Should I ever play for free? (for the D.I.Y. Rock Star)
Roughly follows Gab & Jam episode 214. Should I ever play for free? (for the D.I.Y. Rock Star)
This is one of those age-old questions that plague artists of all kinds. Should you ever play for free? Some of the ideas here have been cobbled together from personal experience, from podcasts, and from a book that on my iPod playlist, called Know Your Value; all of these are intended to make you aware of the implications, mindset, and, most importantly, some strategies for make sure you are earning what you are worth.
We love to play, so when we are asked to play, it is easy to feel flattered and for us to WANT to perform, no matter what. However, we have to remember that our GOAL is to be compensated for our artistic endeavors.
Gab & Jam episode 214. Should I ever play for free? (for the D.I.Y. Rock Star)
7 Things to Consider when thinking about “playing for free” (or giving your work away):
1. People value things that they have to pay for MORE than things they get free.
As a prime example, when the vaccines were free, folks were stealing them; now that they are free, folks are NOT going to get them. Also, think about the times you have volunteered to do something, but then you find out that other folks that have to be called in to do similar work have been paid. It can make you feel some kind of way that you are NOT being paid, but because you have given it away, there is no thought that you NEED to be paid. Think about this BEFORE you give away your time and talents for free.
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2. Just because you love doing something, doesn’t mean it should be free; it’s still work.
Even donating your time, talent, and energy to our church, for instance, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a value attached to it. If you don’t want to end up doing it for free forever, check around to see what that “donation” is worth. You can talk to peers—in your Facebook group, in forums—to find out that one can expect to be paid for this type of work, so that at least you know. You MAY decide to do it to add to your resume or for the experience of it, but just be AWARE that what you are doing has a monetary value to it.
3. Get SOMETHING in exchange for your talent and time.
Have you ever heard the expression, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? If you don’t position yourself as being at least your OWN treasure, there’s no guarantee that other folks won’t treat you like trash. We will go back to the concept of “free samples” that end up unused and discarded, when those designer, high ticket purchases that we make, end up celebrated and displayed. If you want to be revered, be careful about folks feeling like you’re giving away ALL that you have for free. –Ultimately, you may need to stay away from “free” work, so that you can begin to earn for your art.
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4. Definitely let them know what your price is (EVEN if you decide to do it for free).
We suggest, that, in order to do this, find SOMETHING they can do as a form of payment—they can share you (or your performance) on their social media, or they can give you/loan you a piece of gear, or you can barter for a different service/skill from them, and/or a letter of referral. Finally, a link on their website can be an incredibly valuable way to repay you for sharing your art with them. If you let them know that you EXPECT something in return, you are more likely to receive something of value to you, however, you set the value, so you NEED to go into the relationship letting people know that you expect something in exchange for what you offer.
5. Once you establish that they payment is “free,” you may NEVER get paid for it again.
We talk about this all the time, but you teach people how to treat you. That means that once you seem as if you’re free, it’s harder to double-back and GET anything for what you’ve done. It’s harder to re-negotiate, once your price has been “set.” You will find it VERY difficult to raise your rates (from free). You will need to be prepared to leave and/or not work with these folks anymore, which is one tip that is emphasized in Know Your Value. In fact, Mika Brzezinski says that this a key strategy for negotiation. However, she also says that folks who are not prepared to REALLY quit when they don’t get what they ask for, DON’T get what they ask for. Yet another strategy to help you earn what you’re worth is to approach new prospects and add excess to your current salary. For instance, instead of actually telling what you make where you’re at, pad your salary a little, so that when they offer, it is a nice raise and not a match (or just a slight bump). This has been a negotiating tactic that I have, personally, used often to MAKE SURE that a move over was going to be a move up. This is just one way to negotiate beyond “free.” –As a BONUS tip, one of the podcasters that I listen to suggest that instead of assuming that someone who wants to hire you pays you fairly, ask them “What’s your budget?” because that way, you can decide how much you will settle for, as well as letting them know that you’re not “free.”
6. You may have a freebie built in (your YouTube or SoundCloud content, for instance), but you should DEFINITELY charge for your value if you offer other things.
Through your readily available free content, folks can already get a taste for the type of work you do, so that when you showcase your masterpieces, you do not give that away—and folks don’t EXPECT that it will be free. For instance, we give away quite a bit of free songs—on Bandcamp and on SoundCloud—so that when we offer up Sugar Fit, our funk album, we do NOT give it away; however, you can stream it (but THAT’S free, because AT LEAST we receive streaming revenue). So, again, keep your premium content—your songs, your performances—accessible for a price that’s NOT “free.”
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7. Help “your people” understand.
It’s not that people are trying to be malicious—especially friends and family—but this establishes a certain kind of relationship. Ultimately, even if you DO decide to perform free, you want folks to know that they are blessed with your performance—and not that you’re just the easy, “free” option. 😳 –Nobody wants to be the free option…. 🤷🏾♀️ You want to feel that you’re appreciated—and NOT ready to be bumped by the first bigger, “better” act to come along. –We’ve been there and it’s not a good feeling. If you explain to them, as they are asking you, that you charge for such things, you will end up feeling better about the interaction.
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What we are trying to say is that taking all these into consideration BEFORE you engage in “free” work will help you leave a performance more satisfied and able to pay a few bills and feel fired up and energized to do more. These are just a few of the things we’ve learned over the years—from experience and from outside sources—for considering whether or not it is worth it to play for free.
What are your thoughts on this topic? We’d like to know. Leave it in the comments below.
Here are some upcoming episodes:
213. Goals for 2022
214. Should I ever play for free?
215. Learn how to be the Hero of your own story
216. How to Create a Music-related Content Calendar
217. Artist mentoring program insights revealed
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Until next Monday, here’s wishing love, peace, and chicken grease!