The Value of Getting Paid

by SaskMusic

July 31, 2009 in Finding Money

Many musicians are asked at some point in their career to play for free. Whether it is a favour for a friend, a charitable cause or anything else, being asked to play for free is a commonly asked question of musicians.

I personally cringe when I hear of musicians being asked to play for free. Many years of dedication goes into the remarkable skill of being able to engage, entertain and create for people. We all know what the answer would be if we asked a professional in another field to waive income for their skills...and the answer most times would be no.

Many who are not musicians do not realize the sacrifice it takes to become an "entertainer", so they have no perception of value when they ask you to do a "free show". I am not asking anyone to turn down the opportunity, just to question how sacrificing income will advance your career. Sometimes the prestige of playing an event is worth the financial sacrifice, or the future work you can receive from a freebie is justification enough, but sadly most times it isn't.

It is an easy argument to make that "any exposure is good exposure" - but if it comes at the cost of replacing your equipment, not covering your costs, or not truly advancing your career, is the exposure worth it? I think an agreement can be made that it's not.

Music is one the most under-valued commodities we have in the world. People develop strong emotional bonds with music. Music is related to many milestones in a person's life, from the first song they heard when they first fell in love to any number of memories that are associated with music. Imagine thirty minutes with no music. How would the world be then? So how can the association of music and memories have no value and the people creating that music have no value?

There is a value, and musicians should not be afraid to ask for this value. Once a value is realized maybe we can move beyond the stereotypes of "so you're a musician, what do you really do for a living?", or the starving artist stigma.

By Terry Massey for SaskMusic. Originally published Winter 2005.

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