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  • Writer's picturePhil McDonald

Working for free - Should you do it?

Every now and again someone in the local area will organise a charity gig for a good cause. Live music events are always a good way of attracting a crowd and raising some money. It can be anything from a few bands in a local pub to a large open air event at the height of summer spanning a couple of days. But whatever the situation, one question comes up which causes a lot of discussions and sometimes even arguments. As a musician should you play for free? Tricky one. Let's discuss.


Firstly, let's look at the case for doing so. The biggest single factor is the charity angle. The event is trying to raise money for a good cause so paying the musicians means less money for the event. If the charity is something you already support and is close to your heart then by all means offer your services for free. Even if it's not something you would ordinarily donate to you could still play for free as it's good exposure, particularly if it's a big occasion with some bigger name acts further up the bill. With this in mind it makes sense to play for free, you're supporting a great charity and getting some good publicity and probably a few new fans too. A lot of people I know take this approach and I've played a few freebies myself. Some years ago there was a promoter who put on weekly shows for emerging artists and although there was no money involved it was well supported and led on to other things. It's the same with open mic nights. Great publicity and new opportunities. So playing for free? Considering all of the above, absolutely!


Hang on, it's not that straightforward. Let's look at the other side of the coin. Going back to the charity gig example, there's a lot more to it than just a bunch of musicians playing some songs. Depending on the size of the event there may well be security, sound engineers, catering staff etc. Are they all giving their time for free? Unlikely. So the argument goes that if other people are being paid, why not the musicians? For some reason, it's thought that artists are happy to give up their time for a good cause and are happy with the publicity. This isn't always the case though, I know of people who won't play for free whatever the circumstances. They're full time musicians earning a living from gigs and won't play for no money when other people are being paid for their services. Fair point. I'm reminded of a joke whereby a pub landlord asks a band to play for free but it will be great exposure for them. The band replies, "Great! our rent is paid in exposures,"


Whichever side of the argument you come down on it's important to remember there's no right and wrong answer here. Do what works for you. Maybe some free work is great when you're starting out but it's not something you want to be doing further down the line. Alternatively, you might always be happy to give your time for free. Do whatever works for you and remember to enjoy it. That's what this is all about right?








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