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When should you be paid for performing?

01 Dec 99 - 02:50 PM (#143278)
Subject: When should you be paid for performing?
From: lamarca

This is a divergence from my question "When should you make a recording?" I'm looking for a philosophical discussion of the ins and outs of charging people to hear your music, with these questions:

1. When and how do people decide they're "good enough" to ask other people to pay money to hear them?
2. What do you feel you owe your audience when you ask for money?
3. What kind of material, repertoire and skill do you feel justifies asking people to pay to hear you, versus playing and singing and sharing music with friends?

We have been part of a wonderful group of musicians here in DC and up and down the East Coast, who get together at small festivals and gatherings all through the year to sing and play and share songs with each other. Some people in the group play professionally; others like us are "living room" singers and pickers.

To me, charging money is a big step. You seem to be saying "I am better than the rest of you at what I'm doing, and you should pay to hear me perform." When your social group is a bunch of fellow musicians of varying skill levels and musical abilities, this can be a source of divisiveness, envy and hurt feelings.

This is where the social aspects get murky - there are undercurrents of competitiveness and egos that you get anytime you get a group of talented people together (It was like this in all the community theater groups I've been a part of over the years, too). Whenever someone in the group decides to "go pro", there's always a bit of grumbling and kvetching from some of the amateurs (who are frequently just as talented) about chutzpa, and "Who does he/she think he/she is?" That's where I get the message that charging money is a value judgement.

The ability to start performing for money depends not only on talent, but on your ability to travel, time available, the ability to market one's self, who you know and your connections and a host of other factors that have nothing to do with how good a musician you are. Yes, musical talent is going to be necessary to attract and hold an audience, but if you have an 8-hr/day day-job, 3 week's vacation and a limited travel budget, it don't matter how good you are.

What you have to offer in repertoire is important, too. My husband's and my repertoire is composed mostly of songs we have learned from other people's recordings. Some of the songs we have arranged differently to suit our voices and to do as a duo, but we are not out "collecting" new and unheard material from books or primary sources. We pick songs we REALLY like, done by people we like and respect (like Art Thieme and Norma Waterson and Chris Foster and Daithi Sproule and Peter Bellamy and Martyn Wyndham-Read etc.), and try to do our best with them. I just don't think that we have enough "new" traditional or contemporary material that isn't already available done by other people to justify charging to hear US do the same songs.

My personal feeling is that you should be very good at what you do, have something unique to offer and be willing to invest your time, energy and enthusiasm in practicing for public performance before you can start asking people to pay money to hear you. I know old pros who stop bothering to practice, or get up on stage drunk, and just expect folks to spend money to hear them because their egos say "I'm so good I don't need to work at this..." (Is this more common in the popular and folk music field? You wouldn't catch Itschak Perlman or Yo Yo Ma saying "I'm good enough, I don't need to rehearse!")

How do those of you out there who get paid for doing what you love (see, I'm jealous already) put together your repertoires, deal with envy and backbiting, decide when something's "ready for prime-time" and just plain decide that you've got something to offer to a general audience, not just your friends and fellow musicians?

01 Dec 99 - 03:10 PM (#143288)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: InOBU

I think a good guage of when to play is as follows. When I was a law student, I was working with an old friend of mine, whose name, many of you in the US may know, Bill Kunstler, who, for those of you who missed old Bill, was the lawyer for Dr. Martin Luthor King, the Chicago Seven, and a host of others. We were working on an American Indian case, and the council chief offered to cover my gas money for driving Bill out to the reservation on a number of occations. I politly declined, as it is part of my Irish heritage never to take anything the first time it is offered (except drink when I had a liver). Bill excused us and took me behind the long house and said, Larry my boy, if I ever hear you turn down money again in my presence, that will be the last time you and I are seen together. Now this should be seen in light of the fact that Bill never asked for money to practice law in his later years, he concidered himself an amiture lawyer and professional poet... so the point is ... If they are ready to give you the gelt, take it. All the best Larry Otway

01 Dec 99 - 03:28 PM (#143291)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Michael K.

To Lamarca: ''How do those of you out there who get paid for doing what you love (see, I'm jealous already) put together your repertoires, deal with envy and backbiting, decide when something's "ready for prime-time" and just plain decide that you've got something to offer to a general audience, not just your friends and fellow musicians?''

When you sound as good as the records you listen to...every time you play.

01 Dec 99 - 03:36 PM (#143299)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Lady McMoo

I have a day job that interferes with my music so I will probably give a different answer to a professional musician who relies on being paid. I do both paid gigs and sessions just for the fun of it. My general rule of thumb is if they're making money out of me it's OK to expect to be paid!

My 'tuppence worth!


