Work For Free Musicians

work for freeWork for free? I am an advocate for paying performers, musicians, singers, etc. for their time, talent and commitment to perform when the gig/venue is a for-profit, money-making entity. Providing live music is a valuable service and deserves financial compensation when those around the musicians, from vendors to security, are getting paid/making money.

Sadly, there are too many people today who just assume that they can ask their friend to have his or her band play their event “for exposure.” That’s just a nice way of asking you to work for free. These gigs typically involve a lot of work, from practicing songs beforehand to loading up a truck full of gear to bring to the venue, which then needs to be set-up, tested and used for the performance. And these days a lot of places want a band to play for a THREE or FOUR hour period. “For exposure.”

Work for free?

What really irks me is when someone says, “There’s no money in the budget to pay the band.” But there’s money to pay the local newspaper $600 for an advertisement? And there’s money to pay the security guard, bartender, waiter/waitress, cleaning attendant, sound tech, and/or vendors?

If you do take a gig “for exposure,” oftentimes it goes like this: you get the honor of performing outdoors in hot-and-humid weather for a crowd that’s barely paying attention to you. You put your time, energy and effort into “bringing it” and 5 out of 50 people are listening to your music. The rest are chatting away, drinking heavily, etc. People all around you are “on the clock” and will get tips and/or a paycheck when you’re done, and you? You MIGHT get offered a bottle of water or–gasp–a free soda or beer! Typically, though, the venue manager barely notices you’re there and you’re pretty much left to your own devices. Sadly, you’re lucky when you get a spoken “thank you” after your gig from whomever’s “on duty” at the time, assigned to watch you in between their checking their smartphones and wandering away to their office for most of your set(s).

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No matter what I write here, there’s going to be singers and bands who work for free and so I’m probably saying stuff that falls on deaf ears. However, for those paying attention, heed my advice: don’t work/play music for free for a for-profit entity. Performing live music is not a charity. It’s a service which draws a crowd and makes a place more lively, exciting and interesting. Know your worth. Take jobs that pay well and avoid the rest if you know what’s good for you! –Mark Weber

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