I'm sure you either read about the kerfuffle around this tour or just as likely have absolutely no clue who Amanda Palmer is. Just hit google and read up. I got put on an emotional roller coaster, refreshing comments sections reading well reasoned points on both sides overwhelmed by unfocused rage and vitriol. I argued with friends as friendly sparing to challenge and harden ideas and sometimes with uncomfortable and surprising malice. At some points I felt something almost related to slut shaming. I love music, I love to play and I did something fun and was indirectly made to feel bad about it. (How would it feel to take the other side of that and feel like a whore?) I was assured with almost condescending pity that no one blamed me for playing while they grandstanded their absolute declarations.
I don't know if my position was sharpened like a knife or worn like beach glass, but at the end here is how I feel and this is my story. Amanda Palmer is a peer. The Dresden Dolls were playing in the same venues at the same time as Ego Likeness was starting to do travel gigs. I remember reading a blog post early on about her playing in a small town and venue that we recently played and being able to vividly imagine loading out in the cold. In her post she was talking about signing autographs and talking with fans until they had all left. At that time I was just getting over making any compliment paid to me an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved and I was better able to imagine just letting people love me and returning that as a performer. That to me is why I play music and do all the stupid things I do. It could never be my day job, but I do like to go there. So when I saw the call for "Profeshionalish" musicians I read through, understood what was expected and what was being offered and applied. I play in a couple of radical marching bands, I have a range of brass instruments. My "audition" tape was a youtube of me with barrage band noodling on a tune at an Occupy Wall St rally.
The day before the show I got an email asking If I wanted to play. I downloaded the charts and bought the just released songs on my phone while riding the train down to DC. The guys from Ronald Regan: 80's Sax Duo lead me and an euphnium through a read through rehearsal when I got there. I briefly met the band as they came and went. It was a very chill back stage area. We played with the opening song or two. I am used to working with out a monitor so I trust I was in the mains, or if I sucked that they cut my channel, either way I love the sound at that venue so much and trust them absolutely. I went up to the rafters to watch the rest of the show. The tour was really well thought out. The set dressing was unified, stunning and very practical to break down and set up easily. AFP has a band that both showcases talent and perfectly supports the songs. They look great on stage and are having so much fun. The interactive elements of the show were not gimmicky and I think really made everyone feel invested in the performance. I went down to play the encores. Because my trumpet was on loan and I couldn't get it back on such short notice so I brought my flugal horn that night and got called on the spot to do a quick riff to the audience to show off the unusual brass. To my astonishment I didn't suck, maybe I wasn't turned off in the mains after all.
The next week I went to go see Fire Water and was recognized in line as the flugal horn player. That always feels good.
I risked little, was rewarded handsomely with being part of a really good show. If I had been offered what I ended up getting paid for the show I would have turned it down. It wouldn't be hard to get someone better at reading music than I did that night or to find someone that this would have been the absolute high point of their life. If I was a professional, the amount would have been on the token level. But hey, in the past I went on tour to Europe to play and be the only driver knowing there was no money, I was surprised and delighted to get $50 at the end as a thanks. Obviously it was not about the $50.
My takeaway lesson, the part in Full House where Bob Saget would hug what ever kid was featured in the story that week and recap what they learned is: Musicians are just people that make music. That is all. There is no reason you shouldn't be a "profeshionalish" musician. In all the internet debate there were fans who would have given anything to be on stage there. Nearly everyone was offered the chance to learn the basic musical skills in Middle School and High School. Many have but didn't keep up with it as they grew older for what ever reason. You can go back! You can pick up an instrument for fun. If you play out take professional pride in what you do and show up on time, do a good job and say please and thank you and help out where you can. That is what professishism is all about.
Postscript: I held on to my payout for a while trying to find something good to do with it. I considered instrument purchases, repairs, lessons with people I know and am in awe of. What I finally decided on was passing off to a friend of mine and AFP fan who is going on a long, solo burlesque tour. He's thrown some work my way having me do sound/stage manager/bunny work with his troupe, taking me along on a short tour before and I wanted to say thanks with a little extra to keep him safe through his coming big adventure. I feel good about that, it will be kicked back somewhere else by inspiring someone to do something brave or even just knowing that there will be that many more smiles around during his shows.
Post Postscript: I think the charts got corrected by later shows but I earned my money that night by correctly reading through Sibalius transposing in a single measure an A Bb A# and A natural incidental and other such nonsense.