Interlude: Tip Wisely

Imagine a new restaurant. The food is better than any food in the neighborhood, everyone can find something they want there. The chef and all of his cooks are absolutely brilliant, they have a mix of centuries old traditional family recipes and new fusion that just won’t quit.  Everyone who works there is happy and finds their job fulfilling.

The portions are massive, no one ever goes home hungry.  However, due to the way the food is prepared (this is some gourmet stuff we’re talking about here), taking it home is impossible.  It’s delicate, and would fall apart if you put it in just any doggie bag.  People being what they are of course, sometimes bring their own boxes to try to save the food and get their money’s worth, but it doesn’t quite work. The food can’t be shared in its original, delicious state at home, you have to experience it on the spot.

The place gets extremely busy, so there’s a host.  To save room for tables, his podium is outside, and because of the saved room inside, there’s never a line. It’s a very organized business.

The food is great, sure, but the best part? It’s free! There’s never a line, and it’s free. The chef loves cooking so much that he’s giving his food away for free! There have been a few articles describing that it’s a free restaurant, and word of mouth about the place is exploding. People posting on facebook how great the place is, referring every one of their friends to this place. The waitresses don’t need to get tipped, it says so right on the door. You can eat as much as you want, you just can’t take it home. On the menu, there are a few community advertisements that pay for the rent, etc.  No one seems to mind them.

There are of course downsides to this great place. Because no one in the restaurant gets paid because of how much they love their job, making this great food for everyone, other restaurants in the area who demand money to pay their workers are having to close, but they actually don’t feel too bad.  They get to go to this great restaurant too, and learn the secrets of the food that is so delicious, and someday, they hope to work there too, to make people happy.

People will be people however, and the doorman, who incidentally is the one organizing the advertisements (taking a cut before it pays the rent. He’s got kids, everybody understands. There’s no joy to be had just watching a door, let me tell you; he doesn’t even get to feel the joy of bringing the food out like the waitresses do! It’s a pretty crappy job.), starts to think of a way to make some extra coin off of the situation (a little dirty game is really not great, we all know that, but with rising college prices? Man’s gotta provide, right? It’s not his fault). He finds a friend who can make take home boxes so that the food doesn’t spoil.  It’s an easy trick, you just have to place the tissue paper the right way. Tissue paper’s dirt cheap, anyone can make the box, so what’s the problem? He sells the box for 10 bucks plus cost at the door, and then flubs the story by saying that the box won’t work for more than a month. He pads that by saying that the money will go to the chef and his workers, so it’s alright. It’s all going to the good cause! Maybe the chef will use the money to do some research and get some new recipes, wouldn’t that be exciting?

But of course, the doorman’s taking all of the money. He gives a bit to the waitstaff, to the cooks, so that the patrons can clearly see that the employees who are bringing them this heavenly food are getting what they deserve.

Soon, someone sees the doorman pocket 9.50 of the 10.00 they paid him. He gets called out and written up in the local newspaper, which everyone reads.  People are talking about it, everyone knows.  Upset, the chef goes across the street to start the restaurant anew, penniless, but happy that he can still serve his food without the stench of corruption and take any donations that the people would like to give him without going through the corrupt middle man.  His apprentice however, who has mastered his dishes, chooses to stick with the first restaurant, keeping the business as much alive as ever. Only the most seasoned customers can tell the difference in quality.

The first restaurant continues to be populated, everyone greets the doorman on the way in, paying their monthly ten dollars if they are the type to take food home. The waitstaff and kitchen eventually either quit because they aren’t making any money, and are replaced by less experienced employees who can’t really cook the food or give the same service.  Some rush to the restaurant after their second job, where they’re ruthlessly berated by their superiors for being tired all the time, and the product and service at the restaurant suffers for it.  Their personal lives are in shambles, merely because they have to work two jobs to maintain their livelihood and, quite honestly, meager overhead. The original chef’s restaurant gets some business, and some people are happy to donate to it, but the money he’s making pales in comparison to the doorman’s.  The doorman is making a killing. People know it too, but they just go to the restaurant, and enjoy their expertly crafted food, despite the gaunt faces of the waitstaff, who are just holding on to the only part of their job that gives them any joy at all: the look on the patrons’ faces.


I read an article recently despairing tipping practices. A lot of my friends read it too, I can’t remember where it was, probably the New Yorker or the Times. They were talking about how tipping is illegal in some countries, and how one high end restaurant (probably in New York, I can’t remember) was not taking tips because of the poor tipping practices of some of its customers, which was forcing the waitresses into an unfair wage.

