Lately, things have been changing quickly. One year ago I was happy to perform once or twice a month, usually for free. Last month I performed several times with On the Cool Side. This month I'll be performing four times with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey, three times with On the Cool Side, twice as a soloist, once with the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, and once with a pick-up group.
Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey is changing. We have a meeting in a couple weeks to discuss the coming year. Most importantly, we'll be putting together a package of music to copyright, which will allow us to move forward with a lot of things, including recording an album, selling songs, and distributing our music through CD or downloads. We'll also be talking about an official band name, brainstorming ways to create and promote our own gigs, and more.
I feel this year will be a turning point for both On the Cool Side and AVG (or whatever we'll eventually call ourselves). On the Cool Side has built up a good repertoire, and the band members are all stable and reliable. I'm working hard to find good paying jobs, and I'm also preparing a press kit and looking for a good agent. AVG has a solid book of all original music, and the band is getting tighter and tighter. Once we've copyrighted our songs, we'll have a whole world of music publishing and recording to explore.
The biggest, most important change is in my attitude toward performing. I'm in the middle of a transition from thinking like an amateur to thinking like a pro. Until recently, I've been happy to play just about anywhere, even for free. Now I want to be paid. That's not to say I'll never play for free again. There are a handful of places I truly enjoy playing in that offer little to no money: Mighty Joe Espresso, 45 South Café, Rotagilla, NWUUC, and most recently, Nathalie's Fish House. Even as I search for good paying jobs, I'll continue playing at these places because I like the people and they treat the musicians like gold. They have all given me the opportunity to play and develop. I won't drop them because I'm suddenly playing for more paying jobs, but at the same time, I'm no longer searching for similar venues.
The thing is, I want to be paid for my time and effort. Some folks tend to think that by looking specifically for paid gigs, I'm selling out. I say if you've earned a degree and spent thousands of hours and dollars without seeking compensation, you're selling yourself short. I've also heard one person say that you should only play for the love of the music. I say that I love music so much that this is all I want to do. Do you love your job? I hope you do. Do you want to get paid to do your job? Probably! Music is my job as well as my love. I want to be able to pay my rent with gig money and with royalty checks. If I can pull in royalties from a few songs, that means I'll be able to spend a little less time music engraving and spend even more time practicing and writing music.
I don't know how it is in other cities, but a major frustration I have with Atlanta is that it can be very difficult to find paid jobs at traditional venues. Part of the problem is that I'm new on the scene. In time, I'll be more established, and more doors will be open to me once I find the right agent. A major part of the problem is that Atlanta musicians shoot themselves in the foot by playing for free more often than not. There's always someone willing to play for "exposure." Lately I've come to despise that word. "Exposure" around here just means "for free." The bottom line is that if the owner of a bar is making extra money because of your music, then you are entitled to some of that money. Your dentist or mechanic doesn't work for tips or "exposure." Why should it be any different for musicians? Club owners will tell you they're supporting music by letting you play for exposure while they rake in extra money from the drinks people buy as they listen to your band. I say they could show some support with their wallets. It's no coincidence that the best music spots in town are establishments that pay their musicians.
Well, this turned into a minor rant about the general state of Atlanta venues. Back to my point. I'm shifting my mindset and looking for more paid gigs, promoting my own events, recording my music, and publishing songs. This is not a hobby. This is a life.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.