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First gig for free?

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by LowendinFL, Sep 7, 2008.

  1. I currently play in a cover band which hasn't played out yet.(neither have I). However we have been rehearsing seriously for about 6 months. We normally practice 3 days a week. We have developed a solid set list of about 40 songs. (good for 4 hours of entertainment.)

    We collectively decide to go out and find one of the local bars to try and get our first gig. So I go to one that I frequent occaisionally and talk to the owner. He says he is booked up through the end of the year, but if we want to "audition" we can set up and play on a monday night, tuesday night, or saturday evening before the scheduled band plays. He says I can't pay you to play but I'll buy your drinks. I told him I would check with the other guys and get back with him.

    I call up our singer, (who seems to call the shots) and he says thats the oldest trick in the book. He says we are not playing for free. I just think we need to get our name out there and at least see how the drunkards respond to our choice of songs.

    So what do you guys think? This is all new to me so I just want to get some opinions of more seasoned guys (and gals) here. thanks in advance.
  2. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    if he wont book you for a real gig without an "audition" I would play an hour set before the regular band just to show that you can play.

    Otherwise I'd just book the first night you can. and do the same in other places
  3. crimson_basser


    Jul 9, 2008
    Endorsing Artist: Spector Basses
    whatever man, it cant hurt to play one show for free
    almost all my shows have been for free
    and im fine with that

    everything will come in time
    i know that here a lot of opening bands dont get paid, and they often have to sell tickets and do promo and such
    but thats just one scene...

    but for me, just playing for people and getting the bands name out there is enough
    money is a bonus if i get it
  4. Revvv


    Oct 31, 2007
    I have played more free shows than paid ones. Most pro musicians have as well.

    Sorry, but music is cheap entertainment.
  5. I agree with your singer.

    An originals band doing shows for free is OK as they need the exposure and promotion and there isn't an existing market for their songs, plus it's kind of set up that way.

    A covers band doing a show or shows for nothing undercuts working cover bands that did the hard yards to get the good gigs. It also lowers the market value of cover music in your area and creates an expectation among bar owners that music can be had on the cheap, or better still, for free. They already act like they are doing the musicians a favour by allowing them to play in their venues and add a significant % to the bar's takings. . .

    After seeing how long you guys prepared, I personally think you waited too long and should be too good to be starting out for free. Even with only 2 productive hours per practice you're looking at an investment of about 160 hours per member, not including personal practice at home. Then there's the transport to and from practices...hiring the studio etc.

    Crunch those numbers with everyone in the band then justify pitching your first gig as a free one to the guys.
  6. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    It's the people playing for free that create the expectation that musicians don't have to be paid. :mad:

    Try going to a local restaurant and asking if you can eat for free on your first visit to see if you like the place. You wouldn't even ask - because the expectation of being able to do so doesn't exist.

    Club owners know there's enough bands around trying to get gigs that they can often get them for free. Even better, bands just starting out are likely to try hard to fill the place with friends and family - more punters for the owner to sell to that night. Double bonus!

    I'm always amazed that people think it's a good idea to go and play for nothing to get "established in the venue" or to "try out the set" or to "build up a following", and then six months later wonder why there's so little well paid work around. Well, duh...

    Tell your singer that I think he's well clued up.
  7. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    If you trust your ability to do a good gig, don't accept to play for free. Here's what I'd do: Grab a mobile recording device, like the Zoom H-2, record yourself on a rehearsal, burn the tracks onto a CD and give to the bar owner. Work from there, but don't accept to play for free. Ask for at least $150 per band member, if he doesn't accept that (he IS running a business and he doesn't want to lose money on you), you could back to $100, but further down I would not go if I was you. (This is with the assumption your gig payments in Florida are about on the same level as they're here, and that you don't have to travel any longer distances to get to the venue).
  8. TheXym


    Oct 19, 2006
    Bassybill speaketh the truth here.

    I'll play for free for a charity event, but otherwise it's a paid gig. I also play organ for a church - paid gig. Funeral service? paid gig. Wedding service? paid gig. Even if it's a friend (I may reduce my rate and give them a cash gift that offsets what they pay me, but it's not a free gig unless it's my choice). I have a set rate for members of the church where I play which is lower than for non-members. If I have to rehearse with a vocalist, it costs more, and I reserve veto power if they're unprepared or vocally incompetent. I've also been asked to play quite a few times (it's in triple digits) at other churches. In many cases I get paid more than my flat rate after they've heard me.

    Once you give your services away, you've lowered the bar on the pay scale for everyone else who's trying to play, as well as hosing yourself long term. You may "get your name out" but, mainly as suckers who'll play free or cheaper than you should be. The only time I see the free play as being remotely OK (and I still don't like it) is as an entirely originals band, but I've seen enough bands be able to get gigs for pay without having to give up the freebies.
  9. Your singer is right.