01 Dec 99 - 03:39 PM (#143300)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Marion

Just a thought... I have a friend who is a good musician whose band generally plays for money. She said that they won't play for free unless it's a really good cause, and furthermore, that they and other musicians generally shouldn't play for free because to do so undermines the efforts of struggling professional musicians. Her idea is that people won't hire professional bands that aren't famous, even if they're good, when they can get amateur bands for free.

I can see where she's coming from, but it sure creates a predicament for amateurs like me. I'm nowhere near good enough to charge for a performance, and even when I get better I don't think I'll have any serious ambitions of going professional, but I enjoy performing what I can just for the fun of it, and people's attention is ample payment for me. But I would hate to feel that I'm making things more difficult for people who are more dedicated to their art and who are struggling to break into the business.


01 Dec 99 - 03:40 PM (#143301)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Bert

1. I've heard you guys and you're very much better than lots of folk that I've paid to see. Get yourself a good manager and a good agent and there should be no limit for you.

2. You always owe your audience the very best that you can do whether they pay or not. (but it's obvious that you know that already)

3. That's for your manager to tell you. Start with stuff that you like.

4. You didn't ask for this but when you (and any othe Mudcatters) get a gig POST THE DETAIL HERE. and don't forget to refresh them a couple of times as the date approaches.

Don't worry about the undercurrents, you'll probably get lots of them because you're good. Those miserable sods are just jealous (And like Michael K says SO AM I).

Best of flippin'


01 Dec 99 - 03:45 PM (#143304)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Bert

Good points Marion. Perhaps our own Big Mick could give us his thoughts on this. He's a union organizer and must have dealt with this himself.

01 Dec 99 - 04:25 PM (#143323)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Jack (Who is called Jack)

I believe in getting paid for what one does. If you write software you should get paid for it, if you entertain you should get paid. I'm not saying that the way of the amateur (literaly one who does a thing strictly for the love of it) is wrong. Nor am I saying that one shouldn't donate one's time and talents gratis for worthwhile causes. However, if you create a product or service of any kind by the sweat of your brow and the exercise of your talents, then if other people want to avail themselves of it then they should not only be prepared to pay for it, they should WANT to pay for it, and you should fully expect them to do so.

Your right to expect recompense for the fruit of your labors exsists as a first principle. It is not contingent upon anything. If your 'friends' in your folk circles or theatre groups tell you otherwise they are mistaken. If you work you should be paid in full. That is the right and natural state of affairs. You can make exceptions, but that is a matter of personal choice based on your own judgement and the individual circumstances. Altruism, and doing things just for the love of it are an important part of a life well lived, and of a moral society, and the love of money to the exlusion of other values has always been at the root of many of our social ills. It is also a reality that we are part of social groups and must often take into account how our courses or action will effect our standing in those groups. Be that as it may, the fact remains, the right to fair compensation for ones effort is a Fundamental Human Right on par with the expectation of the freedom to say and think what one wishes. To that end we say, 'An individual has a fundamental right to free speech'. We do not add 'PROVIDED that their thoughts and speech are good enough'.

The fight to establish this right has waged for nearly 400 years. From the battles to abolish slavery to the workers rights movements, to current efforts at righting economic injustice based on race or gender, it is all of a piece.

Literally millions have dedicated and/or given their lives in this cause. You owe it to them to resist the pressure to abdictate your right to seek payment for your own work whenever you damn well please.

(As George C. Scott said when he played George Patton, "Well you sons-of-bitches, now you know how I feel")

Best Regards


01 Dec 99 - 04:51 PM (#143337)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Nathan in Texas

When you perform for free, you are actually making a donation, to the venue at which you're playing. The amount you're donating is equal to the amount that someone who would pay to hear the type of music you play played at your level of expertise. You can make the donation deliberately, as we did when we recently donated a performance to the Habitat for Humanity auction. In that case the money went to a worthy cause. When you play for free at a coffeehouse, for instance, you're actually making a contribution to keep the place open. We've played for free at nursing homes [figuring the donation is to the residents], but now when we're asked, we ask if they have an entertainment budget [realizing, that, otherwise, we're also making a dontation to the corporation that owns the nursing home]. Often we do get paid, but not unless we ask.

You're good enough to get paid when someone's willing to pay to have you perform - whether it's at Carnegie Hall or on the sidewalk in front of Joe's Diner.

01 Dec 99 - 05:05 PM (#143343)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Willie-O

Jack's right, McMoo's right, Marion's right.

You might as well ask "When should you get paid for working?"

First of all, if you play for 100% free gratis, you are not only not making money, you are losing it. Both in long-term --hundreds or thousands of dollars you've spent on instruments, accessories, music, demo tapes and what have you--and short term--gas, strings, rosin, babysitting, drinks.

I think the real question is when should you perform for free, or for expenses only?

