Thursday, May 10, 2007

"You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part X

A while back, I ran a series of posts titled "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? In those posts, I presented a number of scenarios and questions and pledged to offer my perspective at the end of the series.

Due to issues with the switch to new Blogger at the time, writing posts with links became difficult and the subject slid of the front burner. Recently, there's been some interest in those posts again. At any rate, after a long hiatus, here's my take on the issues raised.

First, with regard to when private individuals hire musicians/bands, I believe that nobody is owed a job. Sure it'd be a nice gesture of hakaras hatov if the people who used a musician or band for their last event would consider using doing so again, but there is no obligation to even consider doing so. I believe the individual has the right to spend their money as they wish, and no musician has the right to expect or demand that they be hired. (I mention "demand" because I'm aware of situations where such has happened. In one case, a former roomate of mine backed out of a commitment to use my band after his shadchan called him up and said "after all I've done for you, you owe it to me to use my cousin "X", who was a Neginah bandleader".)

That being said, it would be nice if individuals would take certain factors into account when deciding which bands/musicians to use for their simcha. Obviously, one factor is past service. Additionally, most of us run into situations where a musician has done a chesed for our family member/friend/neighbor etc. They may have played in the hospital for a sick nephew, played a wedding for free to help out an impoverished neighbor, or played shul events at a very reduced rate. It'd be nice if people took this into account, but I don't have a sense that this occurs often. It's interesting. Big corporations will give tons of money to various charities and to support the arts, and justify doing so to their shareholders, on the grounds that it is good for business, because the goodwill engendered will attract customers. Shouldn't the frum community respond that way as well, on the individual level? I'm not suggesting that there's an obligation to hire these musicians, but I do think it'd be appropriate to add them to the list of musical options under consideration.

I have a different opinion with regard to Jewish institutions and organizations who ask for discounts/freebies. If an organization hires a musician/band at retail, than the same applies as above. If not, though, then I think that organizations which ask for our support ought to reciprocate. If you can ask me for money or to donate my services, than you ought to consider hiring me when music services are needed.

I think that Jewish organizations ought to keep a number of factors in mind when hiring music for an event.

The questions they should ask themselves are:

1) Who played this event last time?
2) Which musicians have donated time/money/performances in the past?
3) Who is offering the best value?

I don't think the answers to these questions are necessarily dispositive, but they all are owed strong consideration. In my experience, this often doesn't happen. In my own career, I have seen many times how organizations skip over their volunteers when it comes time to hire someone. I've also seen how new people in a position will not remain loyal to musicians who may have been playing a given event for years at a discount, for example.

Here's one example to illustrate. I have a fifteen year plus history with one organization. I've been playing free events for them for years. A few years ago, I started charging them a small fee for one event for which my commitment had cost me paying gigs a few years running. I made less from them for putting a small band together,driving to a hotel upstate, and playing the gig, than I'd make booking a single locally. Yet, as soon as my contact switched jobs within the organization, I lost the gig. From a financial standpoint, I'm not sorry to have lost the gig (indeed, I'm already ahead of the game financially, even if I don't get the gig for another few years) but on a personal level, it felt like the organization had no hakoras hatov for all the years I did that event for them. There were times when I played that gig despite having either personal commitments or a full day of gigging that began early the next morning.

I should note that much of this neglect occurs through a lack of "simas lev" on the part of the organizational/institutional leaders. They just don't think about these issues.

Jordan mentioned a shul showing courtesy to a member. As a concept, I think that's exactly right. I believe that shuls should consider hiring their members first for any service they might need.

"Sonoomee" commented:
The thing that DOES stick in my craw, is when an organization will call you to play every Tzedaka job they have, and never hesitate to ask you to play for free (we are a Charity organization and have no budget), which you graciously do...but when they finally have an event where there IS a budget (IE Dinner, concert fundraiser etc.) They hire someone else!?
Especially when the person they hire has not volunteered for the organization and many other musicians have! This has happened to me as well.

