We’re probably stating the obvious here that a lot of musicians have been asked and continue being asked to play concerts for free. It’s become customary that we see music as a free commodity. On the other hand, musicians are professionals who, in order to create quality content, have spent years honing their craft and money buying gear. To address this conundrum, we had a chat with Jeppe Lindegaard, a musician from the Low-Fi community, who has been at it for years.
Jeppe started playing guitar when he was 10 and continued studying music all the way to the Conservatory. Only to be admitted there, you need to put in numerous hours of practice and if you get in, your work doesn’t stop, as you need to practice and study continuously.
After finishing his studies at the Conservatory, Jeppe continued on a slightly different path but still strongly connected to music—sound design. He studied music through a different lense such as the way sound affects us, our minds and bodies.
Yet, even after all these years working as a professional, Jeppe still has to face some odd reactions when he asks for a specific amount to play a concert. The purpose of this interview is not for Jeppe to complain about the unfairness of the music business, but to hopefully shed some light on what kind of effort and work is behind what people see as a final product.
How do you describe your music?
Jeppe: I call it folk-pop and rock. My musical inspiration has its roots in the singer-songwriter genre, in the country scene, but it’s also connected with Nordic pop music. I get a lot of inspiration from pop and synth-pop melodies and then I combine it with some instruments from the American scene—acoustic guitar, electric, baritone guitar and drums.
How long did it take you to acquire all of your gear?
J: Well, that changes from musician to musician and depends on how much you earn playing music. For instance, there are people who play big shows, had a massive hit or have a good job on the side.
In my case, I’ve saved over many years. I bought my first guitar when I was fourteen. I bought it for 10k DKK back then and the amp for 2k DKK. Since then, I’ve been adding up because it’s like a work in progress.
When you’re studying, even though you’re working on the side, it’s a bit of a hassle, or maybe a luxury, to save money. I even had to borrow money to buy some of the stuff. When you’re committed to music, you need to invest in an instrument that really suits you. If you play a guitar that doesn’t suit you soundwise, it will affect how people see and hear you, because that sound may not fit your fingers or who you are and what you’re playing. It’s very important that you get an instrument that suits your style.
What about the studio space? Is it very costly here in Copenhagen?
J: I rent this space from someone and I do share it with someone else. That’s about 6.5k DKK per month. When I recorded my solo album, I recorded it here because I could do most of the work here. But there were parts where I needed to record with a drum set and this space doesn’t provide this facility. Ultimately, I had to go to another studio, and rent that space for a few days together with a drummer, so that was another expense on top of everything. I produce my own music, so luckily I didn’t have to ask anyone else for help, but some musicians do need a producer and that’s quite an expense as well.
What about advertising and album covers? Is that a huge expense for musicians?
J: The good thing about being a musician and having kind of a creative network, is that you often know someone who can help you. If I was going to ask for help for my album cover, I would have to pay probably a lot of money for someone with an indie budget like mine. In my case, one of my contacts is a graphic designer and we have an agreement that I can use his services and he can use my services. You can’t get anything for free these days, and you shouldn’t, because that’s what I want for myself as well. I want something tangible in exchange for my work, so if I go and ask someone to work for free for me it wouldn’t be fair. That exchange of services came in very handy and I’ve been lucky to have friends who offered to help me. If I had to pay for everything I would be bankrupt. I would have less than no money.
What is your opinion about playing for free in order to get exposure?
J: I think there should always be an agreement where both parties get something. If you can’t offer money, then you should offer me something else, e.g. a gift voucher, real publicity or the opportunity to play a bigger gig. There needs to be an agreement that works both ways, because “playing for exposure” isn’t really a currency. For example, if you play for free, and someone at the gig asks the host how much it costed to book the band, and they hear that you played for free, it might set a precedent.
What instances did you come across where people didn’t understand why you ask so much for your concerts?
J: I come across the following situation: I get asked how much we need for a two-musicians show and I say 1.5K DKK. The usual reply is “Can you do it for 1k?”. I don’t see a lot of respect for how much musicians ask for. When a lawyer asks for 2k DKK on a legal consultation, no one questions it. But we do question how much professional musicians ask for.