    Possible Answers

  • for a cause that is so good you personally believe in it
  • at an open-stage scene which treats performers with considerable respect (and complimentary beverages/food)
  • out of friendship

A pub session is a bit different, but at most good ones there is a host/animator/facilitator, and that should be a paying gig.

Bill C.

01 Dec 99 - 05:11 PM (#143346)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: poet

I've been playing to Audiences for 30 years I do not regard my self as good, I enjoy what I do and I suppose that shows. I,ve been getting paid for 25 years I still do quite a few freebies. What I think I'm trying to say love is that you are no judge of how good or bad you are, if people ask you to play they must think you are good enough! and if so then you must be worth paying.so there is no problem is there.

As for Q2 Just do the Best you can thats all any of us do.
Q3 Sing the songs YOU LIKE to sing Covers are fine most audiences like a healthy dose of songs they already know. Too much new stuff soon bores them to tears.

Good Luck and enjoy youreself

Graham (Guernsey)

01 Dec 99 - 05:23 PM (#143350)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Lynn T

Jack, I concur with your basic points -- with a few caveats. While I'm not a good enough musician to consider asking anyone to pay me to sing, I've always felt that any "mature" hobby should be self-subsidizing, if not self-supporting. "Mature" to me means that I've moved beyond the advanced-intermediate phase, as recognized both by myself and others, in at least one corner of that arena. And any money made from these hobbies can't go for practical stuff like rent -- it goes into my "Frivolity Fund". As a teenager I groomed horses and braided manes/tails to pay for my riding lessons, then once I got good enough, arranged to ride other folk's horses for free, then later got paid a pittance as a catch rider. A long-term historical reenactor, I pay for my fabric and travel by making costumes for other folks, as well as by selling lots of homemade beef jerky, and I've been paid to give lectures on historic costume and history of social dancing. LaMarca knows how my hobby of mouse-breeding is more than self-supporting (I raise fancy English show-mice, and sell enough to pay for feed, bedding and even an air-conditioner.) And so on. I'm not a real pro in any of these venues, just either enough better than the average bear, or willing to be available to put what skill I have to work. Likewise, If I were "mature" as a musician, I'd expect that my skill would lead me into opportunities for this hobby to carry itself as my others do -- and as I see happening to my more dedicated/talented friends.

My two cents (out of last week's payment for a Victorian Dance demo)


01 Dec 99 - 05:25 PM (#143352)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Barbara Shaw

If other people are getting paid for the event, I expect to get paid. But I'll play around the clock for free with people who want to play: sessions, jams, benefits I believe in.

And there isn't enough money in the world to pay for some gigs. That was another thread awhile ago.

If people ask us to perform for a fee, I figure we're good enough, and they want to hear the type of music we do. Of course, we're not looking for gigs. If they find us, we'll generally play -- in a heartbeat!

We owe the audience the best we can do.

01 Dec 99 - 06:09 PM (#143370)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Mudjack

I do few gigs that don't pay much of anything but the satifaction recieved from doing them. I choose to do festivals, song circles and gatherings.
Like mcmoo, I make my income source with a day job.I accept paid gigs and frankly I don't care for them. They seem to enjoy the music as well as any, but someone seems to always wants to control the event by requesting songs that they think is FOLK such as Kumbaya, Puff the Miserable Dragon and any other 60's folk pop song they can conjer up. I work very hard to present songs they are not familiar with and also offer some obvious sing alongs. The festivals I play usually pay expenses and I appreciate it as much as a big pay day. I usually take the money earned there and spend it back at the festval booth to give back and support the festival.
When a person turns pro, I feel the music loses some direction and suffers a lack of that heart felt presentation.
That's my humble opinion,

01 Dec 99 - 11:51 PM (#143512)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Mudjack, my experience has been that when you play for free, people are often more inclined to push you around than when you are being paid--when there is money involved, it is much less likely that you'll kept sitting in a back room all day or night and then told, "Sorry, there was a mix up we gave your time slot to some one important"

I have lived in a number of places where there were many young and aspiring performers (including me!) and have seen too many instances where their eagerness to perform was carelessly and often crassly exploited.

If you need performing to be an important part of your life, you should do it for money, and without shame--exceptions would be any situation where it is donated for a cause that you find worthy, when it is for someone you love, when someone really famous invites you to come up on stage, or when there is a TV crew set up--

02 Dec 99 - 12:08 AM (#143520)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: _gargoyle

When you don't eat their food, or drink their beer.

02 Dec 99 - 01:30 AM (#143542)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: hrodelbert

Had a friend who used to say that if they pay me they (whoever they were) could do anything they liked if they didn't pay then they had better 'listen'. There was never a time I couldn't identify with that.

02 Dec 99 - 04:31 AM (#143575)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Howard Jones

If someone invites you to do a gig, then unless its for charity or some other good cause, and they're charging people to come and listen, then of course you should be paid.

