Guest Column by Jeff Hino
For many years, Corvallis was viewed as a mecca for live music. It was known world-wide for the Corvallis Folklore Society, for being the home to great bands like Magpie, Sawtooth Mountain Boys, Crazy 8’s, The Highwater String Band, Ramblin’ Rex, Terry Robb, Fat Chance, Calobo, Eleven Eyes…and the list goes on. Corvallis had dozens of venues, many with dance floors, where highly talented local and regional bands entertained and vitalized our community. And the musicians were supported: they received decent wages from club owners for their talent and hard work.
And it was hard work, and expensive. Musicians had thousands of dollars tied up in their equipment. They rehearsed hours on end, moved hundreds of pounds of equipment into local venues, played for two or three hours, then, after the club went dark, were still there taking down all their equipment, driving home—usually tired and hungry—then doing it all over again the next week.
Yes, they did that because they loved music. And they did it because they thrived in the support of their fans, the community, and club owners. And local musicians are still doing it today.
But something happened. Clubs closed, or were replaced by restaurants who saw little or no value in supporting live music. Or if they did provide live music, they no longer offered musicians a reasonable fee. Granted, the economy suffered severely in the Great Recession, making it difficult for restaurants to survive without trimming their budgets. Housing costs in Corvallis skyrocketed. ASCAP, BMI and others began to enforce stiff music rights fees on club owners. Corvallis musicians began to find themselves being offered a meal, a free beer, and perhaps a few dollars to perform an entire night of music. Or they played only for tips. This despite the fact that their expenses had doubled, from gas to guitar strings. A few club owners didn’t bend to these forces, and to them we are thankful.
But it wasn’t only club owners. Many in the Corvallis community began to take what they had for granted. They began to avoid going to clubs that had a cover charge. They began to complain that “Corvallis doesn’t have any decent live music!” But when a band played at a local venue, they didn’t bother to show up. Many would rather stay home and pay $6.95 for a Pay-Per-View movie than pay a $3 cover charge for live music. And, in the span of a few short years, we went from flip phones, to Blackberries, to the now ubiquitous smartphone. Many began choosing to stay home to scan social media, watch YouTubes of their favorite performers, or be entertained by other electronic devices rather than go out and support live music in their community.
And unfortunately, musicians changed, too. New musicians entered the Corvallis music scene whom, unaware of Corvallis’ musical legacy, were satisfied with low (or no) pay. Not having any other options, many veteran Corvallis musicians began to shrug it off, and say, “Hey, I want to play, so I guess I’m playing for peanuts.”
In light of this situation, this letter is being distributed by local musicians who have chosen to take on the challenge to work with the community, club owners, and fellow musicians on this issue, and to seek a remedy that works for all of us. We urge our readers—be they club owners, community members, or musicians—to engage in this conversation about how we can revive a supportive and equitable environment for live music in Corvallis.
What you can do:
If you are a club owner – be more selective of who you hire, and pay them a decent wage. There are hundreds of professional-level musicians in this town. Take care of them and they will take care of you. But remember, it’s not just the musician’s responsibility to bring people to your establishment. It’s good business savvy that creates a combination of great food, service, and entertainment that will build a business, and create a thriving (and profitable) hot spot for night life. Musicians are willing to help market and build a stronger awareness of music in Corvallis, both at specific venues as well as help in an overall campaign.
If you are a local music lover – then please show it. Go to live music events once a month or so, and support local musicians. Pay the cover charge, put that $5 bill in the tip jar, and spread the word to your friends about what a great time you had. We all love movies at home, and the convenience of Spotify and iTunes, but consider spreading your entertainment dollars more widely.
If you are a musician – be selective where and under what circumstances you perform. Engage with club owners who offer you low pay. Do your best to negotiate a fair fee for the size of the venue and the size or your act. If what they insist on offering isn’t fair, then walk away. Hopefully, if enough musical acts do this, they’ll get the message and change their practices. Also, go to other band’s gigs to support them. And don’t forget to tell the folks in charge how much you appreciate their support of live music.
Lastly, we strongly urge our community and business leaders to discuss this issue and make creative decisions that encourage and support live music in our wonderful city. If we are to become once again a city of music, then our community—both individually and collectively—needs to value it, support it, and encourage business models that create a healthy and vital musical environment.
Jeff Hino (Plaehn & Hino Blues Band)
Colleen Kitchen Dick
Brian B. Egan
Aarron Allen Wootton
Dave Trenkel (Xenat-Ra, Orquesta Monte Calvo)
Dave Plaehn (Plaehn & Hino Blues Band)
Lee Pappy Boynton
Ed & Linda Waymire (Split String Experience)
Hershel Olmsted (Wild Hog in the Woods)
John Donoghue (Wild Hog in the Woods)
Vicki Stevens (Stevens Hess Band)
Gary & Shy Nolde