Are you interested in booking your band for local gigs? Here are four reasons not to play for free.
With vaccinations available for free to everyone over 16 now, it seems that we may be poised for the return of live music this summer. Now, everyone go outside, stand six feet apart from each other, and breathe a collective sigh of relief. As you’re looking into booking your band for local gigs, you may (read: you definitely will) be asked to play for free. Below is a list of reasons why you should tell them to stuff it.
1. Exposure is a lie.
Generally, whenever the person booking your band asks you to play for free, they’ll offer you ‘tons of exposure’ as a consolation prize. When this happens, ask for literally any other consolation prize. Look, the right kind of exposure can be huge, but your big break isn’t likely to come from a show with maybe 100 attendees. And hey, if you just really want to play out live, you can always try booking your band for a benefit show. But if you really want to be noticed by the “right” people, hire a publicist.
2. You undervalue yourself and your craft.
Even if you’ve never played a live show before, the hard work you’ve put into learning your craft has value. Remember that you provide a service that the client needs! The reason that restaurants, bars, farmers’ markets, etc. feature live music is because it enhances the environment for their patrons. This means that although they aren’t making money off of you directly, they are using you to encourage their customers to come back again for an enjoyable experience. You are playing a role in the future success of your client, and that, my friend, is huge.
3. Booking your band for free shows devalues your peers.
The reason people expect musicians to play for free is because musicians continue to play for free. Even if you don’t need the money, by accepting gigs without pay you attach a dollar value to your peers – and that dollar amount is zero. By agreeing to play for free, you’ve given the booking person leverage; they’re now able to tell the next musician asking for pay that ‘well, so & so played for free last week!’. You obviously don’t think your fellow musicians shouldn’t get paid, so stop setting them up for it. Remember, if your peers are grumbling about you they won’t feel too eager to include you in future lineups. You could actually hurt your chances of booking future gigs by playing for free.
4. The principle of the matter.
People don’t ask contractors of other disciplines to work for free. The expectation of free work seems to be exclusive to artists, and we have the power to end it. Remember that your time, skillset, and equipment all have value, and you deserve compensation for that. As the gig economy reopens, we are presented with a unique opportunity to change the attitude surrounding the value of the arts; and it starts with reminding organizers of our own value and the value of our peers. Remember that power lies in perception. If you present yourself as a professional worthy of pay, people will treat you as such. As an added bonus, you’ve helped set a new expectation for everyone else, too.