If you do a floorspot at a club, whether by invitation or just turning up and asking, then you are shouldn't expect to get paid. You are supporting a club which probably couldn't afford to pay professional performers for a full night; you are possibly promoting yourself so that you willnget invited to do paid gigs; you are gaining experience and boosting your ego. That should be enough.

Sessions are just that, a chance to play together. If the audience want to put into a hat, or buy you a drink, that's fine. I disagree with the comment that the facilitator should get paid - usually this consists of nothing more than passing the word round at other sessions, and it doesn't go down well with musicians who are playing for the crack and the beer to learn that one of their number is being paid.

02 Dec 99 - 06:38 AM (#143590)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Roger in Baltimore

I play free and I get paid. I've always considered being paid and honor and like Loudon Wainwright III I'm still amazed when I get paid.

As you ponder this decision La Marca you should consider that getting paid does place some responsibilities upon you. It means you should show up at the appointed time and the appointed date and be prepared to perform. That is the contract whether written, verbal, or just assumed.

If you don't deserve to get paid, don't worry, you eventually will get no offers. People will pay you or not if they like you, but if they don't like you they sure as Hell won't pay you.

Getting paid as you have certainly noted often has less to do with the absolute quality of the performance and more to do with many other skills.

It is clear to me that I am not eager to develop those skills. So I do not play often, I am approached and asked, I have done little to try to get a gig.

I perform in public because I believe I have something to offer. My repetoire has no Roger in Baltimore songs in it, though it could. I choose to pick songs I enjoy or songs that say something I think should be said. I love some music that I think others would love if they were only exposed to it and my job is to provide exposure.

Time to go to work.

Roger in Baltimore

02 Dec 99 - 12:27 PM (#143688)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: M. Ted (inactive)

I guess it is important to make some sort of a distinction between situations where people are playing music informally, even when it is in a pub or club or afterhours thing, or an open mike thing. Obviously, these are not situations where it is appropriate to ask for pay.

When music is played for the benefit of the people who are playing it, rather than for the benefit of a real or imagined audience, that is not a performance

I probably differ with some here, because I think that generally, performers should have costumes (even if the costume is street clothing), use make up, write out and rehearse their whole show, and pretty much polish things as much as possible--

I know that this goes against the grain for some, who think that a show should be casual, informal. spontaneous, and unrehearsed, because it is more "honest"--personally, I like a show that seems that way, but my experience is that if you want your show to seem unrehearsed, it takes a lot of preparation--

02 Dec 99 - 02:38 PM (#143726)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Nancy-Jean

You are that good and I enjoy your repetoire. I would pay to hear you. But boy would I have a ressentment if you didn't have a CD for sale afterwards! So there!



02 Dec 99 - 03:30 PM (#143756)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Mudjack

M.Ted, Thanks for the comments, but I have had good luck with the free gigs as mentioned. I guess if money comes into the picture, I take it but it is not the motivation behind my performing. I am like any one else that performs, you have to feed the ego for what ever the price.
A major rule I do live by is if a venue has no sound system and request using mine, I make it clear and up front that the use of it will cost $100. That usually covers any questions about borrowing the system.
Mary Jean, CD's are great but are also expensive to produce. I find very few that offer any sounds near as good as LIVE performance. But I agree with you, it is a disapointment when there is none available.

02 Dec 99 - 03:52 PM (#143764)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: M. Ted (inactive)

I think everybody has different expectations--Please don't take any of my comments as criticism--I think that it is really important for people to be out, playing music with people, and, especially, playing music for people--whatever goals you set for yourself--

As an aside, perhaps relating to the idea of envy that was mentioned in the earlier posts, I am no longer able to perform, for health and personal reasons--But I do get that little twinge when others talk about gigging--Mudjack, you are so right, that ego needs to be fed!! Oh, I do long for the days when I used to throw the instruments and the PA in the back of an old beat up car, and drove off to a small hall or club room where an audience was eagerly waiting--between me and you, if I could do it again tomorrow, I wouldn't be thinking about the money--

02 Dec 99 - 04:20 PM (#143779)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: lloyd61

Money is not a issue for me, but let me explain something - I run my little music interest as a business. I need income in order to write off expenses, like Guitars, Strings, Travel, Sound Systems, Etc. These are all business expenses to me. I like it when I receive a check from a charitable organization, I can then give the check back as a taxable gift, that is a double blessing.

How do I ask for money? I don't. I use a standard contact for EVERY Gig. That contract covers many subjects, including the Honorarium. I let the contract handle the negotiations.

02 Dec 99 - 05:22 PM (#143797)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Liam's Brother

Hi Mary!

