If you want to make a living playing music, you have to make a living playing music!
As we head into Gloucester’s spring/summer/fall busy season, I’m glad he brought this topic up because that’s often when musicians are asked to play for free in return for “exposure.”
I don’t expect musicians to perform for free, because I don’t work for free. Actually, the last time I asked any musician to play without pay (except for passing the hat) was when Vickie and I were helping organize the first Block Parties in 2008, at which I played for free too. And that was only because everyone involved in starting the Block Parties donated their time. By last year (could have been 2012) the Block Parties had evolved to the point where the Block Party Committee raises money and pays musicians.
Don’t get me wrong, I do volunteer my time for various causes that I feel are worthwhile — and I sometimes work for trade. But in every trade case, I’m getting something in return for my work — something of equal value to the value of my work.
Next time somebody asks you to play for free, ask “What am I getting in trade?” If the answer is something like, “Oh, you’ll get great exposure,” my advice is just say no.
Lugging your gear into your car, driving to the venue, setting up, breaking down, loading your gear back into your car and driving home would be enough to demand some pay (at least what stage hands get). Then there’s performing, which (among other things) requires years of practice, tremendous dedication, a willingness to trust your artistic instincts and … talent. That should be reserved only for those occasions where the people who’ve asked you to perform value the fact that you’re digging deeper into the human soul than most people ever get and sharing what you find with the rest of us.
I could rattle off a dozen reasons why mere “exposure” is no where near enough compensation for performing — and the first one that comes to mind is that if you’re playing anywhere on Cape Ann, you can get plenty of free exposure right here on GMG and on gimmesound.com.
Plus, because you don’t want to play to an empty room, you’ll probably plug the event on your own social media pages, which gets free exposure for the people who’ve asked you to perform in the first place.
Feel free to share this post with everybody who asks you to play for free …