Local Music Makers
Green’s my Favorite Color. I admit I’m jaded.
Lucky for me, green’s my favorite color
Anyone reading this, who is less than 55 years of age, should know that it’s a natural part of the aging process to become at least a little jaded.
My duty is to work through what makes me dark in places. Talking about, writing about whatever’s bothering me is necessary. Therefore, I offer up this opinion piece pertaining to ageism and the ever changing dynamics of the music industry.
In 1985 I was 28 years old and living on my own in Austin, Texas. I formed a 4 piece Blues band and we recorded a demo, analog-style in the warehouse of a small print shop where I worked during the day helping people self-publish their books. A friend took some pictures of us and we had 8x10 glossies made.
Not far from Morgan Printing, was one of the most famous streets in bar band history; 6th street near downtown Austin. For a solid week, the drummer and I canvassed venues, dropping off portfolios containing a cover letter, black and white glossy, song list and cassette demo. Meeting venue owners and booking managers in person is how I took serious hold of my music career.
At that time, the onus for filling rooms to capacity was on the venue. Their success rate was often consistent with the quality of the entertainment they booked. I targeted the venues who scrupulously booked the best local bands.
And thankfully, I got on their rosters and in their rotation, paying my dues with week night residencies. Weeknights morphed into weekend dates and opening for touring acts at the bigger venues.
Promoting was done in a grassroots way. ‘Posting’ meant taping handmade gig posters up on every street corner a week beforehand. Reposting was when you’d have to replace them because it rained or someone taped over yours with theirs.
Talent scouts were out in force any night of the week there in the “live music capital of the world.” Those of us who played out regularly lived in hopes that someone from whatever record company or national booking agency would choose to attend our gig.
Actual in-human-form-followers paid cover charges to hear us play live and in person. If there was a line out the door of your venue, the talent scouts would notice. Now talent scouts are called ‘influencers’ and can be any Tom, Dick or Harriet, who vet artists by measuring how many views and subscribers they have and how many playlists they’re on.
There’s no doubt I’ve been fortunate to win some awards and travel a bit because I’m still diligent in creating opportunities for myself, despite the rapid pace at which ways of doing things change. I’m still paying my dues and pounding the pavement after 44 consecutive years leading bands, producing and co-producing specialty and themed shows.
Some of the local prestige that I humbly accept and appreciate is based on the art of my pitch and the undeniable prowess of the professional musicians I staff for these gigs and shows. These extremely talented people range in age from 25 to 75 and doing shows with me has helped them pay rent, give back to the economy and supplement their Social Security checks.
And while I may sound like a prima Donna to some, I wholeheartedly believe that musicians at, near or above my age and our baby boomer fan bases should be celebrated more than we are. How dare we ask to be treated specially? It certainly isn’t because we feel privileged; but because we feel invisible.
Younger band mates of mine have actually been questioned by friends and musicians their own age, as to why they sometimes perform with me. I’ve watched young people enter a room full of dancing seniors and immediately walk out once they’ve assessed the demographic.
The conversations and interactions that do go on within a group, who are various ages, are the conversations I want to be part of. They are robust and enlightening to say the least. No one involved in these interactions escapes without learning something new.
I believe future old people have trepidation with people over a certain age like me, because along with our wrinkles, gray hair, hip replacements and older followers, is the realization that none of us make it out of here alive.
My theory is it’s going to take people from every generation, willing to work side by side to hopefully begin to change mindsets and end ageism. After all the UN says that ageism is the last acceptable bias and that it’s high time that it receives the same standard of scrutiny as other forms of discrimination.
The movers and shakers within the local music system are doing all their fine work during a time when population and tourism is at an all time high in WNC. Those of us who were making music when they were in diapers or taking music lessons, deserve more exposure and a leg up from the ones who control outcomes, I respectfully but strongly feel.
While statistically, male musicians over the age of 50 have received more respect than their female counterparts, from a local standpoint these notoriously privileged seasoned citizens can also be squeezed out by the younger sect and the younger-skewed entertainment media.
Here’s another aspect of life as a seasoned musician that’s troubling to me. When I was starting out in 1976, the words: social, media and platform all meant totally different things. This new way of communicating on a minute to minute basis is exhausting to participate in and at times it feels toxic.
It never ceases to amaze me that for the crux of us who use social media to promote ourselves, a post about our dog gets more traction then a post about an upcoming show. Sure there are exceptions, but for those of us who rely on social media to put butts in seats, it can be discouraging.
For some entertainers, promoting ourselves seems inauthentic and boastful. I used to struggle a bit with just how to word a pitch to a booking person, making sure it would be something I would actually say about myself out loud.
These days, a musician is expected to be a braggart. But to me, bragging is different than exploiting successes by mentioning them as a way to attain booking dates and garner more fans.
I consulted with a marketing person recently and she told me I’ll be more successful at growing my fanbase if I make it about them. That’s a shift in thinking, and at the same time it makes all the sense in the world.
Whatever the creators of social media platforms intended for them to be, these are now places where people go to express feelings. Subject matters run the gamut and reflect how far or how deep people will go to convey dismay, air their grievances and wax poetic about their beliefs.
Some rightfully call out the cruel, cowardice and hateful commenter who is protected by the veil of anonymity. But there are fearless feelers out there too who are also fearless free-thinkers. They’re using social media platforms in culturally useful ways. They stand ready to take on the naysayers. It’s these brave feelers, thinkers and doers that help change mindsets. Some of them are out there right now, taking on ageism.
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at