It's one of the most difficult questions for a musician, especially in the early stages of a career. But according to a just-released report by the UK-based Musicians' Union, a majority (60 percent) of musicians have made the decision to play for free over the past year.
According to the group, the decision is often made in hopes of receiving future work. "Working musicians face a precarious and competitive labor market characterized by a huge diversity of organizations that commission or engage musicians often for very short engagements," the report explains.
That would sound ludicrous in many other professions, but then again, other professions aren't as fun as music. Which means there are plenty of semi-professional or even solid amateur musicians willing to gig for free. Indeed, Amanda Palmer recently courted 'semi-professional' musicians to join the band for limited, free engagements, a move that stirred intense resentment from certain pockets of the performing community. The band of volunteers was eventually paid, but then again, they originally agreed to do it for free.
The backdrop of this discussion is even more unsettling, because even when the gig is paid, the pay ain't that good. According to the study, more than half (56 percent) are making less than 20,000 pounds a year (roughly $32,250), with one in five earning less than 10,000 pounds ($16,125).
That sounds similar to a recent, US-based study by the Future of Music Coalition, which found musicians earning an average of $34,455, with most complementing their income with non-music 'day jobs'. Of course, none of that supplemental, non-music work is done for free. Not in a million years.
The findings were based on a survey of nearly 2,000 musicians, most of whom are Musicians' Union members. The full report is here.
Kymaboy Thursday, December 13, 2012
60%? Who did they ask? The real number is more like 95%. Established artists do free work routinely. The new guys are expected to whether it's a live gig, advertisement demo, film or even cutting parts on a recording. Supply and demand... Depressing...
Jamie Thursday, December 13, 2012
You are full of crap dude. I ain't working for free, ever. Unless it's a fund raiser for a cause i care about or something, that's the only exception. People who play for free are hurting the situation. Why should a club/venue pay a band when people are willing to work for free? To those 60% of you out there- please stop!!
balbers Thursday, December 13, 2012
the music industry = hobby industry from here on out. Get used to it.
Jeff Robinson Thursday, December 13, 2012
And that plays out in the numbers from the Musician/Engineer Survey 2009. Over 700 respondents took this and look at the stratification.
Versus Thursday, December 13, 2012
Unless it's a charity or something similar, playing for free in a commercial setting hurts everyone. If the venue or employer is making money, then the performers should also.
Playing free creates a "race to the bottom scenario", and overall reduces pay for everyone. Furthermore, it will probably not help and may even hurt the free-fool's chances of getting paid work. My experience - and this is confirmed by that of many other colleagues who freelance in various fields - is that others tend to take one at one's own evaluation. If you think your own work isn't worth paying for, why would the employer think otherwise? Once you've worked free for someone, it's very hard to ask for pay and be taken seriously.
One other exception is an audition scenario. Just make sure it's a legitimate audition and not just a trick to get you to play for free!
Visitor Friday, December 14, 2012
Bring the union enforcers back and we'll see how many play for free.
Jake at Fair Trade Music PDX Thursday, December 13, 2012
Agreed with all commenters. it's probably higher than 60%, at least in the U.S, where both the musicians' union and performing for anything more than beer and a zero guarantee are considered uncool.
The articla I really want to see explores the question "So, are you getting a lot of great work from your free gigs?"
Anectodally, I've found that most musicians tell me they're usually offered more free work.
It's my job to talk to musicians about this kind of stuff, and this topic comes up a lot. I found out that the same things were coming up again and again. If musicians knew four simple things, we'd all be a lot better off:
1. The difference between a hobby and a service, defined
2. The underrated, liberating power of saying "no"
3. No band is an island.
4. Exposure kills.
In case you missed it, here's the link:
Feel free to click around the site. If this topic is interesting to you, you should consider finding out more about the campaign. We're through with being cool.
Bread & roses - Jake Pegg, musician,
coordinator, Fair Trade Music PDX
Visitor Friday, December 14, 2012
As a working musician this report rings true.
Compare and contrast this report with Berklee's report:
I guess the MU didn't read Berklee's report on the wealth of well-paid job opportunities available to musicians!!!
Cameron Mizell Friday, December 14, 2012
Here's something every musician should read.
"People die from exposure."
But there are definitely times when playing for free is the right thing to do, especially when it's a show that's in development and in exchange for playing an unfunded reading, you get the right of first refusal for future productions.
Comparing musician's work to a desk jockey is an unfair comparison. A better comparison is to that of an entrepreneur or investor, who has to do a lot of work for little or no money (or a loss) at the ground floor before building a successful business.
hippydog Friday, December 14, 2012
Playing for free happens..
but there is an easy litmus test you can do..
1.) Charity: is this a charity you would donate your own cash to? picture yourself writing a check to this charity for the same amount you would usually get paid.
2.) Easy or in exchange: tell them YOU have no problem working this one time for free.. but they have to provide the full production, and pay for incidentals.. AND YOU CAN ONLY DO ONE SET..
3.) exposure: tell them you will pay half of any paid advertising they do by discounting off your normal price.. IE: if they do $2000 in paid advertising (with your name in the advertising)you will discount your fee by $1000.0