She proceeded to let me know that in the past they've had 'volunteer' musicians for such events. Then I seriously said, "I don't do volunteer performances unless it's a benefit concert for a good cause."
I think she was taken aback a bit, likely she just wasn't expecting my reaction. However, I explained my stance...
I told her that I used to take every gig I could get a hold of, when I was starting out to get exposure and experience, but that became tiresome and I had bills to pay so I couldn't sustain that pace for too long. At some point I realized that what I do as a musician offering live performances, on college campuses, in coffee shops or at corporate events is a service. I'm offering a service that enhances an event to entertain the audience with my brand of music. By entertaining the audience, the audience can forget their worries, even if just for a little while and just enjoy the moment.
I went on to use the analogy of a lawyer (I know it's a far cry from being musician, or is it?). I said an individual trains to become a lawyer for several years, first obtaining their bachelor's degree, then passing the LSAT law school entrance exam, then they pursue their law degree, pass the board around graduation time and are certified to practice law in a particular state. Part of the reason lawyers are paid what they are is because of their specific training. Well, in that respect it's not much different for musicians. Musicians spend years learning their instrument, writing songs, recording their music to get it out to the public in a tangible and consumable way, overall, perfecting their craft. Unfortunately, some think it's okay to devalue all that training and work by asking the musician to do pro-bono work. I don't know too many lawyers who would be willing to do pro-bono work for the majority of their career.
The point is, I'm talking about the business side of being a professional musician. If being a professional musician (getting paid for your work as a musician) is not your goal then none of this applies, but if it is your goal then here's my advice: Take what you do as a musician seriously, treat booking gigs and other such activities that have an exchange in value like a business, because that's what it is. If you're not getting paid what you are worth, or you're not getting paid at all and that's not the route you want to go with your career then you need to stop taking those gigs. By determining what gigs you will take, that will help you toward your career goals, and acting on that you're creating an impactful positive focus for your career and you will find success more quickly than others. Plus, by doing so, it educates those around you about your service and what's involved. I've found that as I talk with folks to help them understand what goes into being a professional musician they come away knowing something they didn't know before, and they begin to look at the same situation differently.
Music has a beneficial emotional quality to it, and it takes a lot of effort for a good artist/musician to be able to provide that service well, and thus they should be paid for it.
Posted by: Nick Venturella