To answer your questions...

a. As you know there are venues (coffeehouses, societies, etc.) that hire people to make music. When you audition (live or via demo tape) these people will decide whether you are good enough in their particular venue to sing for your supper.

b. People should be entertained and leave the venue uplifted.

c. I refer to a. above. Try too to develop a unique repetoire of your own largely exclusive of recorded folk singers.

All the best,

02 Dec 99 - 06:00 PM (#143815)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Ralph K.

.....or whatabout not charging anything to come and hear you....but charging them to leave?....

02 Dec 99 - 06:11 PM (#143820)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: M. Ted (inactive)

With respect to Liam's Brother, don't be worry too much about developing a unique repertoire -- people like songs that they know--a friend of mine used to say that you will usually get a better reception doing mediocre versions of songs that people know than great versions of songs that they don't know--

02 Dec 99 - 06:28 PM (#143835)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Jacob Bloom

So many good things have been said here already. I'll add just one more thought.

It's fine if you never perform for money, but you should never feel shy about asking for money for showing up to perform.

Ideally, nine-to-five jobs would work that way as well. They pay you for the time that they obligate you show up, and you do what needs to be done out of love for the work once you get there.

If someone wants you to commit some of your time to them, you have a right to ask them to make it worth your while. You can waive that right if you want to.

Personally, I find that I do a better performance if I'm being paid. If I'm working for free I find myself trying to impress the audience, but if I'm being paid, I find myself feeling that the offer of payment proves that someone already believes that I'm good at what I do. I then relax and enjoy myself more. And when I'm having fun, I find that the audience also has more fun.

02 Dec 99 - 06:37 PM (#143840)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: marcelloblues

02 Dec 99 - 06:44 PM (#143845)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Jon Freeman

OK, I seem to have missed this thread - just caught it now. My feeling is that is has to be down to the player or group to make that sort of descision. I am not in the professional league but even if I was, I think (in fact feel convinced) that I would like to be playing for the love of music rather than for financial rewards but I feel that those who have chosen to and managed to make a career out of it should be able to... It is a hard one - and IMO, very much related to copyright laws and there are times when I wonder whether I am consistent in my own beliefs where that issue is concerned.


02 Dec 99 - 06:49 PM (#143851)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: marcelloblues

Why you should not be paid? Strings, various hca, having a good microphone of your own when the place hasn't got one, small but also big expenses, make me sure I should get paid. More, some months making music helps my entries, other months, my daytime work helps making music. Don't worry about money, it ain't not good, but it ain't not even bad, sometimes you get some, other times you pay. Enjoy music, the world is tuned in G. Cheers

02 Dec 99 - 11:28 PM (#143986)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: DonMeixner

This isn't that dificult or philosophical

1. You get paid when you work at any job. When you are new at it you get paid less than when you are great at it. But you get paid.

2. You always give the crowd your best. Whether you are Don Meixner, local talent, or June Taber, world class talent, just ask her. But you give them your best.

3. Seems like an unnecessary question you do what you The narket place determines whether its worthy of the audinces time.

In short, do your job, do your best, pack your case go home, cash the check.


02 Dec 99 - 11:43 PM (#143997)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Big Mick

Yep, Don, right on the mark. I wish I had gotten back to this sooner.

I too, am troubled by the concept of not charging because people will think you are better than they are. I am not sure how the hell that is relevant, but I am sure that if anyone out there thinks that, they are not someone I would associate with.

This is easy, I charge for some gigs, I give some away, some I charge just expenses. The latter two are usually for some sort of charity. Generally, I will not play in a pub, where money is being made, for free. If the music is the draw, then the musicians should be paid. I choose when I will give away my music. An example was a benefit that we did for the family of a young State Trooper killed in the line of duty. Sometimes we will give away a gig to benefit an organization, but more often we offer to split the profit (take after expenses) 1 for 1 until we hit our normal charge. That way if the event is a bust, we don't hurt them further. On the other hand, if the event is very successful, we do very well, but we never take more than our normal fee.

03 Dec 99 - 08:41 AM (#144079)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Dani

Lamarca, I'll offer a (perhaps tortured) analogy:

I grow things, cook, bake. Found that I could get paid for doing these things at a local farmer's market. People came to SEE ME TO PAY ME for this food. I could NOT believe it. I had something to offer that lots of people CAN do - many of them better than I can. What I am doing is CHOOSING to spend my time doing something I love, and letting people pay me for it because they are doing something they love more, I guess, and so don't have time to do THIS, but still want it.

After a couple summers doing this, when my littlest went to kindergarten, I opened a small neighborhood grocery where people can find good fresh things year round, and with the goal of connecting local growers and producers with customers. Again, I have been amazed at what people are hungry for, and I see a deep connection between this and what you're talking about.

