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Musicians’ comebacks when asked to play for free

Whether you’re a seasoned musician or a new one trying to jumpstart a career, I’m pretty sure you are very familiar of “offers” from bar owners, filmmakers, friends…err, just about anybody  to let you play music for free venue, free drinks, exposure and everything else except monetary compensation. They believe that’s the way things should roll for musicians. They believe they’re giving you a big favor to showcase your talents. You’re one lucky chap, then! Here are the best comebacks by musicians who are enraged of these “hotshots” who are asking for their free services:


I am sick to death of your hollow schtick of the inevitable line “Unfortunately, there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law of the Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget. So you have chosen to allocate NO MONEY for music. [via]


Amanda Palmer Palmer put up a casting call on her blog seeking freelance musicians from each of the 30-odd cities on her tour. Here’s the catch: In this case, the players in question have to attend a soundcheck rehearsal and play the show… for free, paid only in beer and hugs/high—fives.

Here are some of the responses:
Amanda Palmer ask play free

Are you fucking serious?!!? I suppose you’re doing this tour just for the fun of it? Are YOU getting paid in hugs and merch? Oh wait, that’s right, people GAVE you money before you even did anything. I hope no pro musicians donated to your fundraising. If they did they deserve a refund.

Amanda Palmer comebacks

So, looking back at your ultra successful kickstarter and your request… Here you are, and you’ve raised over $1 million for your tour and album release. Here we are as musicians on foodstamps, maxing out their credit cards to keep the lights on, are hoping that we have enough money to pay next months rent, and have instruments that are in need of repair, need to be replaced, and even need to be insured. We are looking at you now and your request for musicians to come play with you for free, and most of us have even fallen in love with you and your music, and how do you think we’ll respond? We’re f*&king perplexed, agitated and disheartened, to put it mildly! What would you say to you if you were in our shoes? I have a pretty good guess…[via]


Definition of general exposure:

There will be a room full of people, and there will be you. You will play your music. It will travel through the air between you and the people, and the people will hear this music. In this way you will expose yourself to these people, and it’s conceivable that they will care one way or another.

But I’m telling you, this kind of general exposure is usually not valuable. If the situation is not targeted to the kind of audience that you are looking for, you’ll waste your time. Say you are a sci-fi string band and you get a call to play at a Star Trek convention – that is good exposure. But say the same band gets a call to play the Christmas party for a ladies luncheon group. Sure, it’s possible that someone at that luncheon will be a sci-fi fan and care, but the odds are not good. [via]


joke price of musicians

I’ll tell you what. Call the plumbers’ union and ask for six plumbers to work from 6 til midnight on Saturday night. Whatever they charge you, we’ll work for half.[via]


When you ask for a written-out agreement for what has been discussed between you and the gallery/dealer/client either, and A. he/she exclaims, “That’s not how we do business in the real world!” and makes you feel incredibly awkward for even asking; or B. Refuses to do it.

Run. Run as fast as you can from that place and don’t ever look back, except to warn your friends.

The truth of the matter is that contracts and written agreements are rarely used in the art world. This is not a good business practice, but it’s honestly what happens. However, if you want to have a written out agreement of what has been discussed in terms of pricing, commission, and so forth (and you should want this, at least early in your relationship with the person you’re working with), it’s your right to have it and no one should make you feel crappy for requesting it. [via]

When you get tons of “offers” everyday from people who want your services for free, it gets reaaaaalllly annoying and insulting to the point that you’d doubt the path you’ve chosen. Don’t. Just be wary of opportunists and say NO to giving free services not only for your career, but for other musicians who take a stand against “Free”. However, if you believe that the offer is too good to pass up (i.e. you’ll have the chance to impress key people), then by all means go for it.

artist quote work for free
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