There’s been a lot of talk, almost to infinitum, about “Pay to play”. Every artist knows what this is: the artist pays the promoter or venue before they can take the stage. The payments can originate either directly from the artist or to be collected from the artist through the sale of tickets (aka pre-sale).
From the promoters/venue’s point of view, it’s necessary to protect and guarantee revenue. And many artists agree to take part in this system. Additionally, many artists do not buy-in to the idea of paying to play and, in the end, take whatever the venue gives them.
But, there are a handful of local artists who are playing for pay – and making a good living at it. I interviewed three of these local artists, Lee Perreira, Holly Kristin, and Pandy Raye – each have their own style, one exclusively plays covers, two mix in originals along with covers.
While local bands seek out gigs at bars and concert venues, these artists market themselves to venues such as restaurants and hotels – places where the audience is not of the drinking and dancing kind, but the eating and socializing kind.
“The music has to be engaging but not overwhelming”, one restaurateur told me, “our guests are here to eat and drink, to be sure, but they are also here to socialize with friends or hold business meetings, so while the music has to be entertaining, it can’t get in the way of the conversations.”
I had a chance to spend some time with music of these entertainers and I’m pleased to report that the music is anything but wallpaper.
Lee Perreira, who, in my opinion would take Mr. James Brown’s “hardest working man in show business” crown away from him, is a staple in and around town, playing on the stages of bars and restaurants as well as in concert venues. His “Blues-infused” style of rock and tenor voice is, without a doubt, original.
Pandy Raye, exclusively plays covers, but takes those tunes and makes them her own. She plays 4 to 6 times a week. One night it’s at a resort. The next could be at restaurant serving German cuisine.
Singer/songwriter Holly Kristin played locally for a handful of years, moved to Colorado, and now is back in the Valley entertaining patrons of bars and restaurants from Chandler to the West Valley.
I had questions. They had answers.
Frank: How long have you been playing guitar?
Lee Perreira: 20 years.
Pandy Raye: Since I was 8 years old (a looong time).
Holly Kristin: I have been playing the guitar since I was 13 years old. So that makes about 16 years of guitar playing! I grew up in a musical family so it was my father who taught me how to play.
What inspires you to play?
Lee: Two things mostly: The drive to become the best I can be and open up a world of limitless music as well as the honor and pleasure it is to play with other amazing musicians.
Pandy: I think it is pretty cool to do something I love and see other people love it too. It seems natural for music to be a major part of my life. I guess because I grew up with it in my house from the day I was born. It has always been a part of me and I try make the audience “feel something” with the music I play. In turn, that keeps me inspired to keep doing what I am doing.
Holly: I just love music. I have loved singing along to the radio since I was a little girl and growing up I loved singing other peoples songs. I still love it so much I take cover songs and attempt to make them my own.
Who are some of your earliest musical influences?
Lee: NIRVANA! That whole 90’s scene. I grew up with my mom and her 80’s music as well as my grandfather’s classical music. Quite a mix right?! But the 90’s music was my music.
Pandy: My parents for sure. They hung out with all of their music friends at the Grand Ole Opry back in the day. When you look at our family album from the early days, it is just amazing.
Holly: My first influences were Patsy Cline and LeAnn Rimes. As I got older I was picked on for having a country twang all of the time so I worked that out of my vocals and nowadays I sing more pop-inspired tunes.
How about now?
Lee: I listen to so much but right now. I’m on a Gary Clark Jr. and Aloe Blacc vibe now. Soulful and Bluesy.
Pandy: My parents always said, “I love all music, as long as it’s good”.
Holly: Alanis Morissette, Janis Joplin, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Adele.
You all are singer/solo artists. Have you ever been in a band?
Lee: I am a singer/songwriter, but I do full band too, like last night at Copper Blues! I actually prefer full band. I was in a local band called “Isle of Essence” for about 9 years before I went solo.
Holly: I sang in my Dad’s band, The Western Electric Band here and there since I was a teenager! I mostly play on my own but in college I sang in a country band called “Custom Country” for a year and we sang all over Arizona and a couple years ago while living in Colorado for a year.
