“A performer’s reputation is enhanced by or diminished with each musical interaction.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 306
I suspect that almost every skilled musician has been asked to perform free of charge, often by people and organizations that can afford to pay.
If you normally earn fees to perform, here are strategies to help you handle such requests productively.
5 Ways to Handle Requests to Perform for Free
1. Set Standards
A basic standard that I use is this: If event staff will be paid, the musicians should be paid.
For example, if, at a fundraising event, the piano tuner and caterer earn professional fees, so too should the musicians.
“If event staff will be paid, the musicians should be paid.”
2. Convert from Free to Paid
Sometimes people seeking live music lack experience and don’t understand what’s appropriate. In such cases, we might describe the comprehensive musical services that we provide as well as the rates commonly charged by professionals.
We can also explain that we performers invest heavily in our training and equipment, and that we incur financial, time, and opportunity costs to perform – costs such as for transportation and from tying up dates when we could be hired to perform elsewhere. Occasionally, we might help cash-poor organizations access grants and corporate sponsors to cover our fees.
3. Dispel Myths about “Exposure”
It’s often worth donating or even paying to get specific exposure, such as to perform a showcase at a booking conference. But general exposure at a gig seldom generates any return on our investment.
For more thoughts about that, see David J. Hahn’s article, “When to Take an Unpaid Gig.”
“General exposure at a gig seldom generates any return on our investment.”
4. Trade for Valuable PR and Advertising
Although general performance exposure may be worthless, if an organization’s event will generate abundant media exposure, we might execute a contract stating that, in lieu of a fee, the organization will credit us or our groups in all of their ads, printed materials, and notices.
5. Be Courteous and Professional
Ideally, whether we opt to perform or not, we should pique the interest of those who contact us and entice them to become our followers and fans.
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In sum, if we earn income from making music, then we might periodically donate performances to causes and people that we care about.
But if we give away too much, especially in contexts in which other professionals are compensated, then we inadvertently teach our communities that live music isn’t worth paying for.
© 2015 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © bikeriderlondon, licensed from Shutterstock.com