To address this scenario:
A scenario: If a DJ or band approaches an organization and offers to play an annual event for free, is it fair for the organization to drop the band/musician they've been using consistently for years, even though the free offer is predicated on the fact that should they be satisfied, they will they will be charged going forward? In other words, do they owe any loyalty to the band whose been doing the job for years, to not try out their competition, since no one can fairly compete at that price point ($0). If you think yes, would your answer change if the original bandleader also does pro-bono work for the organization throughout the year?
Personally, I think that it is definitely assur to poach clients in this way. It's wrong whether its a Neginah rep trying to get YU gigs away from Neshoma (as has happened) or a DJ trying to get school gigs away from "Yankel One Man Band" (as has also happened). I can see why such an offer would be appealing from the institution's perspective, but I think the right thing to do would be to pass. At the very least, they should talk to the regular musician/band before accepting such an offer.

With regard to the UJA scenario, I think the building manager is 1000% right. An organization that won't consider suppliers from within it's own constituents has no right to ask -- and certainly not to expect -- any favors from said constituents.

On "To Catch A Thief!"...

In this case, I think the school owed me something. I put a lot on the line for them, and the seeming lack of acknowledgement of that has been disappointing, especially since they need musicians regularly and they needed to put a new person in charge of hiring them. If nothing else, they knew that I'd burned a bridge by turning in an acquaintance, and they ought to have followed up on that level just to let me know what had happened. I eventually wound up calling them to find out what the consequences had been because it was inevitable that I'd run into him again (I already have) and I needed to be prepared to address the situation.

That said, if the same situation came about again, and I knew the school wasn't going to ever hire me again, I'd still handle things the same way. However, the fact that they have never called me feels like a lack of hakaras hatov.

In this situation, my opinion is that the bandleader ought to have waited a day for me to get back to him. In general, when I call musicians for gigs, I wait for them to get back to me before calling another musician for the slot. If it's for a last minute gig, than I say so explicitly in the message that I'll be calling other musicians as well.

As far as loyalty goes, I led a darn good job for him, and it'd been nice to get the call again. Had he chosen not to call me though, that would have been his perogative. Calling me and then not waiting to hear back is insulting, IMO.

On this story, much the same applies. I think it's only right for organizations to show hakaras hatov as I noted above. In this particular case, I have discovered over the past few years that this individual is manipulative and dishonest. So, I'm not really interested in doing any work for him. I've noticed that very often, in organizational life, there are no checks on people in certain positions, and these kinds of people tend to fill those slots. Usually, it takes a scandal to dislodge them.

Finally, with regard to my last post in the series...

As far as the Shul goes, I think they owed me consideration for the job, as Jordan noted in his comment. I don't think they owed me the gig because of my volunteer work there; I think I was owed consideration as a member.

As far as the national organizations go, my position is as above.

Finally, with regard to the school, I think at this point (10 + years), it'd be nice if I didn't lose the gig every time a new DSA takes over.

On a related note, a school I'd played at for 13 years stopped calling this year. This past week, I found out that they'd hired a new Rebbe who is also a musician. I used to play five to ten gigs annually for them on Rosh Chodesh and the like. Of course, they're entitled to hire whoever they want, and it makes sense to have a rebbe provide the music. However, it'd have been nice if they'd called to let me know that my servcices wouldn't be needed before the school year, so that I could line up another school, instead of leaving it to me to figure out.

The common thread connecting these issues is a lack of hakaras hatov which is mainly due, IMO, to a lack of simas lev. Our institutions don't express it properly. Sure, they give the big donors honors and awards. However, the people who help out in other ways often go unacknowleged.

Bottom line, I'm not upset or angry about most of the above cases, but I am disappointed. It isn't about the money; it's human to want to be appreciated. I don't think the status quo relects well on our community. If this series helps to raise awareness at all, it'll have been worth it.

In closing, Jordan's comment on the first post in the series makes an important point.
...But if we place an overabundance of attention on our rights, whether real or imagined, we miss the big picture. We will not book any more jobs, really. We will turn off clients. And we will just give ourselves heartache, in a business that's supposed to be fun.
Previous posts in this series can be found here:

Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part I
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part II
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part III
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part IIII
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part V
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part VI (To Catch A Thief!)
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part VII
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part VIII
Blog in Dm: "You Owe Me A Job!" Valid or Not? Part IX