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Playing for free vs playing for pay


I know that it’s important to charge for professional music making; we don’t want our audience to think that all musicians should perform for free, when many of us depend on this income. When my harp group performs a formal gig, we always charge. But I wonder how many of us do, occasionally, perform for free as a public service? Me, I play for free at nursing homes and schools sometimes, sometimes at a local garden center. I just like the opportunity to share such beautiful music with people who also enjoy it. I view it as a great practice venue that’s low stress, and also good practice playing for an audience, who may or may not be attentive. How do others handle this? Do you feel every performance opportunity should be paid, no matter the venue?


I play in a group with two other harpist and I also play some gigs by myself. When playing at hospitals, care homes and church events, we play for free. It’s really good to have something to work (practice) for and it also gives our group more exposure. Playing for $$ is good, but if it is for a non-profit organization, they often don’t have funds for music.


This is a discussion that’s been going on since the concept of pay for musicians was invented. How much to charge and whether to do free gigs… if you don’t charge at all or don’t charge enough for your musical offerings, you deprive someone, somewhere of the pay they deserve because you took a job away or because you’ve given the impression that musicians don’t need to eat and pay their rent like everyone else. BUT there is no end to the myriad ways in which this can be argued and all the valid reasons for doing free gigs. IMHO do what you want. Every hard working musician needs to lighten up and accept that all careers come with some form of competition.


Here is my opinion on this question: If asked to play a bit of quiet music for a short amount of time in a hospital or a care facility, I would probably agree to that. One needs to consider their proximity to the venue. If I have to drive clear across town to the gig, then I will require pay. It all depends on the length of the gig, plus the person requesting your services. If a person is planning a nice party or dinner in their home, then they can probably afford to pay for live music. For many years, my music partner and I played many retirement centers and did request payment. Those people who live in those centers are paying through the nose to live there, so they certainly deserve quality entertainment. We received such great reviews from those, for whom we entertained, that they went to the activities director and told them they wanted us there at least once a month. If word gets around that you will play for free, then you’ll get a lot of calls for that. The great joy does come from playing the music, but the hard work is the setting up and tearing down of your equipment, plus driving and gasoline.