People will always try to get the price down and sometimes it can get a bit annoying in the long run, because you’re constantly forced to defend yourself and what you’re asking for. Musicians are quite sensitive people, at least some of us. You’re constantly negotiating. You’re not only a musician, you’re suddenly doing business and it gets a bit tough when you hear “Oh, that’s too much…” too often.
So, how do you learn how to set a price for your music? Do you have any criteria in mind?
J: I look at how much effort I’m going to put into this. For example, I recently had a gig in the city center. I had to bike to the city center (around 10 min from where I live) and I had to be there 15 minutes before it started. I played 8 songs, stuck around for a bit and talked to people afterwards, and then I just went home. It was super comfortable for me. That’s one of the instances when I’m willing to compromise.
However, if I have to play with a group, we need to organize, rehearse, plan how to get there, sort a lot of details, then I might not be as willing to settle on a lower price. If I had to play a concert that’s a few hours away from Copenhagen, then I’d definitely charge for the amount spent there because I put more hours of my time into it. So there are a few things I’m considering when negotiating: if I play solo or with a band, proximity, number of songs, if there’s a song request, etc. You need to tap into different aspects of that particular event.
What does it actually entail for a band of four to prepare and perform a concert?
J: First of all, we spent a lot of time preparing a set. Then we need to figure out the setlist, and we need to customize it for that event. If we have a request for a song, then we need to rehearse that as well. We need to rehearse in all instances once or twice before a gig. In our case, since everything is acoustic, and we can carry our instruments even in the bus, we don’t have any issues with transportation, but if you’re a bigger band then you need to figure out car rentals as well. Then we would have to set up a meeting with the host, date and time, concert duration, sort out schedules because we usually have to be there 30 minutes earlier.
There’s a few hours right there. And for each hour of concert, we spend around 5 hours preparing for the concert and playing the actual concert. Not to mention tons of work on music before that.
Ideally, we’d like to settle on the date of the concert at least 2 weeks prior to the concert. It’s easy if it’s just me to confirm a date, but it gets complicated when there are four people who need to coordinate and synchronize schedules.
What determined you to sign up on Low-Fi?
J: I signed up because I got inspired by Karsten Kjems hosting a concert at his house and managing the whole event by himself. He suggested that I’d give it a try as well. And so it happens that we have a room in this building that’s perfect for this concert format. Shortly after, I decided to host and play my own concert right here. And it was a really good experience!
How would you describe your Low-Fi experience?
J: Ok, let me start with this: I remember my first solo gig at a bar downtown Copenhagen and it was quite horrible. I mean the concert went well, but when we got there the sound guy had called in sick, and the bartenders couldn’t care less. They just told musicians to figure it out themselves. And it was just so unpleasant to feel like no one really cares about you when you come to play a concert. You feel like a thousand have been there before you and that no one’s really listening to you.
So, I thought that if I invite people in my space, I can create a great atmosphere in a cosy environment. That weighs a lot in the way people experience music because music isn’t just notes and words, it’s a full experience.
Soft chairs, drinks in the fridge, some nice lighting and comfy rugs, just like a living room. I wanted to give my audience a more homely and calm experience than the stress downtown. The connection you have with your audience is totally different. In the Low-Fi setup, it’s more down to earth, and people are encouraged to participate in your concert. It’s a feeling of being together in a whole different way.
How would you describe your hosting experience?
J: I spent quite a lot of time to rehearse for an 8 songs set, so it must’ve taken me about 10 hours to rehearse. In terms of organizing, I just created the event online, bought some beverages, set up the concert room which took probably a couple of hours. I also did a bit of advertising for the concert, some posts on Facebook and Twitter. I must’ve spent 1 month promoting the event.
What does music cost?
J: First, there are the instruments, and the insurance that covers your gear. There’s the studio rental, which can be like a second rent, and then there are album costs in terms of mixing and mastering. And then, there are of course many, many years of practice and many hours of study and blood, sweat and tears. Every instrument that I have acquired, and everything that’s in my little studio, boil down to who I am today and what comes out of my guitar when I play.