Play for free? Yes, if the right conditions exist.

As a musician, I receive requests every day to play for free for someone, some event, some charity, etc. I could play every day for an audience, if that is what I wanted to do. So how does one determine when to say, “yes” to play for free? Honestly, that decision must be left up to the performer, but I hope this article will help him/her make an educated decision.

There are thousands of charities/non-profits based in my local area, and I think I have been asked by every one of them to play for free for an event. While I do have some organizations that are close to my heart, I make my decisions each time based on a number of factors besides the emotional appeal. These questions are not just for charities, but also for any type of event where the asking party claims it is for “promotion.”

First – what’s in it for me? I know we as artists are not supposed to ask that question of a charity, but it’s the cold, hard truth that we have to pay our bills and feed our families. Are they willing to offer me signage/ad placement in the program/promotional opportunities where I can gain future work from paying clients? Are they willing to barter in exchange for something else they can offer that I may need (physical space for a student recital, video shoot, or a CD release party?) Is there a budget where the musicians can be paid, even at a discounted rate? Is it televised or recorded for additional promotional purposes that I may also use? Perhaps a mix of all of the above?

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