Friday, March 27, 2015

Stand and Play!

Steel pans are a physically demanding instrument. Just getting instruments to and from gigs can take a toll on any pan musician or group. But there is so much more to the instrument. "Playing" steel pans is just as physical. It just makes sense that the better you use your body, the better you play.

One of the struggles of steel pan players is where to stand in relation to their pan(s). Here are some suggestions from the website MyPanyard:

1) Pans should be position waist high,
2) Give yourself about five inches out from the pan to allow for movement,
3) Feet planted firmly on the ground.

We have found at the Steel Pan Collective that keeping elbows at or little above waist high works well too. Using foot mats are ok because they take some of the pressure off your feet. Keeping pliable knees and loose shoulders also prevents strain and injury. Staying limber and loose is one of the keys for getting the most out of your steel pan playing.

MyPanyard offers specific suggestions for tenors, doubles, guitars, quadrophonics, and basses. General resources such as the Musician's Way also offer suggestions that will help you play better and for longer.

This is the season when our steel pan gigs and performances pick up. Events and festivals, like the 2015 Pan People Music Festival, are chances to showcase our talents. Making sure your body is prepared for the season will make sure your performances are the best.

Friday, March 13, 2015

How Different Steel Pan Gigs Pay

"Music is spiritual. The music business is not." - Van Morrison

McDonald's recent decision to now pay bands for playing in its SXSW Showcase was huge. The reversal comes on the heels of a scathing Facebook post by one of the bands, Ex-Cops.  The post offered a blistering account of how the company asked participating bands to come and play for free.  In return, bands were promised increased exposure. After intense public pressure, McDonald's finally got the message and backtracked. The whole situation is another reminder of that age old problem artists face - getting paid.

It got us thinking about our steel pan community and how we survive when it comes to gigs. It doesn't matter whether you are a seasoned professional or a community band playing a local farmer's market. You have to be compensated for your time, talent, and effort. Here are a couple of thoughts on the types of gigs steel pan musicians run across.

Paying Gigs
It is a very simple concept. You show up, play, and someone pays you money. Hopefully, it will be in a currency you recognize. How and what amount varies on the arrangement and event. Typical arrangements gigs range from by-the-hour to a flat fee. Paying gigs are most common for weddings, private parties, concerts, festivals, etc. The promoter will often times pick up your expenses if the event is large enough.

Pay can also vary based on how much business you can bring into an establishment.  You might see this when working with clubs and bars. The person doing the booking is banking on your band bringing in enough people so they can make a profit on the food and drinks sold.

Gigs that pay in food, access to special services, or the promise of future gigs are riskier. You are in essence paying for free in a gig that is making money off your talent. Those kind of gigs can suck the life out of you. And when it comes down to it, promises and free food don't pay the rent. Here are a few tips on negotiating the best deal.

Pay for Play
Pay for Play is without question one of the most controversial gigs available. The Steel Pan Collective is not a big fan or supporter of any deal where you pay the gig to perform steel pan. We believe you should be paid or understand upfront it's a volunteer event. Pay for Play is not a win/win for everyone involved. Someone always goes home a loser and it is usually the musician. Look at it from the event planner or promoters point of view. Not paying performers makes for a better bottom line for them, especially if they charge the public AND the band.

The only time you should pay to play is if you are taking lessons or if you enter a steel pan competition. Your payment might come in the form of fees on the front end for the latter.  However, those fees are another expense steel pan musicians and bands have to cover on top of travel and accommodations.  This ultimately cuts into any profit you hope to make.

Pay for Play gigs are ones you should be particularly careful about. Websites like offer some additional hints to look out for.

Volunteer Gigs
These gigs are the kind you do for a good cause or a specific non-profit. The event is not expected to be a huge revenue generator. The promoter ends up shouldering the burden of raising revenue through other means like sponsorships. Some non-profits or special causes will offer some kind of payment to musicians in the form of a small fee, T-Shirts, merchandise, food, or access to other events.

The difference between Pay for Play and volunteer gigs are the reason for the event. In a volunteer event, everyone participating believes in the cause and it is their way of showing support. Organizations like Musicians on Call take it a step further and organize volunteer musicians to go and play for hospital patients. Your performance at a volunteer gig furthers the cause of the organization and makes you feel good too. Your payment comes in the form of a good deed.

So what has been your experience? We would love to hear what makes for a good or bad gig when it comes to getting paid. Drop us a line at

Thinking of going to the 2015 Pan People Music Festival? Bring a friend and we'll see you in Denver.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Top Three Reasons for Playing in a Steel Pan Band

"Band members have a special bond. A great band is more than just some people working together. It's like a highly specialized army unit or a winning sports team. A unique combination of elements that become stronger together than apart." - Steven Van Zandt.

The Steel Pan Collective is a community of steel pan players and band members. Everyday, we hear and see stories of why playing in a steel pan group is so special. It doesn't matter whether someone is a solo steel pan player in a jazz group or one of of many players warming up for Panorama, there is an appeal and attraction to playing with others.   Here are our top three:

There is a special bond among steel pan players. We don't talk about it. It is a feeling. We know we are doing something cool, something unique. We cheer each other on no matter what.  It could be in rehearsals, traveling to a gig, or performing on stage. Steel pan players belong to a special musical family. And like any family, no matter the ups or downs, the love shines through. Watch a steel pan performance on YouTube. See what happens when players make eye contact with each other. Chances are you are going to see a genuine smile come over them. They share a love of playing steel pan.

Overcome Risks Together
Getting that new piece of music can be overwhelming. Once a steel pan group overcomes the initial shock, they get to it and learn the piece. It takes time. But bit by bit, note by note, they find a way to get through it. We help each other figure out the hard parts. Steel pan players will play a piece  several times until it sounds right. Even our best professionals iron out the details. They too, will practice something over and over again.  And that's ok because steel plan players are truly invested in creating the best sounding music on the planet.

Shared Learning
Learning steel pan has changed little since its beginning. Many of the early players learned by rote. That tradition continues today. Most players are shown the notes and the pattern to play. They watch others over and over again before trying it themselves. When a difficult part comes up, the ask someone. Eventually they get it because its a supportive, learning experience for everyone.

Part of Something Bigger
There is nothing like being in a steel pan band. It is one of the best parts of playing. Your growth happens because you have a chance to be a part of something special, something bigger than yourself.  That is what steel pan is all about.

Those smiles will be on display at the 2015 Pan People Music Festival. Come and see what it is like to be part of a steel pan band.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Denver's 2015 Pan People Music Festival

Registration is now open for the Denver 2015 Pan People Music Festival. We are looking forward to showcasing the steel pan talents of musicians and bands. The musical performances are open to the public and are free. We will also be offering the chance to attend the SPC networking reception and dinner as well as the film Pan! Our Modern Odyssey. Those two events require an advance ticket purchase.

We are so excited to host the upcoming 2015 Pan People Music Festival in Denver. It promises to be a great event. The team is working hard to get preparations under way. We are especially excited to be holding it on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver.

Our partners for the event is University of Colorado at Denver's College of Arts and Media. Luckily for us, they will be holding their summer camp for high schoolers during the same time. The camp is called Lynx and is part of the Lynx National Arts and Media program. For many of the camp attendees, it will be their first exposure to steel pan. We love sparking some interest. Who knows? Some future players may come out of it.

We were especially excited to already see our information up on When Steel Talks, the website for steel pan news around the U.S. That was cool.

Be sure to continue to check our site for the latest info. Don't forget to register too!

Hope to see you at the 2015 Pan People Music Festival.