You want people to enjoy your music for the 'right' reasons. I want people to deal with food in a 'right' way, for themselves and the earth. Well, the reality is that there are people who care about these things as deeply as you do, and that relationship and sharing is payment enough. Then, there are people with money for whom you are offering a 'product'. So be it. Find the balance, take the money, and feel humbled and grateful every day if you're able to get paid for what you love.

A caveat. I am now finding myself glaring at the shaggy dog, as Dick said in the Camsco thread. I am working to find a way to make this business what I need it to be for me, and still be what the people who PAY me want it to be. Finding the balance between providing bread for the person who will only eat WHOLE WHEAT NO SUGAR FRESH ON MONDAY PLEASE (but will pay for it) and the bread I will bake for my friends dinner and wouldn't dream of being paid for, and actually doing the work I love and not just spending my time in front of a computer spreadsheet program......

Don't get me started. What I'm saying in an overwinded way is, I see where you're going. You can make it work. It's love for the work that'll do it. Just don't forget what's important to YOU.


03 Dec 99 - 08:43 AM (#144082)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Dani

PS: Roger in Baltimore, if I could, I'd pay you to come down here just to sing that biscuit song (was it at the Getaway's Mudcat Cafe?). Post gigs, buddy. I'd get up there more often if DC area 'catters posted gigs.


03 Dec 99 - 09:05 AM (#144090)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Terry Allan Hall

I get paid before I play Note One...it's in the contract!

How do you know when you should be paid for any job? When you get hired.

03 Dec 99 - 10:17 AM (#144115)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Judy Cook

An interesting thread, here - I'm glad lamarca started it..

When I perform, I have never assumed that I am better than the folks in my audience, I only hope that my efforts will give them pleasure. In fact, I love it best when there are lots of folks in the audience that are better than I am. To have a room full of wonderful singers join in choruses & refrains is incredible. To see that something I sing has pleased or moved somebody whom I really admire is the most rewarding experience of performing. No, you don't have to get paid to have such experiences; but they come more often if you are recognized as a performer. You are not setting yourself as better than your peers, but recognizing in yourself that you love the music, that you love "practicing & polishing", that you love performing, and that you are willing, able, and lucky enough to be able to do what you love.

As for learning from recordings, versus learning from books or obscure sources. There are a lot of recordings out there. IMO, there is a very good chance that there will be folks in your audience that have never heard the songs you have learned from recordings (very often I've never heard the songs you come up with - and I can't believe I'm the only one). IMO, there is a very good chance that any song you learn from a book has actually been recorded by someone, somewhere, and that there will be folks in your audience that have heard it. Sing the songs you love, learn them the way you love to learn songs. Share them with other folks who love your "kind" of music. Subtly subvert others who don't yet know they love it.

-- Judy

03 Dec 99 - 05:44 PM (#144332)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: lamarca

Wow, what a response! Thanks to all of you for sharing your experiences and advice...

I'm not really agonizing about this as much as it seems, but it's interesting to me to hear other people's philosophies about the issue. I really enjoy performing for audiences at small festivals where all the performers are playing for free; as a relative beginner, it's also less intimidating. I'll be happy to keep playing at NOMAD and NEFFA and the Washington Folk Festival, trying out songs, meeting old friends and eating bad cafeteria food, until I'm old and gray! Thanks, all, for a good discussion.

03 Dec 99 - 07:19 PM (#144365)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Willie-O

Hmm, I thought about this all day, then when I finally get back to it, I find my basic premise has been mostly blown out of the water.

I was going to say, I guess it's a cultural difference. But apparently this isn't the case, since all my arguments have already been made.

All save the matter of sessions. I think different regions handle them differently. In the scene I know--Ottawa, Ontario--there are several weekly sessions that have been going on once a week for years. They are all in pubs and all hosted by a paid professional player. Everyone knows that it's Nathan's gig, or Charles (de Lint)'s session, and therefore that that person and some of his friends (not the same ones every time) will be there. And thus each session has a particular personality and a sort of predictable decorum--you go to the one(s) you're most comfortable at. (This is somewhat true of open stages too, although some have regular rotations of host).

Over the years, various sessions have been started without a real host--these ones haven't lasted. Just no way to tell who if anyone would come to play, and they withered away.

Fact is, pub owners--of whom there are many now--aren't musicians, but they want the ambiance, and a reason for people to come and drink there on a non-weekend evening, and are prepared to pay for it. (This is very good training for pub owners IMHO) For the hosts, its not big money but a nice steady low-key gig. If they happen to enjoy playing, and its at a table rather than on a stage, what about it?

Now I know in some other areas there might be a club that likes to get together and play in a pub on a more egalitiarian basis. Nothing wrong with that either, of course, it just doesn't happen here.

