About to take a Charity gig? Read this first

Be a little more mindful of the "charity" gig.

Are you or your band considering taking a gig or festival for charity. Musicians and bands have been used for years as a feature for festival and pub organisers to hold events in aid of charities. I have no issue with charity. There are causes that need our help to fund and all credit to anyone who spends their time and effort organising a charity event to raise money for some worthy cause. What I DO take issue with, however, is the expectation that musicians will take part in these events for free and at a cost to themselves,
when it's likely that no other business involved in the event will be working for free. I’ve taken part in many forum discussions on this subject and I have given it a great deal of thought. Here’s what you should know about these events:

1. Musicians will be the only ‘staff’ there that are working for free. 

Let’s analyse those that will be working at these events:

• Bar manager
• Supervisor
• Bar tenders
• Security
• Food servers
• Sound guy
• Musicians

How many of these will be working for free? ONLY the musicians. I’ve been asked to run sound at small festivals before and I’ve been told I’ll be paid. You can guarantee that all of the staff and servers working at these events will be in on their regular hourly rate. The venue will likely have charged a hire fee (sure, at a reduced rate). The security staff, that are a requirement for large public events, will be paid. The tent hire will be budgeted for. Maybe event outside toilets if the event is of a certain size. The irony is that these events are always billed as “Music Festivals” - so why are the musicians.... the feature and reason for everyone coming... being asked to play for free???

2. Musicians will be asked to ‘donate’ their time to make the event work. 

A musician playing at an event is work. Albeit fun work. Most regular people see it as a hobby, but for most musicians it’s seen as work. Fun work, I'll grant you - aren't we lucky to be doing a job we love.  We are the entertainment and when we’re setting up, playing, and breaking down - we’re working. When we’re restringing our guitars, loading and unpacking the cars - we’re preparing for work. By working for free, we’re being asked to donate our time to the charity so it can make more money. Are any of the other staff donating their hour rate to the charity so it can make more money? Are the profits from the beer being sold donated to the charity? Is the venue letting the organiser use the venue for free so that more money can be donated? The answer is very likely ‘No’.

"We have to pay our staff and cover our overheads..."

The likelihood is that the food profit is being donated and the ticket money is being donated but I would bet that the cost of advertising is being taken back before the money is delivered. 

So with all of these guys still earning their living, why is it only the musicians that are being asked to work for free? THE FEATURE of the event. 

3.  Musicians don’t play for free. It COSTS a musician to play for free.

Did you ever consider the amount of money that you might pay out of your pocket to be able to play at the gig you’re being asked to play for free at. Here’s the actual expenditure for you and your band to play at a someone’s event for free:

1. Petrol: The Inland Revenue suggest that 45p per mile is a fair rate to cover the cost of petrol and wear and tear on your car for professional use. Let’s say that the pub you’re playing at is 20 miles from your  house. That’s 40 miles there and back. That’s £18 the gig has cost you so far. If there are 4 of you in the band, coming from a similar distance, that’s £72 it’s cost the band to play in travel. 

2. Drink: While you’re at the gig, you will need to drink. Either for enjoyment or for hydration. When my band plays any gig, we may spend about £8 over the bar each. For 4 members, this is £32.

3. Food: The band will frequently be asked to turn up at between 5pm and 6pm to set for for the gig, or to be there for soundcheck. This is dinner time for most. The band will need to eat at the gig and more  often than not they’ll buy food there. Assuming the menu costs £4 per person, for 4 people, this is £16 in food the band will have needed to spend during the course of their work. 

Musicians will take all of these things into account when they take their gigs. They’ll know that the outgoings are and their income will cover the expenses. This is how basic business works. Every business has outgoings. We may even plan ahead and take our own food and our own drinks to offset these outgoings. But, based on these figures, it could cost a band an average of £120 to play for free.

Let’s not talk about the time or money it might take to rehearse the band on the run up to the gig, if you need it. 

Are you still wanting to accept a gig that you won’t be paid for....?

4. “It’ll give your band exposure.” or “It’ll be good experience.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. If you’re an originals band, it’s likely you’ll be playing for free a lot to get showcase your music. But, when a punter goes to a pub to listen to music, they expect to listen to songs they know. It’s likely you’ll bring your friends along, and they’ll love you. You may even have some open minded music lovers in the audience who’ll get into what you do to... but is the effort to earn 1 or 2 extra fans worth £120? There are better gigs - more appropriate gigs for you to play to increase your exposure. 

