Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album. The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say and do.
If you’re asked, I recommend asking why they’re requesting that, not to put them on the defensive, but to avoid a misunderstanding. You don’t want to end up resenting them because you’ve gotten it into your head that you’re being taken advantage of, for example. It may help to understand their situation. Maybe they’re already spending all they can on the album, for example, and will never recoup anyway, so they’re trying to mitigate losses, not maximize profits (for themselves at your expense)
When I Ask
If you’re asking someone, you may want to tell them upfront why you’re asking. Here’s some of what I tell musicians:
- I’m a solo artist and therefore pay all studio costs (rehearsal, recording, mixing, mastering), which is typically over $5000 per album
- If this were a band with four equal members, I’d only have to pay $1250. You’d be paying $1250, too. Instead, you pay nothing.
- I pay all manufacturing, distribution, and promotional costs (which can vary in cost but is typically thousands more). You pay nothing.
- So while you’re not being paid, you’re also not paying anything.
- If I also had to pay each performer, let’s say $1000 to perform on all tracks, that would be an additional $3000, making the album cost over $10,000. I simply can’t afford that. I don’t recoup costs from sales because that’s very hard to do with instrumental music (or even other genres). Here’s how it would look financially:
- Each musician’s figure: plus $1000
- Studios figures: plus thousands
- Cover artist’s figure: plus $1000
- Photographer’s figure: plus $300
- My figure: minus $10,000
In other words, everyone profits but me. I need to mitigate my losses. The musicians no longer profit up front but get to be on an album (assuming they want to be) without having to pay to be on it, and I lose less. Personally, I feel that either me and that performer are doing each other a favor, or neither of us are.
To be honest, this is a great reason not to be a solo artist!
Once You Agree
If you agree to perform for free, you shouldn’t bring that up again for that project, whether it’s a show or an album. An agreement is an agreement. In some places it’s a verbal contract. Asking to be paid, or complaining that you’re not being paid, is not only putting the other person in a terrible position, but is just not right.
Of great importance is that contributing your services for free does not mean being unprofessional or acquiring special privileges unless those were also agreed upon in advance. For example, a singer who was very far behind on the recording schedule once resentfully told me he’d take as long as he damn well pleased to complete the project because “you aren’t paying me”. He wasn’t around much longer.
It always pays to behave professionally and like an adult, even if you are neither. Money is a frequent subject bands can fight over, so being upfront about expectations and the reasons for everything will help you keep projects moving forward while not ruining your relationships with people.
Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work. Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own. Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]
This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]
Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]
Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]
Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include: Knowing how to write variations […]
Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album. The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]