Bill C

02 Aug 02 - 02:18 PM (#758854)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Genie


02 Aug 02 - 03:24 PM (#758904)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: alanabit

I have been a busker, bar musician, folk club performer - in fact Jack of all trades entertainer for over twenty years now. When I add up the time I spend travelling, rehearsing, writing, colecting patter, telephoning, doing the post, making connections, lying under my car (so I can get it to the gig) etc, I become aware that even when I do a fairly expensive sounding gig, my hourly rate is rather lower than that of the average electrician or plumber. Do you think they could learn your profession in three years? I can go to any folk/blues session and hear a better singer or guitarist than myself. What makes me worth that gig fee is the fact that I can actually do the job and make the whole gig entertaining. When I think of it in those terms, I don't need to worry that there are better musicians on the street where I live who can't make a living from it. In fact, I improved a whole heap when I stopped worrying about it. Furthermore, I've been pleasantly surprised how positively other very good pros -some of them jazz and classical musicians - have reacted. Having the courage of your convictions is as important as any other quality. You are only likely to experience jealousy from those who lack it themselves. Have a go and good luck to you. Alan.

02 Aug 02 - 05:44 PM (#758968)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: harvey andrews

There's something about knowing that if you aren't at your best, if you don't entertain, (and one can "seriously" entertain), if you don't work at all aspects of your profession, if you aren't sober, punctual,sociable,relevant, up for it etc..then the bills don't get paid, that concentrates the mind and brings out the best in performers. Music as a hobby can be more fun and probably do you more good, but I think some people benefit from wanting to be the best they can be, and only audiences, time, and the size of the cheque show how best their best is. Which doesn't mean a good pro doesn't enjoy their job, it just means it's a job like any other. The thing about it is so many people would like to live the life, like sports fans would like to be players, but it takes that something extra to achieve it and only the listeners can decide if that something extra is worth paying for. When songwriting and singing/travelling became my life I lost something of the spontaneity and sheer pleasure I had enjoyed in the early days (although I was paid ten shillings the first time I sang in public in a folk club!) but I gained a whole way of life, friends and experiences I could never have had as an amateur.What I found was that a few other things became my hobbies and I use those for relaxation and pleasure in the same way many people who work nine to five use music. It's a trade off, and the fact that I've been lucky enough to do it for 39 years is just that..luck.There's no pension, no sick pay, no holidays, no security. One hand injury, one voice problem, one car crash and it's all gone.But as a job I'd take the risks and do it all over again..and again...and again...and I actively encourage anyone I think has the talent to go for it if they want to, but I always point out the pitfalls and emphasise the lack of glamour. It's hard work like anything else. I have known good performers who got carried away with the bullshit and believed they were somehow superior, not lucky or blessed and a few came to a sticky end just like in the movies..the bottle,the regrets, the drugs and the dead for days before anyone noticed. All the cliches apply but I sincerely welcome any success that comes to someone brave enough to try and good enough to succeed. They're even getting MBE's now!

02 Aug 02 - 09:53 PM (#759057)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Bobert

Play for money or play for free.... Hmmmmm? Depends on need and other sources of income. Hey, if you've decided that music is your livelihood, then go for it. This ain't about talent level because we all know the world is full of great musicians but very much about one's choices.

I've played for money but hope to not have to repeat those experiences. Play for free and.... you are free...


03 Aug 02 - 12:03 AM (#759103)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Celtic Soul

I think a better question is "When should you play for free?"

For me, I think it ought to be a given that pay is normally involved, and on those occasions that warrant playing for free (charities, good causes, friends weddings, to support an up and coming venue) then consider reduced or no pay.

Just my two cents...which I am glad to have, in no small part due to performance income.

03 Aug 02 - 02:24 PM (#759353)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?

I got to this thread late, but here's mine. I find this all a bit complex: If someone offers me money to sing I say thanks. If someone asks me to provide an evenings entertainment I say how much? If it is a good cause I say No charge and if it's for my entertainment, I have been known to fork out ! Ned.

04 Aug 02 - 02:23 PM (#759653)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: musicmick

This is not a problem for professional performers. Those of us who sing for our suppers know that charging one venue and not charging another is unethical and bad business practice. A performer who doesn't see himself as eminently qualified is never going to be a pro and should not worry about other people supporting his hobby. I dont mean to sound heartless but what the hell is the problem here? If you are, essentially, an amateur, sing where you like and if you get some money for it, take it and be happy. You are not taking jobs from professionals when you take the money (or when you dont). The realities of the business define who is and who is not professional. I love amateur performers. They are the backbone of folk venue audiences. They are my best audience, my most critical audience. They keep me from getting rusty and stale. Their performance experiences give them a sophistication that allows and appreciates subtlty. But, they are not my competition, although many amateurs are as gifted as professionals. The difference between us is attitude and focus. I'll be giving a workshop on "Working an Audience" at the Philadelphia Folk Festival this month. This subject will, surely, come up. I will use some ideas from this thread in the discussion.

