Music in Kuwait – A Working Musicians’ Perspective
Published on June 10th, 2013 | by Caesar (ENGAGE)
I’ve known Mike Seals for a while now and the one trait about him that always sticks with me is his never – ending supply of positive attitude toward his goals and objectives. He inspires me on many levels (Not just music wise) and so it is an honor for me to share with you this exclusive piece he wrote for us, sharing his valuable experience as a working musician in Kuwait.
Exclusive article by Mike Seals
June 10, 2013
I have two bands in Kuwait; the Kuwait Jazz Trio and the rock cover band, Bar None. I believe we ‘work’ as much as any musicians in Kuwait can, with the Jazz Trio playing two or three times a week, and the rock band normally once a month. Kuwait Music asked me to write up something about how we got to be where we are, and how we get the gigs. So, here goes…
In my opinion, especially in Kuwait, it’s important to know the rules of what is considered ‘acceptable’ and what isn’t. As I understand it, any group that has vocals will have, at best, a difficult time finding a venue to play, and at worst, will never get to perform. It all depends on the license that venues have to get prior to having any performance.
My Jazz Trio is strictly instrumental, so getting a license that allows for singing is not an issue. The rock cover band, on the other hand, doesn’t play any instrumental music; all our songs have vocals. Rather than have the venue try to fight a losing battle to get a license that allows for vocals, we focus on playing in venues that don’t require a license, for instance various embassy functions, and for the US soldiers stationed in Kuwait on the military bases, and a military functions. Bar None did play the grand opening for Planet Hollywood, but I suspect the license was issued only because of Wasta.
So, what can a band who wants to perform in Kuwait do to get the exposure and gigs that are available?
This is a very difficult question to answer, because there is no single answer.
First, I believe it’s important to approach this from a business perspective. Very few people have an unlimited amount of money to spend on equipment, advertising, and production. Over the last five years, we’ve worked hard to acquire the best sound equipment, best instruments, and best musicians we can find. Much of our equipment has come from our annual trip to the US to visit friends and family, or through musiciansfriend.com. The rest was purchased in Kuwait, but it’s critical to know exactly what you want, and how it fits into your band’s requirements.
Trying to work as a full-time musician in Kuwait will most likely not pay the bills. But this isn’t because of Kuwait. Working as a full-time musician most anywhere won’t pay the bills. I personally know a number of professional musicians who work as much as anyone in their geographic area, and it’s always feast or famine. In fact, I’ve bought a number of great guitars from players in the US who just needed the extra money to pay the rent.
We’ll never make back all the money invested in the equipment and instruments, but that wasn’t the purpose of the investment to begin with.
It’s important to have the best equipment you can afford because the difference in sound between a KD30 Ibanez guitar and a KD900 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster is very noticeable, and at the end of the day makes a huge difference in the quality of music you produce. So, from a business perspective, you have to realize up front that you’ll likely never get back the money you invest. We have nearly KD50,000 invested in quality instruments, sound reinforcement equipment, and LED lighting, not to mention the truck required to move it all around.
We’ve also found that it’s advantageous for there to be only one owner for all the equipment. Bands ‘break up’ all the time, and if your drummer owns the mixer and amps, then you’re in for a tough time if he decides to leave Kuwait, or finds another band to play with. That’s why, even though I don’t play guitar, I own more than 20 bass guitars, electric guitars, and acoustic/electric guitars. I never wanted our equipment, or lack of equipment, determine the direction of the band. That should be a result of the musicianship in the group, and the dedication of the musicians to their craft.
Eventually, though, it boils down to how you sound, and how you relate to your audience. Finding quality musicians isn’t easy, and keeping them is even more difficult.
What we do is pay our musicians for each rehearsal, as well as for the gigs. It can get expensive, and like I said, when you do the books, you probably won’t end up making a profit. It boils down to how badly you want to play; how much it means to you.
Choice of music is critical. I honestly don’t think any Heavy Metal or Rap artists will be able to find consistent venues in Kuwait, if any at all.
The best way to get gigs is to play gigs. The exposure you get every time you play is invaluable. Most of the gigs we’re playing now are a result of someone hearing us play somewhere else. We always have business cards and CDs of the band available to hand out if someone enquires about our availability.
Pricing is a difficult issue. We make good money on each gig, but by the time you pay the loading crew, the musicians, fuel up the truck, and replace any equipment that breaks or goes bad, it’s almost a wash. I’m happy with breaking even; I get a chance to play music with some great musicians, and that’s always the best part.
At the same time, we play for certain groups for free (US Military, etc.). But, even when the group doesn’t get paid to play, I pay the musicians for the gig. It’s my way of saying ‘thanks for all your hard work, and for doing a great job.’
We have music on our websites, not for download, but to listen to:
With the music posted on the websites, we can always refer anyone enquiring about either band to go to the site and listen to what we have posted.
My suggestion to those groups who can’t play publicly in Kuwait is to fully utilize those resources that are available to you: Kuwait Music, YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. Start your own website and put your music out there. No, it’s not the same as playing live and never will be, but again it boils down to how badly you want to play.
I want to quote Caesar Fernandes here. He said “Basically, the message from major organizers and people of power in Kuwait, to underprivileged musicians is: If you are not Western, operate from a Western embassy, Kuwaiti, or have people with connections to other people in power, you can’t really play on the big stage. It is NOT about how good you are as a musician.”
This was from an article in Kuwait Music earlier this year. (http://kuwait-music.com/articles-opinion/2013/01/performers-in-kuwait-and-the-great-divide). Unfortunately, for right now, in this place, he’s right. But, he also believes in change. We all should. If we quit trying, then we’ve given up.
No matter what instrument you play, or what type of music you play, there’s an audience for it. It’s up to you to find that audience.