Will NOT Work for Free

work for freeWhen a person says that they specialize in something or that they do something professionally people are quick to take their word for it and pay them whatever price they are quoted? But when it comes to musicians, people ask them to work for free, or to lower their price? Some may even try to make it sound better by asking bands to “donate” their services for a “special” event that will provide them with great “exposure”. All musicians have heard these words before.

The truth of the matter is it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to prepare for a live performance. One person can charge thousands of dollars to coordinate a wedding with no problem, but a band of at least five people can barely charge $500 without being challenged. Maybe people regard live music as an afterthought that they don’t really want to pay much for. I read a blog recently that described live music as the “background noise” to events. To some degree, this is true. While people are eating dinner and mingling, the live music is simply filling the empty space in the room. Later, people are more into the music; they dance, sing along, and make requests. Most of the time, musicians have to perform during a 3-4 hour event. This means, the band arrives at least two hours before an event begins, to load in, set up, and soundcheck. Then, the band performs with maybe two 20-30 minute breaks between sets. Once the event is over, bands have to tear down their equipment, load out, and sometimes still have to struggle to be paid.

It is a musician’s job to learn a plethora of songs and strategically place them into an order that will get the people excited and feeling good. It is a musician’s job to find rehearsal space and rehearse shows with bandmates. It is a musician’s job to travel and to deliver an amazing service to the purchasers and to connect with an audience to make the experience pleasurable. Because it’s a job, musicians must be paid for their services.

Some musicians are full time musicians and their sole income is based on live performances and merchandise sales. Why take food out of their mouths by not paying them for their services? Why deny musicians the necessity of paying their bills and providing for their families?

My manager made a great point, recently. He said that the only people who are in the music business are musicians themselves and music teachers. Everyone else has another agenda. Club owners want musicians to bring their following to their establishment so that the club can make money off of food and drink sales. Promoters want to make money off of events. So, they need you to bring your following to their event so that they can charge them at the door and make a cut of the bar and food sales. Recording studio owners want to make money off of the overflow of people who claim to “do music”. So, they turn on the mics, hook up the headphones, and charge by the hour. Don’t get me wrong; some people are actually music lovers and want to see live acts succeed. But for the most part, people are in it for the money they believe they can get out of it.

I honestly believe that there are too many people who throw together a band and perform just because they want to be popular. This means, they will work for free (or slices of pizza) and not think anything of it. What this does is make it harder for those musicians who run their bands like a business to demand professionalism from purchasers.

As a musician, I am taking a stand and saying, we will NOT work for free. Our work is important. We are passionate about what we do, and we put a lot of money, time, and effort into honing our craft. If you don’t want to pay for our services, hook up an iPod to the sound system and enjoy your event.

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