Mike Miller

04 Aug 02 - 03:08 PM (#759666)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: GUEST,David Lindley

The idea that music should be free to the public has been around a long time. I used to stand around the Pasadena City College "pits" and play my 5-string banjo for the fun of it and also to see how many people would stand around and listen. That was a fun thing to do and good practice. But a man's gotta eat and in order to eat I had to go out and find places that would pay me to play. People would pay these places to come in and hear the wierdo musicians and the places would pay the wierdo musicians and we'd go and but peanut butter and bread and Campbell's soup and beer . . . mostly beer. It was a good system and one I still use today. I've played places where 100,000 people would pay money to come and sit down and listen. Ever look out onto an audience of 100,000 people? It scares the shit out of you! "Hey Lindley, screw this one up!" My inner voice sometimes says this just for fun. Looking into a camera that is connected to 11 million people can be intimidating to say the least. But whether the audience is a living room of eleven people or 100,000 the terror is just the same, in fact it's worse when you can see the expressions on people's faces change, especially when you screw up. So it's all the same . . . the only difference is the money. When I do benefits and play for free or pay to play as is often the case with benefits the music has a tendency to be better. Why? Because I feel free to take chances because I have no obligation to the audience. Why? Because I'm not getting paid. So how does that work? I ALWAYS play my best because it's a personal challenge to play the best I can, audience or no audience. But a man's gotta eat. Danny Thompson ( no relation ) said once that musicians don't get paid for playing, we get paid for all the other stuff, the travel, the airports, the rehearsal, the long hours of practice, the record company dealings and the little horrors the music business spawns. There is a strange concept that something that is fun to do is not work. Work must be something that is to be hated, drudgery, tedium, oppression, exploitation. If someone has fun working or the job "SEEMS" easy then it's not work. To a classical guitarist or violinist who practices 8 hours a day religiously the concept loses it's edge a bit. "If you're good at it, likely is that you had to work at it." Ihsani, the saz player who used to sit out in front of his house with a bowl in front of him and play for food is the best testimony to the idea that one should get paid. If you can see that someone is serious about their music and practices at it then they should get paid. As someone who has done both, I prefer to be paid for what I do because..............a man's gotta eat. No money.....no food, no rent. "Hey Lindley, go out and get a real job!" D.Lintfree

04 Aug 02 - 03:15 PM (#759669)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: GUEST,Lintfree

This guy has the answers. Well put.

05 Aug 02 - 01:25 PM (#760118)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: EBarnacle1

Just to amplify what Jack said above, when I am arranging a gig, I always try to get money for my performers and me. Anyone who comes to me with "It's a good cause, so we expect you to volunteer" does not get my people. If we choose to volunteer, that is our choice. This is especially true when there are others being paid for the same event.

Also, I have found that when there is no money involved, we get treated like dirt. When you make it clear you are a pro or pro/am, you get the little things--like a sound system that works, like a quiet space, like snacks and fruits for before and after the set

05 Aug 02 - 04:00 PM (#760208)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: pavane

Mrs Pavane, although now a professional, will do charity concerts for free. (And the school where our kids were for years.)

PS you can hear a few MP3s at Our web site

06 Aug 02 - 12:22 AM (#760438)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Genie

Anyone who thinks that musicians (and other "artists") are the only ones who enjoy (at least some aspects of) their work should hear attorneys, college professors, and MDs talk to each other (and sometimes other people) when they are "off duty." (In my former life as a college prof, it used to be hard to get us academic types NOT to "talk shop" at parties!) As David L. said, it's not the music (or the lecturing or the advice giving, etc.) that professionals want to be paid for, it's all the other hard work and expense that enables you to "perform."

As some of you know from other threads, my main professional arena is music for senior citizen facilities (including nursing homes) -- an area where there is a lot of expectation that musicians will perform free, as an act of charity. One thing I tell folks if they ever question my charging fees to these facilities is this:
If I did not charge for these programs, I would have to take a "real job" to support myself-- and I would probably not be free to sing and play for these homes at 10:00AM on Monday or 2:00 PM on Friday, etc." (I use the "real job" term only jokingly, but most people get the picture. Many amateurs are excellent musicians, but they probably can't or won't be available for a lot of gigs, and they probably can't or won't take the time to learn the repertoire that many paid musicians can and will.) There is a lot more to "playing music than just "playing."


06 Aug 02 - 06:13 PM (#760923)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Uncle_DaveO

"When should you be paid for performing?"

Right after your set is over!

Dave Oesterreich

06 Aug 02 - 07:25 PM (#760989)
Subject: RE: When should you be paid for performing?
From: Genie

Good answer! Good answer!