Lesson I am Learning

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    onita-sanders on #144386

    It has been a while since I have posted. And am almost sheepishly making this post after reading Basal’s heart wrenching post. How extremely fortunate we are to live in a country where just leaving our homes to just go to a job is something we all should cherish.

    But this is something that has been eating way at me for quite sometime and have never seen it even touched upon in the forums because we are all about creating beautiful sounds on an instrument we all love, the Harp.

    I have been on a national music site for sometime, with sound clips and my picture. In the first 5 years, I believe I must have gotten 8 jobs. Then 1 or 2 more harpists appeared on the same site and within months nearly all the new jobs were now being gotten by them, with there prices being slightly higher. So I adjusted my prices, freshen up my bio. Things got slightly better for me, but not where I believed I should have been.

    Now after almost 8 years, something new has proven to be a real challenge with more harpists on the site. The “under cutting harpists”. I recently put in a bid for a private function in Lansing, Michigan for the governor. The event manager was gracious enough to call back and said she was impressed with my sound clips and bio, but was able to hirer someone closer to Lansing for the sum of $175. She went on to say they were really about price and would be happy to keep me in their records, if I would consider playing in the $175.

    Now here is the rub, in light of my musical background and high level of professionalism, how does one continue when we are faced with subjective and objective slights. I went back through the site I was on and discovered that people of color were in general less like to the have the number of jobs that others did and those that believed that $175 was just fine were now seeming to get all the jobs.

    Am now when I make offers, stressing my professional abilities, and just stating up front that $175 is way, way below where the market should be. About my face, I can do nothing about that.

    I really do not expect to get any responses to what has been bothering me for sometimes because unless you are in this skin you do not see or feel it or perhaps have harpists friends who have not felt it or even shared it. I will always remember what a booking agent was kind enough to share with me. When a group from the British Isle wanted a harpist for one of their SAE reception, he was told they wanted a blond blue eyed harpist pretty one.

    Gretchen Cover on #144387

    Onita, I cannot address the race issue, but can on pricing. I play occasionally with a classical guitarist who has his profile on two of the music job sites. He has his photo posted, I do not. Lately, when a request has come in for a solo harpist, it has been about price and nothing else. The last request a week ago in the second sentence said “TIGHT BUDGET.” People like the idea of a harp and are clueless about the music and good harp playing.

    PS.I am hoping that Mason Morton of Sons of Serendip (America’s Got Talent) will help break the harpist stereotype. He has already done a lot to draw attention to the harp.

    onita-sanders on #144388

    Thank you for taking the time address one of the issues. It is most appreciated

    Tacye on #144390

    I think there is a world of difference between musicians who happen to play the harp and performers where the music is not the primary focus. Many people don’t care about this difference – and some will prefer the latter. There is also unfortunately no necessary correlation between being able to play the harp well and having a great business plan and ability to get the fees, and gigs, needed for a career.

    On a related note, I have very often seen beginner harpists encouraged to play out and perform – often with very nearly the exact words of everyone loves a harp regardless of what or how you play. Can we really have it both ways? Prioritise displaying the harp or the music? I certainly agree that the harp is lovely, and have to own up to recieving undeserved praise for playng notes which weren’t as musical as they should be – but at least I feel guilty about it and that we should all be pushing for great music (of all genres) which just happens to be played on a harp.

    Someone who wants to dress up as a fairy and plink notes with lots of reverb on a harp as a prop has a right to make a living… but ideally called a performer not a musician.

    Sylvia on #144391

    I felt kind of sick when I read Onita’s post. How many centuries does it take? If they’re looking for harp music like what you do…they should hire you…plain and simple.

    As for advertising, I’ve been advertising in two local wedding mags for way too long. No more. I started noticing that almost ALL my work comes from my own referrals…people or places I’ve played for before.

    About once a month or so, I email out a blurb to local event centers and wedding planners. It doesn’t cost anything, and it reminds them I’m here. Though they are listed in the mags, I don’t think they bother to look thru the mags.

    onita-sanders on #144392

    Thank you also for your observations. I believe one of things I was commenting on was the deep, deep under cutting that some harpists are engaged in and those clients who are hiring them. Those that hirer, these harpists, take this as the price norm that the rest of we harpists should be happy to accept no matter what their professional expertise. We might think in terms of the way you phrased it, but a $175 for a VIP reception for the governor of Michigan is almost medieval. I do not believe that I said anything about about having something both ways. Thank you anyway for your insights.

