Should You Take the Gig or Pass? by Ari Herstand for Aristake.com
Remember, nothing in the music industry is black and white. Not streaming. Not pirating music. Not playing gigs for free. Is that ever ok? Short answer is yes. Should bands take non-paid gigs? Short answer is maybe. But nothing in the music industry can accurately be answered with a short answer. Use this guide to help you decide if the gig is right for you:
For Paying Gigs:
Don't take a gig unless it meets The Perfect 30 Test:
Payment = 10. Career building = 10. Enjoyment = 10.
You don't want to play any shows for less than a total of 15 on the scale. If the payment is incredible (10), but there will be very little career building potential (3) or enjoyment (2), that equals 15. If there is decent payment (5), but will bring great enjoyment (9), but little career building potential (1), that also equals a 15. Take these shows. The shows you shouldn't take are the ones for little to no payment (1), very little career building potential (3) and very little enjoyment (3) = 7 total. Pass!
For Non Paying Gigs:
There are a few instances when these are no brainers:
For Charity or A Worthy Cause: If you believe in the cause or the organization, then absolutely contribute your services. Your "normal fee" can sometimes be a tax deductible donation for certain organizations. Always ask the org.
As a Favor or Trade: It's always cool to play for your buddies' and ladies' parties or events for no charge because they're your people. Maybe they're a graphic design artist or a videographer or a doctor. Maybe you need a logo, a music video or a check-up. Bartering is sometimes even better than payment.
Sitting In: Sitting in is a time honored tradition in the singer/songwriter and jam communities. It's when you call up a friend to sing harmonies or rip a solo or even just join you on stage with a tambourine. It's an honor and an endorsement of that artist. Of course, the host band should announce the artist's name and give their project a plug. Fans love to see this kind of community building.
For Practice: If you're new to the gig thing or your band just formed, you need practice performing. Most often these will be for no pay. Find low pressure environments to hone your chops where they don't charge you to play (ahh!) - but you may not get paid either. That's ok. You don't deserve to yet.
Strong Merch / Tip Potential: Ok, this is slippery. Because bookers will promise you good merch/tip potential and rarely does it work out to be so. However, sometimes it really can be. I performed a small side stage at an event in Milwaukee 2-3 times a day for 4 years and I averaged about $300 A SET in merch and tips.
For Enjoyment: Like The Perfect 30 test, sometimes you know you're going to just have a darn good time.
As a Creative Outlet: I don't encourage the "creative outlet" practice, but it happens and there are many hobbyists who fall into this category. Dear hobbyists, please ask for fair compensation for your talent. Because if you don't, you're hurting those who are trying to make their livings with their art.