The article was filled with statements from waitresses and economists, explaining that not tipping is taking a third or more of their paycheck, and that waitresses worldwide are being forced to work overtime or get other jobs to make ends meet.  The journalist was very upset, and was rending their garments at the news, demanding change, etc.

In a world where we’re despairing over the practice of giving people money for free(ridiculous minimum wage laws aside, now), how is it that in a world where 80% of people I see walking, running, taking the subway, or working own a smart phone or an mp3 player are listening to music are choosing to give their money to the doorman, fully realizing that the chef is starving?

I wish I could educate the world on the economics of music, and how these young upstart bands in the pop realm that people love so much were starving at one point too, and that their favorite music would become even worse if you didn’t give these musicians a chance to rise to the top, and that one of the reasons “indy” music is so popular is because they are the bands in the last few years that are actually making money off of their music, etc.  But I can’t, I know that.

However, in the Jazz world, where we already have every problem that could possibly be thrown at us in the mix, that people would STILL give their money to the doorman, I just can’t believe it, and I’m at the end of my rope.

Free music is great. It feels great to get something for free, always.

However, people in the Jazz world ALREADY KNOW that creating even passable music takes years of unpaid practice and some of the deepest focus imaginable. People ALREADY KNOW that making a record takes months on the phone, promoting, organizing, and wooing, not to mention a ton of money up front. People ALREADY KNOW that the musicians aren’t making any money from streaming websites and that they need it badly.


No one I know who uses Spotify(I’m just going to say Spotify here, but you know what I mean) loves the music any less because they use it. Everyone still talks about their favorite musicians in the same way they did years ago when they were buying the CDs, or ripping it from friends, or getting it via fileshare sites.

I’ve tried to never use filesharing sites. I buy physical copies of CDs whenever I can. I’m even reluctant to purchase music on iTunes or any other place online (for other reasons actually. I like CDs because of liner notes, and because I can’t focus on what music I still have to listen to if I don’t have a physical copy).  Before I had means, at the height of Limewire, I got my first few tracks for free. Two CDs worth, if memory serves. I didn’t think it was a noble effort, it was just what I did.  I liked having CDs. It’s the same with movies and video games, I just always bought the copy.

When I became a musician who realized he would have to deal with these realities, it strengthened my resolve in a strange karmic twist.  I started meeting the musicians who were getting the royalties and printing the CDs.  I met their kids, saw their 1991 vans, watched them get in their Dodge Neons back to their one night run through the Midwest. Visited their apartments for lessons.

The business has always been rough, and every generation from every era says that it was easier ten years ago (no matter when the quote was taken).  Now what do I know, but it seems that not long ago when the labels were running everything, there was this carrot of fame and fortune. It was a tough business, but hey, maybe you get signed and make a million bucks like Wynton. But now, as the record labels die out even further, in the midst of this crowd sourcing mess of a world we’re living in, even that has been taken away. No Jazz musician has ever gotten any work, riches, or fame from Spotify. No friend of mine has ever said “Oh man, have you heard x? I just heard him on Spotify, it was great.

I gave up the idea that people would stop stealing music from musicians a while ago. The free exchange of information has been here for almost my entire life.  But now we have an entire generation that is getting free music from musicians and paying for it, but only giving half of a cent to the musician.

The music business has always been hard. If the financials of the trades or the food industry looked like those of the music industry, the world would stop and be appalled until it was fixed.  It would be unthinkable. However, a product that people use every single day to keep sane and lift spirits is not only being given out for free, but we’re paying the wrong person for it. We’re looking right at the doorman and watching him pocket our money before we go and compliment the chef on the best meal we’ve ever had. It’s criminal.

We can actually do something small about this. I can’t make the stealing of music stop, but please, let’s at least stop the selfish asshole in the suit who created a business to leach off of musicians from getting rich, can we? Let’s buy a CD once in a while and burn it for all of our friends, at least then the musicians who we’ve built our lives around, who make us happy and give our lives meaning everyday can get a $50 check instead of a $0.9753 check.  Can we at least stop this one massive injustice from happening right before our eyes because we’re too lazy and conditioned to think that it’s worth doing something about?

I could write about this forever, and I’d get madder and madder, but quite honestly, It’s 5:30, and I need to get up at 9 so that I can do my day job, which I, the musician, need so that I can afford the music I want to buy, and the small apartment I live in. Good thing I don’t have any student loans to pay off. Or a car. Or any real responsibility other than myself.

Man, I’m going to be tired tomorrow. I’m probably not going to be able to practice when I get home from work, I’ll just fall asleep.



~ by Martin Porter on July 3, 2013.

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