Why did you decide to go solo?
Lee: Creative Differences… (He laughs) Easy answer but true. We went our course and I appreciate the laughs and tours and CD releases. We were brothers in arms for almost a decade.
Pandy: I feel more of a connection with the audience and can play more of a variety of music. Mostly because the band I was in, was more for a specific genre and getting the crowd to dance.
Holly: I have been mostly a solo singer. I like to play my guitar and sing and somehow I have been fortunate enough to get a lot of work in the Southwest. I also toured in Australia back in ’08 all on my own.
How does playing solo differ from playing in a band?
Lee: So much more pressure because you carry the whole thing. Playing with a band and with amazing musicians makes it easy. It’s like floating on top instead of being the only one paddling.
Holly: You don’t have to account for anyone but yourself and your equipment! Being in a band is a lot of fun but it also includes being sure everyone is available on a similar schedule and load in and tear down takes significantly longer.
Where do you usually gig?
Lee: Everywhere! If you check my website on Tuesdays it’s always updated by then for that week. I gig almost every night of the week right now. I do have a Monday Residency at Copper Blues 7:30pm-10:30pm.
Pandy: Resorts, corporate events, and festivals.
Holly: I play in Scottsdale often. I sing about 4-5 nights per week. I play a date or two in Ahwatukee, Chandler and Gilbert, AZ as well.
How long are your sets?
Lee: Anywhere from 1-4 hours.
Pandy: Usually three 45 minute sets.
Holly: Three sets 45 minutes to an hour.
Do you play covers during your set, if so, what is the percentage vs. originals?
Lee: At paid gigs it’s about 70% covers, 30% originals. At my gigs for original music I only ever play 1 to 2 covers.
Pandy: When I was in my band, we played more originals than covers in the beginning, because we would open up for National artists and really wanted to promote “our” music. Back about 6 or 7 years ago, my band switched to playing mostly covers. Now with my Acoustic Duo, we play mostly covers as well. Doesn’t mean there isn’t songwriting happening. My other singer/guitar player (Neil Bunker) has some great tunes he has written and I still throw a few lyrics down on paper once in a while as well.
Holly: I play about 90% covers and squeeze in my originals here and there.
When bands play shows, getting paid is not a done deal – you don’t have to tell me how much you get paid, but is it enough to pay the bills?
Lee: I make a living playing shows and make decent money. I just stay very busy playing over 300 gigs a year.
Pandy: Unless you’re a National act, a musician will not get rich by playing music. However, I am very lucky to say it helps pay a lot of my bills. Of course, I keep my life relatively simple without a lot of extra “stuff” to help make that a reality. Wouldn’t trade it for doing anything else.
Holly: I have been fortunate enough to work my way into a steady income from playing music full time for the past 7 years of my life and so far I have been able to pay the bills. For that, I’m very thankful.
What do you do for your day job?
Lee: No day job. Full-time musician.
Pandy: I help with bookings. I am the co-founder of AZ Chicks With Picks, President of Non-Profit CWP and also AZ Music Connection (helping musicians and venues connect).
Holly: Full-time musician.
What are your musical goals? Recording? Playing out more? Starting a band? Joining the circus?
Lee: Record. Write songs. Collaborate. Tour the world. Win multiple Grammys. Be respected by my peers in music. Cover of Rolling Stone. Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. #1 on the charts. I think that is a good start. (He wasn’t kidding…)
Pandy: Circus sounds interesting. (She laughs). Actually, I have been playing full time for the past 14 years. I never want to give up on live performances, but looking forward to continuing helping others with their musical goals and promoting events.
Holly: So far I feel very content with my life as a musician. I play music solely as a career and I make my own schedule. I am very happy and it is pretty amazing. I think in the near future I’d like to start writing for a new fully produced original album project. Who knows – I also might start performing a duo/Country music act with a great musician friend of mine.
So, I guess it’s not a myth – you can make a living at music. But after speaking with these musicians, it takes time, talent, practice, dedication and a whole lot of networking.
You can find out more about these artists below:
Lee Perreira – leeperreira.com
Holly Kristin: hollykirstenmusic.com