    Sylvia on #144393

    $175 is unacceptable, of course. When someone offers me a laughable amount, I laugh and tell them I wouldn’t even consider it.

    I didn’t address the price issue because harpists are few down here, and I don’t know what anyone charges. I charge what I think I should get. Luckily, I don’t depend on harping except to pay for the groceries.

    String quartets are the all the rage here, and they probably do package deals for the wedding and reception, I would guess.

    Tacye on #144394

    No you didn’t say anything about having it both ways – but as I see it the wider situation does impact on what you are facing now. People generally want to pay the least they can and the people who are charging less presumably fall into one of three categories:
    1) Providing less – these are the ones I was mainly talking about and to compete with them educating the client about why you are providing a better service and they should want to pay more to get more seems the way forward.
    2) A poor business plan and will eventually find they can’t make a living – of these some will stop trying to compete, and others will raise their prices. I think these may be the ones you are most thinking about, where educating students in business studies might help, to get them to charge sustainable prices from the start. Sadly, there is likely to be a constant supply of new people coming into the business, so it goes back to educating the client about why they should pay more for what you offer.
    3) Not actually needing the money, either because of an alternative source of income, or living a cheaper lifestyle – some of these may raise their prices if they can be brought to think about the consequences of their actions.

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #144395

    It amazes me that brides are willing to pay a huge amount for a DJ, a dress, cake, etc., but next to nothing for a harpist. Maybe it’s time we got a TV reality show with brides demanding really expensive, top-of-the-line musicians, and refusing to settle for cheaper, less competent varieties. That would change the perception! I really hope it is not about skin colour in this day and age.

    hmorison on #144423

    Dear Onita-Sanders,
    I do not have any good answers for problems of race and work. Nor am I a professional harpist. In my profession, which is decidedly multi cultural, race has always been an issue when it comes to work. In some cases it has trumped experience, professionalism and reputation. That being said I love my profession and with time the racial barriers have come down. Please do not despair. Eventually your artistry will be recognized and rewarded.

    With much respect


    onita-sanders on #144426

    Thank you so very, very much for your words of encouragement. I am so glad this forum was here so I could express what I was feeling to an understanding audience, but had just decided to keep it to myself. In light of what is really important, like what is going on with harpists, like Basal, it was something that had been eating away at me and I just needed tools to deal with as others have. Thank you all for sharing. “Onward and Upward, now.

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #144448

    Onita, I have heard you play, and you are worth SO much more than those in Lansing are willing to pay you. As for the discriminatory treatment, you are probably right, and that’s just plain sad, but I’m convinced it’s out there. It’s true in many other genres of the music world, too, in a different way. I studied voice intensely for a number of years and received a master’s degree in vocal performance. I have a voice that is considered “Italian.” I CAN sing Wagner, but it’s not the best in my voice. However, I am a 6′ tall blonde with blue eyes. NO one is going to hire me to play a little minx of an Italian in a Puccini opera…..and it was just very, very difficult for me. I began the harp 9 years ago, and I’m much more comfortable as a harpist at this height sitting behind a huge instrument. But I remember that feeling of defeat when there is nothing you can do about it. At least in my case I could see some justification. In yours I can see none. It is simply slimy and illegal and ugly. PLEASE don’t let it discourage you. You are such a wonderful, professional harpist.


    onita-sanders on #144449

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your generosity of spirit. You certainly have, as they say, “have made my day”. Thank you also for sharing your experiences, because this helps me in realizing that we all have something that we have learn is our reality that we accept, learn from, and keep moving forward.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #144609

    Well, how do you think a guy feels? When I lived in New York, I could not work in any of the hotels because they would not hire guys, except for the one that had a guy in residence who did not want me to sub for him.
    The only answer I can think of is to seek out opportunities within your community, or to create some. Many people have that challenge, and it is unfair, because not everyone is gifted in that way.
    As a man, as a Jew, I find it utterly disgusting for blondes to be given preference in hiring. But it is often women doing the hiring, so what can you say? No one is immune to discrimination.

    onita-sanders on #144614

    Thank you so very much for your insights. Over the week I had thought about the number of times when I have referred male harpists, how some clients have seemed a little reticent to use them. I have had to really, really play up their credentials so that the client would see that I was referring a performing artist that would enhance their reception, retirement party, or pastorial celebration.

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