Perform for free?
The answer to this question would have to be “Depends on the gig”. But I often hear non-musical people say “Musicians should be happy to play for free because they love their job.” Sure, there are always exceptions, like performing for free to support a good cause or for charitable functions, but in general I have a hard time accepting this statement.
I know a car mechanic who loves fixing cars, a guy who happily refinishes antique furniture, a math teacher who actually digs teaching, and a woman who adores her gig as a psychiatrist. Does this mean all these people work for free? I don’t think so, so why are some non-musical people surprised to hear that a musician should demand being paid a fair amount just like everyone else?
Musicians may love actually playing their instrument, but that doesn’t mean they are always satisfied with everything else surrounding their job. Maybe no one in the venue is paying attention, maybe they don’t get along with the band leader, or they don’t care for the song selections, etc.
So even though they may enjoy playing their particular instrument, the job could become unpleasant. Most musicians consider these problems a necessary step to get higher up the ladder – playing a larger venue in front of more people, earning more money, or eventually performing all original material.
So think about this scenario:
A person plays tons of gigs for 20 years, some good and some bad, and finally elevates to their own big sellout concert. Fans are cheering and everyone is singing along to the songs they know by heart. Who wouldn’t love to be in this position? But don’t forget all the years of struggling to merely get the CHANCE to play to these adoring fans.
At this rare point, I believe most musicians would then be “happy to play for free”, even though the reality is that this is probably the time he/she can make the MOST money in their musical life! Seems weird, huh? Does this mean that the non-musical general public making the statement about playing for free are correct after all?