The postcard in the picture above has been lying on the dashboard of my car ever since I left my hometown and hit the road in the spring of 2018, determined to live the life of a travelling troubadour without a permanent base of my own.
This wasn’t a rash decision or something I did on a whim.
It was a plan I’d had since the autumn of 2012, since I couldn’t resist the urge to write and sing my own material again, after years of playing cover songs in pubs, running recording studios, being a sound engineer on tour, teaching at the local music school for over a decade, or working with kids left behind in the rougher parts of the old home town.
It was a decision I made after much thought, after years of wondering why I was becoming increasingly unhappy with where and how I was living.
I couldn’t have done it without the network of friends I’d built up during my travels. It was never an easy way to live, but it made me happier than anything else I had ever tried.
The pandemic stopped me in my tracks and I found myself hunkered down on the shores of the Baltic Sea in northern Germany, the Secret Location or ‘The Barn’ as I like to call it.
Through the generosity and grace of the Barthel family, I was able to continue writing, recording and producing my music, and I tried to give back to the community there with my weekly live streams, which were open to the locals and even the public whenever the rules allowed.
And while “These times sure are a burden, and not what we used to know” – as I wrote in March 2020 with my better songwriting half Jen Hajj in the song ‘Bottled Gas & Kerosene’ – it was what brought me and us attention and recognition in the form of airplay in Ireland, the country that has felt like home to me since I first set foot on its soil on that memorable night of the Feast of St. Stephen in1996.
Things changed in the spring of 2022, when most travel restrictions were lifted.
I was able to stream the 100th episode of “Wednesdays live with Martin Praetorius” – a series of weekly live streams I started on 13 March 2020 – to a live audience from the beautiful Smock Alley Theatre in the heart of Dublin, and it felt like the dominoes I had been carefully setting up for years were finally falling in the right direction.
I was offered a house on Achill Island in Co. Mayo for a while, so I booked a ferry from France to Ireland and set off on another leg of my journey.
For the last 15 months I have been living and travelling around the country, working on getting my name out there, playing a few gigs, busking, getting to know the scene and most of all trying to finish this album that I have been working on for over a year now, 6 singles from it have been released, the latest one featuring the wonderful Blackie O’Connell from Clare on the Uilleann Pipes.
And yet this album seems to be hanging over my head like a sword of Damocles, with funds low and very little money coming in.
Be brave, I keep telling myself.
But times aren’t getting any easier for independent musicians, who are already reeling from a two-year pandemic, and people seem to be avoiding the smaller events of little-known artists.
In Germany, according to the renowned radio station WDR, around 65% of tours and events throughout the autumn and winter 22/23 were being cancelled due to slow and insufficient ticket sales.
The real reason often goes unnoticed, these gigs are cancelled due to “circumstances beyond our control”. Who wants to look bad on the web these days…
At this point in time, I personally do not know if I will be able to sustain myself as an independent artist much longer, no matter where I am or where I choose to live. This is as much about me as it is about a whole scene struggling to make a living from their art.
Gigs have been the platform on which many artists have built their careers over the last few decades. Record/CD sales are a thing of the past and very few artists can make a living from the pittance you get paid for streaming.
People’s attitudes to the performing arts seem to have changed once again as the pandemic fades: they have made themselves comfortable on the couch, and while COVID seems to be a thing of the past, they don’t go out as much as they used to. The smaller gigs, shows and venues suffer the most, while on the other hand people seem to spend hundreds of Euros to see the superstars, sometimes more than once.
And then there are those who still have tickets hanging on the wall for concerts that have been postponed several times or cancelled altogether. Add to this the general political situation and the resulting energy and cost of living crisis.
However, there is no denying that over the last 2-3 decades, people have become conditioned to think of music as something that can be had for free or for very little money, and the concept of carrying around access to the world’s music library on your phone for a tenner a month works mainly for those who provide the service, but not for the artists.
I am very grateful to those of you who have contacted me and encouraged me to carry on.
I would like to encourage you with something I wrote 15 months ago and a couple of times in between:
Go out and support the independent music and art scene, the band in your local pub or small venue (who are also trying to make a living), ask them for a record or CD instead of their Spotify link, especially if the entrance was free, and show these artists some love. Buy tickets to these smaller shows in advance, so the artists and venues have something they can calculate with.
Because every once in a while one of us is going to shoot up the charts and become the next big thing, to the delight of the press and the public, and everyone will love them.
But that can only happen if there is a solid ground, a base, a foundation for everyone else, where talent can flourish and people can actually make a living from their art.
So if you have the choice between another Netflix night in, or the chance to see and hear something new and beautiful and exciting, get your butts off the couch and fill those spaces and be part of something extraordinary: real life.
I am sure you won’t regret it!
Martin Praetorius from Germany is an independent singer, songwriter and travelling troubadour. He has been a regular visitor to the Irish shores for over 25 years. After several years of touring without a fixed base, he now spends most of his time in Ireland, connecting with folk and Trad musicians alike, learning, collaborating and exploring.