Why “Don’t Play for Free” Is Terrible Advice for New Bands

Many blogs about self-marketing and music production suggest saying no to free gigs. Artists shouldn’t play for free, because all that time and effort it took practising, writing, rehearsing, and promoting your music shouldn’t go unpaid. If you hire, say, a roofer, you don’t expect them to fix your roof for free, do you? And all this is true. Ideologically speaking, no artist should go unpaid. And while up-and-coming artists with one foot in the door of the local or regional music scene could actually benefit from such a stance, it’s poison for bands that just started.

In an ideal world, even the most unknown band would have plenty of opportunity to play, an abundance of excited and well-paying listeners just waiting for them to take the stage — and at the end of the day, everyone would get paid their fair share. Sadly, this is little more than a utopia.

The reality looks entirely different: if most amateur bands would stop taking free gigs, they wouldn’t play at all. If your local situation is anything like mine, finding nice venues that are willing to risk booking unknown bands is a blessing. Even without pay. Demanding to be paid a guaranteed fee is a way of ensuring that a new band will probably never play.

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