Music dead or alive

Choosing musicians to play live music seems costly, time-consuming, and risky. Meanwhile, there’s more variety to choose from in recorded music, lower cost, and less risk that something will go wrong. If musicians are to be chosen over ipod, CD players, and tape decks, we need to lower the transaction costs and risks in getting hired.

“Due to budget constraints, let’s get a DJ instead of musicians.”

When I heard the comment from a fellow Rotarian, I suddenly understood how people decide on music for a party, wedding, funeral, and other occasions. Choosing musicians to play live music seems costly, time-consuming, and risky. Meanwhile, there’s more variety to choose from in recorded music, lower cost, and less risk that something could go wrong.

As a performer, it breaks my heart to see people opting for recorded music instead of hiring musicians for an event. Are we musicians competing with CD players?

Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers, Utrecht Conservatory Room K108 2007
Anne Ku and Robert Bekkers, Utrecht Conservatory Room K108 2007

Yesterday I attended a memorial service in central Utrecht, Netherlands. After the video ended, the music began. I stretched my neck to find its source. It was a recording. I didn’t know any of the music. I felt strange sitting among strangers, sharing a physical space filled with sadness and introspection, and listening to music that meant nothing to me. I was glad to see a guitar on stage though. Finally, a young man accompanied a young singer, both making music from their hearts. They were the nephew and the niece. And for that, I was both glad and relieved.

It was easy to see why there wasn’t live music. It was not in a church. There was no organ. There was no piano either. The place was not intended for memorials but for meetings and lectures. Therefore live music, let alone recorded music, was not the norm.

Funerals and memorial services cannot be planned far ahead of time like weddings and gala parties. Getting live musicians require finding those that are available for the date and time, discussing the programme, and negotiating a rate and payment method. This is all too complicated and opaque compared to selecting songs on your IPOD or finding CDs with the music you want played.

If musicians are to be chosen over ipod, CD players, and tape decks, we need to lower the transaction costs and risks in getting hired. As a music connoisseur, I much prefer live music to dead music. But then, I am used to hearing it live. I can tell the difference. Can others? Do they care?

How to lower the transaction cost and risk of hiring musicians instead of playing recorded music?

  1. Go to an agent.
  2. Where are musicians to be found? Go to someone you know who is a musician. Go through someone who knows many musicians. But how do you know how good they are?
  3. Figure out what music you want. Find the musicians that can play them.

I cannot argue around having a central point (such as an agent or musicians’ listing) for getting the musicians who can play the pieces you want played. Such a central point serves as a broker or intermediary between the buyer and various possible sellers.

How much does it cost? How do musicians charge for their services? Do they charge like plumbers – i.e. a call out fee and then an hourly rate? Do they give a fixed sum? Do they charge according to the difficulty of the music and how long they need to practise it? Do they charge by duration or risk? Does the musicians union have a guideline?

The opacity of how much musicians cost became clear to me when another Rotarian asked me about hiring musicians for our 5th anniversary charity gala on 6th March 2010.

“Are we talking about a few hundred euros or thousands?”

House concert for an artist

I said on my last visit,”You should have a house concert so people can see your artwork.”

I told her about the house concert series in Amsterdam that was launched by a couple of art lovers. They wanted people to see and buy the art displayed on their walls and home. Live music was a good way to do that. What a concept — to use live music to lure listeners to view new works of art!

Anne Ku, caricature 1998
Anne Ku, caricature 1998

About three years ago, I spotted a notice on the bulletin board of Utrecht Conservatory. It was a WANTED ad for musicians interested in performing in a house concert. I called the local architect who had posted the ad. She lived very close to me and invited me to try her baby grand piano that sat in the living room. And so began a conversation about doing a house concert in her home.

In those three years, I composed and produced my final exam concert, organised many house concerts, performed in numerous more, graduated from conservatory, and tried to get others to hop on the band wagon of producing live classical music. I invited the architect to most of these events, none of which she was able to attend. She maintained her interest while she went through her own transformation.

She became an artist.

Perhaps she has always been an artist. I don’t know her so well, but on my last visit I saw her latest paintings on her walls. They were remarkable enough to be noticed.

Once again, she could not come to the house concert I was promoting then. In fact, she has never seen us in concert. She has never come to a single concert I produced. Neither have I attended her exhibitions or events. But she has a vision to have a house concert in her home.

I said on my last visit,”You should have a house concert so people can see your artwork.”

I told her about the house concert series in Amsterdam that was launched by a couple of art lovers. They wanted people to see and buy the art displayed on their walls and home. Live music was a good way to do that. And so they turned their one bedroom apartment into a museum and a concert hall. This was their hobby — to support artists and musicians.

I also told her about the importance of a unifying theme. She was excited about the possibility of painting to a theme. She told me about her neighbours who dreamed of opening a restaurant of their own one day. They love to cook and entertain. We could hold the concert in her home, with her artwork on display, and then walk to her neighbours’ house for home-cooked gourmet food afterwards.

We discussed this in early December 2009. She suggested that we think of a theme and allow herself enough time to paint to a theme.

Via two e-mails, we agreed on a date in April. A few days ago, she cycled to our monument house (where we hold our house concerts twice a year) to see my piano guitar duo play the pieces she will paint for the house concert. We agreed on the theme and how we would work together to make it another sold out, full-house concert.

Coincidentally a few months ago, I met another artist in Amsterdam who had thought of turning her studio into a stage. What a concept — to use live music to lure listeners to view new works of art!