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Playing for Free

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by bignote, Apr 1, 2013.

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  1. bignote


    May 27, 2006
    Okinawa, Japan
    Hey all,
    I have something here that is bugging the heck out of me. When, if ever, is playing for free OK in your book? I just joined a small blues outfit full of great players. They have alot of gigs booked. The problem is every other one is a giveaway.
    Let me give you all some background where I am at on this. I have been playing for more than 30 years. I am now 47. When I was younger and times where evidently different, I made mad money playing my bass in bars, hotels, events and such. Long story short, I have been getting paid to gig since I was 14 in my Dad's country band. In the 90's I was able to make a comfortable living from playing.
    Flash forward to present day. My two kids have graduated college, I have a great paying day gig. I still love playing playing but I just can't reconcile playing for free in my head.
    I am on Okinawa Japan and there is a curfew in effect for the military. NO drinking off base period, plus a midnight curfew. As you can imagine, this has affected the club business seriously. But to play for free? What are your thoughts? BTW, Most club owners and managers here are sleazebags and use reasoning like "But you have a great day job and make good money at it" Thoughts?
  2. Playing for free is never ok. Unless someone else is moving all the equipment and picking you up and driving you to and from the show and providing you with free food and drinks. Then maybe its ok.
    rymiraflores likes this.
  3. Plucky The Bassist

    Plucky The Bassist ZOMG! I'm back from the dead! Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX

    and even then, they should be treating you like VIP guys for not making them shell out cold, hard cash for your services. What other entertainer just gets up there at a club and does a performance for absolute free with no other compensation (i.e. - NICE free food, drinks, and maybe free cover charge for some friends/relatives). The reason they play a free gig every other gig is because they began playing free gigs in the first place. Might want to find another band to play with, you don't want to get lumped in with the play-for-free crowd.
  4. Mtnman


    Jun 5, 2012
    Pittsburgh, PA
    ^^^Yeah, this^^^

    I've always said, I play for free. It's moving all that crap around and setup/teardown/travel that I'm getting paid for.

    Edit to add: If it's a worthy cause (charities and benefits), I think its OK, but just to line the pockets of some cheapa$$ club owner? No way!!!
  5. IPYF


    Mar 31, 2011
    If it's your hobby then it's perfectly ok to play for free. If it's your job then you might want to revisit your business model.

    Music has always been an expensive hobby for me, and playing originals has never made me a cent. If we get enough of a guarantee to cover the bus then that's a good day. This notion of always getting paid confuses me greatly. If we asked for enough money to cover expenses the promoter would hang up and promptly ring another band in our scene who would be happy to play for nothing.

    I know one act who got offered an international support who asked to get paid. The band and the promoter got blacklisted by the touring company because if you're not happy with a few free drinks plus the exposure, you're not getting the gig in this town because someone else will gladly step up.
  6. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    It's OK when you say it's OK. No one can force you to play for free.
  7. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
  8. nolezmaj


    Sep 22, 2011
    Playing for free can be ok if there is good reason. Charity comes to mind, doing a favor for a friend who is organising party, or owns a club, etc - personal reasons. Elsewise, no.
    If manager can't afford your band, offer him a discount until his club starts to turn money (decide on a time period, a month i.e, and stick to it).
    Your working night has expences, and he should AT LEAST compensate for those. Otherwise, you are in a minus.
    If you can't make a deal, it would be better to stop playing there. If you were good, he will call you soon - under your conditions ;-)

    One more thing to consider, every time I contemplate of minimal wage and haggle with manager, I think about professional solidarity. I have a day job, so I won't starve if I play for dead chep, but my price affects others peoples wages, and it is unfair to play "price dumping" game with other bands :-(
  9. bignote


    May 27, 2006
    Okinawa, Japan
    @knumbskull.....sorry, kinda new here.
  10. kai_ski


    Apr 14, 2007
    Wenatchee, WA
    Well, is it a hobby or a job???