If you’re a covers band, who exactly are you exposing yourself to? Pub gigs are good advertising for function bands to pick up private event contracts, but it’s rare frankly. 

And “experience”? If a band has practiced enough to make a great sounding, tight, band - experience will come in the natural course of time at many of the many venues in the country that are buying live music in. You don’t need to take a free gig for “experience”. If your band is good and your media and advertising is good, it won’t take too much effort to fill your diary. 

If you’re a bad, poorly practiced, amateur band and you’re taking a gig like this because it’s the only gig you can get... don’t bother. Frankly you have no business being out in public, affecting the enjoyment of an event or a venue. You’ll only give the event a bad name.

For an in-depth look at this - please see the post "The Exposure Myth".

5. What SHOULD musicians get to play an event like this? 

If you do want to take a gig like this and, in fact, many bands do and say “that’s my one charity gig for the year”, it's not a bad thing to agree to play if it's a cause you're interested in or feel that you'd like to lend your support to. But in the majority of circumstances where musicians are being engaged, here’s what I deem to be ‘fair’ for the band:

• Travel expenses are covered. It shouldn’t cost a member of a band to get there. 
• Food and soft drinks are thrown in. Food brought in bulk costs very little per individual unit. Soft drinks cost the bar about 4p per glass in post mix. It’s not too much to ask for £2 worth of ‘stock’ in return for your 6-7 hours of work and attendance.

But really, the band should be paid in accordance for their service, just like every other entity at the event.

6. Event organisers... read this:

At all levels the music business is a business. Musicians are business people. Whether it’s their main income, part of their income or additional income. They do it for fun, but they also do it for money. We paid a fortune for our equipment and invest thousands of hours in rehearsing, personal practice, development, advertising and more. 

Your event, no matter how big or how small, is a money generator and as such it’s a ‘business activity’. To make money, any business activity needs resources for it to run: stock, resources and staff.  At the conception, you need to work out how much your event will cost to run... with everything taken into account... even the music provision. Once you’ve worked how much your event will cost to run, you can decide how much profit you may be able to make by working out how much each of the income generating activities will earn you: food, drink, tickets, raffle, etc. If you can’t make the event make a profit without making someone do it for free.. go back to the drawing board and start again. Keep going until you can make it generate money. Likelihood is that you'll have to work harder and longer - but you know what, that's the entertainment industry. It's not simple, quick or easy.... especially if you want to make a profit. Factor in your time too - unless you choose   to do it out of the kindness of your heart. 

7. Caveats

There are very few scenarios where I would advocate musicians working for free. The only time I would advocate musicians working for free is for music students to take the job on. Music students will be working towards a career as musicians and anyone working towards a career should take as much work experience as they can during their study time. Gigging for music students IS work experience. However, they should still be given something for their efforts - free food and free drink, masses of advertising and the offer of future work from the place they're playing at.

I encourage every musician to share this and the "Exposure Myth" around. I'm not out to ruin anyone's events, but think about it for a moment - if every working musician realised that they do deserve money for their services, and realised that there is a set minimum recommended by the MU AND adhered to that - you can be sure that people wanting or needing music will find the money when they realise that they aren't going to get people to work for free....

Do I work for free?

In the past I have done, yes. I like playing and when I'm not gigging, I want to be. I've justified it by telling myself that something may come from it in the future. You know what - it doesn't. Never did. People, agents and promotors have very very very short memories until they find a note somewhere that reminds them that you worked for free and they'll be straight on the phone asking again.

Would I work for free again....? It's not unlikely but in the event I find an event that I personally want to lend support to and I think will benefit me in some other way than financially, after a long hard discussion and some compromises, I may well say yes. But the bottom line is that the exercise has to be beneficial for both parties.

Let me be clear - the issue is entirely centred around the musician being the only asset at an event being asked to work for free. In the event that everyone else involved in the event is volunteering or donating time, stock and assets, it's perfectly acceptable for musicians to also be involved.

Just be sensible and smart - not desperate.

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