No More Free Gigs

If you wanted a plumber to come fix your leaking pipes on a Saturday night, not only would you pay for that service, but he’d probably charge extra because Saturday night is Saturday night– he’d rather be relaxing or partying than at your house! So why in the world do musicians and singers almost always get asked to do live music gigs for free? No more free gigs people– please!

By the way, I’m not talking about Beyonce and Jay-Z…they’re the exceptions–I’m talking the talented “no-names” in every city, town and village around the country (and the world) who take the time, energy, practice, and drive to learn songs and get up in front of crowds to entertain. If that’s not work, I don’t know what is.

I love singing, and I’ve recently learned how to play bass guitar. I enjoy music more than the average person. And as a performer, I’ll tell you this: it’s work. Hauling equipment from a garage to the truck to the venue, setting it up, testing it, plugging it in, adjusting it, taking it down, packing it up, putting it into the truck, taking it out of the truck, and storing it in the garage– that’s a physically-demanding job itself.

Next, lets consider this. Sometimes music makers are feeling really tired, or sick, or in a bad mood, but the show? It goes on. Drive miles and miles in terrible weather to get to the venue. Put your smile on and light up like a light bulb, even though you’d rather be home in bed resting? Yes, this happens. It’s work.

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I know friends of mine who do the bar scene, where they have to sing and play music for three or four hours with few breaks. That’s a long time to be “on.” And to do it for free? Um, no. No more free gigs!

You should try singing for one hour straight and see how you feel. It’s a bit of work– it really is. Singing is both physically and emotionally demanding…and draining. I say this not to complain, but to help people who don’t do it understand that it is, indeed, work.

Whether you’re performing for a couple people or a noisy room full of hundreds or even thousands of eyes on you, know this: you’re commanding people’s attention, and trying to hold their attention for long periods of time. Add to that, you’re trying to convey emotions and help people feel something. In essence, you’re giving a lot of personal energy to a crowd of people, and that is work.

Cashiers get paid. Waitresses get paid. Doctors and lawyers get paid– quite well. So why in the world do organizations, restaurants, and event organizers seem to think music makers can/will/should “do it to help us out?”

Um– no more free gigs!

I think the answer is that too many music makers have already given in and said “Yes.” Too many have offered to play for free, or beer, a meal, or $50 to be divided among 4 band members. Ridiculous!

no more free gigsStop doing live gigs for free, music makers. If someone contacts you and wants you to take time out of your life to drive many miles, bring and set up gear, get up in front of their crowd and make them feel something for an hour, or two, or three, then you are worth a certain amount, and you–yes you–set that amount!

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Got a trio and you each want $100 for your time? Ask for $300 for a one hour concert. You may do fewer gigs than before, but they will be quality gigs and you’ll feel more respected.

Your time, talent and energy is worth something, not nothing! Music transforms places. Music makers should be well-paid for adding great value to events, places and life. No more free gigs!

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One thought on “No More Free Gigs

  1. I play every gig for free. You can’t pay me a dime to play my guitar.

    I do however, charge for set up, breakdown, driving to & from the gig, and booking. In my opinion, THAT’s the work. I make my living doing all that.

    It’s not just musicians either. Anyone who does what they love has the potential to be exploited.

    I have a bunch of artist friends who complain of the same thing. Photographers have it just as bad…

    So I disagree. (sort of 😉 )

    I say, “Go ahead and play for free, but charge for everything else.”

    As a musician I don’t charge for my ability, I charge for my availability. If you hire me, you’re paying for my time. A square on a calendar.

    That line of reasoning puts them in a different frame of mind. Music is emotion, business is business. BE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS.

    When asked to do a gig for free, don’t be emotional about it. Say sure, but to get a commitment, you’ll have to pay “X” for it. There’s no emotion in charging for gas money.

    So charge for gas, mileage, PA rental, charge for the labor involved in setting up said PA, your TIME, and anything that’s business related. Even the most dense individual will understand all that.

    Learn to say “Yes,” more cautiously. Ask a ton of questions before any commitment. (charge for that consultation as well while you’re wearing the booking agent hat.)

    Your level of compensation should be directly related to their level of expectation. I always tell the people that ask me to show up with my stuff for free, “What I do is worth more than nothing.” 😉

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