    Particularly because you are a cover band, you should be paid. If you were doing originals, maybe I could see it. The thing is, no matter who you're covering, there will be people there who will know and like the stuff you're doing. And that means the bar is making money.

    Tell the bartender no free "auditions."
  10. JKT


    Apr 30, 2007
    Buffalo NY
    Endorsing Artist: Barker Basses
    If you're looking for another "old dude perpective":

    Playing a whole gig for free is not good business.

    It de-values everybody elses efforts.

    It often is "the oldest trick in the book"

    What IS good business:

    Arranging to sit it for a short (and killer) set before a regularly booked act at the club you want to work at.

    Offering to play one or more dates at a reduced rate in exchange for the bookings. Be CLEAR that this is a special introductory offer. Get your people in there, get them spending money, and making noise.

    Taking it one step further and working with the club to put on a formal showcase. This may take some dough but it can work well on a number of levels. You get to invite club owners and other people you want to make contact with. You will need:

    a ticket deal with the club


    some form(s) of advertisement

    3 killer sets

  11. Standalone


    Jan 17, 2005
    New Haven

    My band has done a reduced-price first show type of deal. This has garnered our quirky 6-person group 3-4 (or more) $100/per - $125/gigs every month. Free is a stretch, though. See if the venue is doing any charity events... tell them you'd make an exception there.
  12. Being from the UK like my good self, you of all people should know that most venues expect bands to play for free, particularly in smaller towns etc :rollno: Big towns and cities it's not so much of a problem obviously, but even then the payment is often vastly disproportionate to the effort but in by the band and rarely covers costs before each band member gets a cut. I wouldn't be so hard on those bands that play for free, after all, venues exploit the fact that bands need exposure, so they can get away with not paying.
  13. mophead

    mophead Supporting Member

    Oct 24, 2004
    Texas Panhandle
    Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

    Works for bands too. Once you do it for free you have just set your price as to what you think you are worth. Don't haul your stuff for less than $100 a man.
  14. jgroh

    jgroh Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2007
    IMO, its a double edged sword. Yes, as a cover band, you probably shouldnt play for free. But, since you guys need experience and exposure its going to be hard to say no. And, it sounds like this bar has more bands than it knows what to do with so you can either try another venue or not play at all. If it were me, I would suggest playing a very short set, like no longer than 30 to 45 minutes. That is more than long enough for an "audition".

    While I agree with the others that have said not to play for free and it undercuts other bands, it can be hard not to at least try to get some exposure when these bar/club owners have tons of other bands to choose from.
  15. Joel S.

    Joel S. Reserved for future witty use...

    Jul 9, 2008
    There's a place out here that without a proper recording of your band, they want you to plan an open mic night to see if you're worth booking.
  16. namraj


    Feb 7, 2008
    do the gig, free drinks, have a good night.

    The real way to make money as a cover band though is to play weddings and parties because they'll pay through the roof and you won't have to audition.
  17. Mojo-Man


    Feb 11, 2003
    One of the bands I play in, is a cover type band. ( no original tunes)
    We do wedding, private parties, and clubs.

    When booking a club gig, we bring a CD.
    We work with the club manager, to find out what type of music
    goes over best in there club.
    And offer to play a short set, for the club, to prove we can play.

    We never play a gig for free.
    This in the long run this will, de-value the band.

    If they don't like us, don't hire us.

    If your playing for expression, and to create.
    Ok, go play for free, or even, enjoyment.

    If your playing to make money, get payed.
    Define what your band is, before you go to book gigs.
  18. Lazylion

    Lazylion Goin ahead on wit my bad self!

    Jan 25, 2006
    Frederick MD USA
    This is a lie. "I'd rather not pay you" would be more like the truth.
  19. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    I agree with the replies myself. I have gigged for 4 years in a tuff market in cover bands and we run into a club once in a while that trys the old play for free hire if we like scam. If thats the case the bar shouldnt charge for drinks or food while your playing for free right? Free music free entertainment and free food /drinks? No way! If you guys kick butt for free have em dancin and stayin he's makin money and you get the shaft. The bar already said we are booked for the year so if you do play for free and kill it ..so what you wont see a gig for quite awhile. Tell him you will be a on call band in case one backs out set a fee and leave a CD.

    I have no problems in a tuff market with working with bar owners or managers on first time gigs fee's etc but free ..never!
  20. eotpr


    Jun 25, 2007

    What about getting hiim to charge a cover and giving all of it to you guys? You still get ripped off but not as bad. Have someone sit with their door man and count the patrons.

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