Joni Mitchell caught this in her song For Free:
“He was playing real good for free. Nobody stopped to hear him though he played so sweet and high. They knew he had never been on their T.V. so they passed his music by. He was playing real good for free.”
I’ve been fairly loose in my bookings since I moved to CT from PA in 2001. I’ve haven’t been insistent in asking for a liveable wage for a musician, but I am lucky that I do have other good paying gigs that I can take chances with these opportunities and learn/study about this larger artist/commercial context.
When I was uprooted from PA to pursue family life and obligations in CT, I welcomed the chance to recast myself as a professional folk performer, apart from my Godfrey’s connections, relying on my chops as a player.
At that time, I decided that I should sow my business seeds and not limit my gigs to the prices I had developed in PA. Open mikes, etc. That was a good thing. I enjoyed being a ‘stealth musician’, surprising folks with my repertoire and performance skills. It helped me hone my craft.
Recently, I’ve been dealing with my gigs at the Allentown Fair. The Centennial Stage features local acts, but are all freebies. Almost all others are artists that need exposure and are willing to work towards that.
I am not an arrogant fellow, but when I booked these gigs, I asked the booking lady why she couldn’t find some kind of corporate sponsorship from some company. $50? “This is the way we do it.”
So, I signed up for three sets on Labor Day Week. Why?
I need to play. My art and craft is in performance. interacting with a live audience, using my repertoire and performing skills to shape some kind of community. It’s in these situations that I am alive and connected with the universe. That’s pretty basic. There seems to be no price on that.
I do enjoy the myth that I’ll sell some CD’s and get my card out to potential clients. Those times have disappeared with the collapse of the economy in ’08.
But, on the positive side, I try to balance the artistic juice I absorb in these situations against the potential financial gain I deserve. I always land on the performance side.
Some gigs are no-brainers, like my Philly children hospital visits with Ansel and other obvious benefit gigs. But some gigs should reflect a basic respect (and that includes a financial nod) of the artist in our community.
So it goes in this modern capitalistic society.