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Topic: Lounge Pianist Business Questions

  1. #1

    Lounge Pianist Business Questions

    I have decided to ramp up my repetoire and try for part time employment as a lounge pianist. I'm not going for "piano bar" situations but, rather, lounge playing which is more for setting an elegant ambiance rather than entertaining enibriates sitting around the piano yelling out requests.

    Fortunately, here in San Diego there are a number of swanky resorts, restaurants, etc. that have lounge pianists playing on pretty decent house grand pianos. Can anybody help me out with the following questions:

    1. Are there BMI/ASCAP fees that have to be paid by the restaurant/resort for playing compositions not in the public domain?
    2. If I play sheet music versions of compositions (my goal is to memorize not read while playing) is there a problem with copyright laws
    3. Do the songs I play need to be my own arrangements thus avoiding any royalty/copyright law issues?



  2. #2

    Re: Lounge Pianist Business Questions

    The establishment pays a "blanket fee" to ASCAP and BMI is they have live music or play the radio or CDs. (And if they don't they can actually be barred from playing any music on premises).

    You don't have to worry about the rest, but a lot of the lounge peeps will not play sheet music arrangements. They will generally memorize tunes like jazz players from Real Book lead sheets. That way their performance is different every time and they can play a song longer or shorter.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  3. #3

    Re: Lounge Pianist Business Questions


    I played "lounges" and "hotels" for about 25 years and from my
    experience I post my answers (in my opinion) to your questions:

    1. There is an ASCAP/BMI fee "requirement" that should be paid by
    owners of public places where entertainment is employed. It's not
    a biggie, but most places pay it to conform.

    2. Well, certainly if you play an "arrangement" of anything, the
    arranger is due some sort of credit. In my experience, if I played
    a specified arrangement of anything, I always gave VERBAL credit
    to the arranger. I haven't heard of anyone ever getting sued for
    not paying a fee for playing a piano arrangement.

    3. Whatever you play SHOULD be your own arrangement for some
    obvious reasons. First, it's yours (original) and not someone else's. Secondly,
    your arrangement should be a lot better than "stock" sheet music.
    I used to collect tunes in a little 6" x 4" card stock booklet. I entered
    the lyrics and chords above them. This is good because if you ever
    need to provide lyrics, you have them, but it is also a crutch for
    chord progressions when you are performing. I used to carry about
    2,000 tunes in my head......all my own arrangements and the people
    were very satisfied. I had a great following. When they read where
    I was performing, everyone would show up in the first week or so if
    it wasn't too far away. For music that does not have lyrics, I used to
    make xerox copies greatly reduced, just as a reminder in case I had a
    mental block. I also used to practice all the latest tunes IF THEY WERE
    GOOD. Not all new stuff is................

    So, take these things with a grain of salt. You don't have to pay the
    BMI/ASCAP fees and you should have your own arrangements.

    Good luck on your quest for public performance. It is a satisfying
    job for you as a performer, but you will never imagine how great an
    effect your music will have on your listening public. Some people have
    many problems and look to music for solutions. You can be that mental health practitioner........really.

    Jack Cannon--Toshiba laptop, 2.8 GHz CPU, 1.5 GB RAM, GPO4-JABB3-Auth. STEINWAY-Gofriller CELLO-Stradivari VIOLIN-COMB2-WORLD, FINALE 2009/11, RME Digiface, Cardbus, V-Stack---Mac Pro 2.66 GHz CPU, 8 GB RAM, DP 8, MOTU Traveler, MOTU Micro Express.--MacBook Pro 2.2 Ghz CPU, 8 GB RAM.

  4. #4

    Re: Lounge Pianist Business Questions

    Thank you Jess and Jack. Great feedback and suggestions. Jack, I visited you website a listened to some of your music and found your playing and arrangements very elegant and inspiring. Beautiful playing. I think I will be in the "shed" for some time! 2,000 songs you learned? WOW!

    Thanks again for your great responses.


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