Jahre Regen” (https://youtu.be/Dg0ZkxZ9i5o) or the Popa Raff Band playing their song “Sogni Viola”:
The city’s funding program will set off for a new round in 2020. One’s for sure: we all want to listen to some live music – organisers when they are (maybe?) able to make a short break, the people from the city department when they finish work, bands as well and let’s not forget about the fans of course! And there are people everywhere who try to make exactly that happen, who try to find ways to rehearse and train and be well prepared for a concert, who try to get an event done for everyone’s fun and those who try to get the city in charge to support the local music scene.
Great projects in Munich, like the Theatron Musik-Sommer, like the festival “Ois Giasing” or the very funding of rehearsal rooms show that things can work out quite well when the right people work together at the same time. Fans will be grateful.
One last word to young musicians from Raffaele: “Play! Play as much as you can and believe in your dreams. Success is underpinned with many losses and the bigger they are, the bigger your success will be. No matter if you’re talented or not or if there are obstacles – never surrender! If you really want it, sacrifice yourself, work hard, be nice to your people, don’t be arrogant, be grateful for every applause and don’t underestimate others because maybe they will give you a connection that will affect your life.”
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