    Hobbies cost, jobs pay.

    Personally, I just try to come out even. I'm happier when money is less involved in my music.

    Unless I'm a hired gun, then I expect to be paid and paid well. Club owners should pay SOMETHING. Hire someone to count the door and see what your draw is, then leverage that into your next negotiations.
  11. Caeros


    Jul 24, 2002
    Branford, CT
    I realize it's different within the punk/metal/DIY scenes than it is within the larger rock/blues/cover/etc scenes and that's fine. Many of the shows we play are specifically to give a gig to a band on tour and the majority of the door money (if not all if they have a decent guarantee or attendance isn't great) goes to them. Unless of course we are the touring/drawing band (or I booked the show myself) or one of the members needs gas money, then I make sure to hunt down the promoter and get a cut of the door.
  12. KodyAudette


    Apr 30, 2012
    Even if I'm organizing something for a touring band, I make sure that what is supposed to be happening at the door is happening and that the money that is due gets paid, whether that is to me (usually, then I distribute it) or to each of the bands. Unless it's charity or maybe a friend's party, there should be pay involved. I play mostly originals in Albuquerque NM, so granted the pay may be no more $300 or $400 to split between 3 bands, but that money is ours and it keeps us in the black if not the green.
  13. To the OP-

    Be prepared to get every answer imaginable from "I never play for free under any circumstances" to "I'm not in it for the money, I'll go every gig for free if I need to".

    And everywhere in between.

    A lot depends on your band and other members.

    I don't mind playing for free for a charity or other benefit. This Saturday night I'm subbing in on a charity gig for another band. No money for me. But the benefit is for suicide prevention awareness and the cause hits home with me, so I don't mind doing it. In May we're doing a charity motorcycle rally to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Again, I'm okay with it.

    Lots of startup bands will do free shows just to get exposure. Should they? I don't know. If I knew all the answers I'd write a book on how to run a band.

    You're well experienced so there's no need to lecture on what being known as a "free band" does to the market or paycheck for everyone else.

    For me, I can get behind charity gigs for a good cause. Other than that, I'm not interested. I've been down that road and it never ends well.
  14. theretheyare


    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification
    We were discussing this at my (door-) gig last Saturday. Someone quoted famous sax player J.R. Montrose who allegedly said "They can't pay me enough to make me play anything I don't want to play". In NYC I see stunningly good, brilliant musicians much better than me play for no money all the time. This works for me.
  15. JakeF


    Apr 3, 2012
    Charity events are generally cool as they are for causes I implicitly endorse.

    If the band is not making much etc. perhaps other factors are in effect. Such as you are playing in a blues band. In Japan. Not to mention the curfew etc.

    Perhaps the problem is the band(bad booking), the style (blues in Japan?) and the gorilla in the room, (the curfew killing businesses that would hire you). If it is money your after you should address the above issues.

    Some people still do okay playing, but they probably don't have major hurdles like the one's above.
  16. I'd play a gig for free if I thought I'd have a better time than not playing the gig at all.
  17. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    Almost anything that someone might do for a job might be done for free under certain circumstances - from legal work to sex, from computer programming to carpentry.
  18. JGbassman

    JGbassman Supporting Member

    May 31, 2011
    I've played for charity causes such as a sick person raising money for medical costs and for limited promotional advances for a project. In both cases I donated my talents for a better cause. If someone wants to hear me play for free they can come to a rehearsal or jam with me at a party. Otherwise my talent and time costs money. To have a club owner ask me to play for free while they make money from my services is incomprehensible to me. Just isn't gunna happen....
  19. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Even then it's not OK. Those club owners (just like the sleazeballs here in the states) are working you guys over. You are being used. But, then again, you already knew that.
  20. If you are in an unestablished band playing originals, you can expect to play for nothing or close to nothing, particularly in a major city. It's up to the individual to decide if gigging under these circumstances is worth it.

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