This week an artist I work with was offered the biggest opportunity of their career so far, and I turned it down, and they thanked me for it.

One of the most important things I tell every artist I know is to never play a show for free. You’re providing a service, and it’s absolutely definitely one that does not come for free. From the hours you spend rehearsing (most probably in a space you have paid to hire, and using instruments that you would have probably paid for, and continue to spend on to keep in a good condition), the time and money it takes you to get to the show, and then the physical time you’re performing on stage, to receive nothing in return at the end of the night just isn’t cool.

I got an email over the weekend asking one of my artists to join an artist on their upcoming UK tour. Without mentioning names, let me tell you, this artist is extremely well known in the public eye, and has hundreds of thousands of followers online. The tour was seven dates long, all over the country in just a few weeks time. This was the biggest opportunity any of my artists had ever been offered and boy were we excited. I replied back to the email thanking them for the opportunity, and enquiring about all the logistics in terms of fees, mainly for travel and accommodation.

“There is no fee available for this slot” is what I got in response. From what could potentially be thousands of tickets sold during the tour, they can’t offer any financial support to the support artist?

On the one hand, this would have been an incredible experience, and the exposure would have been great, the genre fit was solid, and the shows would have been busy. But we would have also been majorly out of pocket, the artist would have been taking days off work to go on a tour for free, and we would have been spending the rest of the year gigging to make the money back, rather than gigging to enjoy playing. And that doesn’t sit right with me. So I told the artist, and the booking agent, that the artist wouldn’t be playing the tour, and that they were worth a lot more than that. And the artist thanked me.

No one who is serious about making music expects to instantly make a fortune, and a large majority of artists and people working for/with these artists are in the world of music purely out of passion. It has long been said that you are in the wrong place if you are in the music industry purely to make money. But asking for a fee for your time, travel and skill is absolutely more than reasonable. You’ve got to be covered. Just like any other creative industry, taking an opportunity for the promise of ‘exposure’ or any other metaphorical carrots on a stick is not only harmful for you, but for the health of the industry as a whole as it promotes the idea that this is an acceptable practice.

Instances where it would be beneficial to play a gig for free are very few and far between, however it can happen. This is quite common for things like charity events, but for others you have to be absolutely certain that non-financial benefits will outweigh the costs of playing. The decision to play, when you are independent at least, is entirely your call. And you must weigh up whether you think the gig is worth it, which means research.

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