Should you ever play for free?

Musicians should never play for free, and here's why.
  1. It lowers the overall pricing of our industry: most people can't tell much of the difference between good players and great players, therefore between free players and paid players.

    So many people ask musicians to play for free, disguising the offer by saying that it's in exchange of exposure or food. The more of us say yes to free gigs, the more the rest of us have to lower our prices to stay competitive.

    By the time musicians are tired of doing free work, it's too late, the rates have already gone down, and employers don't even consider paying money for musicians anymore. Get paid when you play, period.

  2. It never brings up better opportunities as we hope it would: this links again to the fact that many places try to get you to play for free by telling you that you'll have exposure, whether through allowing you to put your business card near by, distribute flyers, or play for industry professionals.

    Let's face it, people are not gonna grab your business card if you don't give it to them, and if important people are gonna be at the event, the event planners will want to make sure they get the best musicians, and they'll know that the best musicians come at a cost.

    And who would ever think that you're worth anything if you play for free? No one.

  3. We get taken advantage of: sometimes we think we can say yes for a good cause, let's say a charity event with a not-for-profit event. The event is in a hall and they have food, which is served by waiters.

    Well now let's think for a second: is the hall for free? Is the food for free? Are the waiters for free? No they're not, and so, why should the artists be for free? They shouldn't.

  4. We're already poor enough, thank you: Even when we do get paid, it's often not that much anyways. So we have to work tons of hours to make ends meet, if we even manage to make ends meet playing our instrument only.

    So playing for free takes away three things we deserve big time: paid music gigs, paid non-music jobs, and free time. 
When you play for free you not only screw yourself up, you also screw all the other musicians up. Fight the urge. Don't do it.

Picture from http://cashtactics.net/02/09/free-ppc-mentoring-apply-now.html 


  1. It's okay to play for free, in my opinion, as long as I can get up and walk away whenever I feel like it, don't have to play requests, or bring my instrument. So, in the final analysis, I agree 100%!
    from Dan in Florida

  2. If it's my regular "job", I say pro bono work once in a while to worthy causes is OK. If there's just not enough music work around to support yourself, time to move or change industries. This is still the land of opportunity, we all just need to be flexible and be willing to change as we are led...

  3. And let's not forget that biggest rip-off of the entertainment industry of all:

    'Jam Night'.

    This is a method where some cheap-ass club owner not only gets multiple live bands, with no breaks, for the price of a single-act 'host' (hey, somebodies gotta bring a P.A., and be ready to carry the show if nobody else shows up), but also hopes to put a few extra notoriously hard-drinking musicians in his house on a normally dead night.

    It would be one thing if you could attend 'jam night' and have a nice dinner (or at least a burger and fries), and drink free for a couple of hours in exchange for a couple of songs on stage, but 'jam night' not only expects us to play for free, but also expects us to throw a few bucks across the bar for the privilige.

    At least when you play a 'charity' gig, they usually feed you and your money is no good at the bar, and a donation to charity receipt saves you a few bucks on your income tax at the end of the year. 'Jam Night' does nothing but take, and gives absolutely nothing in return.

    'Jam Night' is nothing but a commercial business taking advantage of musicians, and no self-respecting PROFESSIONAL should have anything to do with them.

  4. P.S. and the PAID 'host', who spends all week pestering his friends to come out and pay to play is the biggest whore of them all.

  5. I agree and disagree, respectfully. I agree that any profession in which you have invested time, money, blood sweat n' tears, should have a financial return. No restaurant manager, taxi driver, airplane pilot, etc. works for free. Everyone needs to be able to support their lifestyle, and a world without music is a world one does not even WANT to begin to consider. That being said: even the best of the best in their profession know that giving back is essential for continued financial gain. I believe everyone should play for free a couple times a year, knowing that the time they are investing is being appreciated by their community and by people that really couldn't otherwise afford such a great experience. I believe it builds value in an individual knowing that at some point in time, they needed or will need a valuable service for free as well.

  6. I've run in to many young musicians who need the experience much more than they think they need the bread. There's much more to developing as a musician than stuffing your pockets. However, you do have to weigh the potential commercial gain of the venue against your time & talent. General rule, I don't play for free where others are getting paid.


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