What Is Your Value?
Playing for free is something that somehow became acceptable and I’m not sure why... If someone is performing a skill that took endless hours every day for YEARS, why would that have no value? Every performance should be worth something. And yes, that something may be exposure, but let’s be real. It’s exposure opening up for Metallica. It is NOT exposure playing a festival slot at 3pm to 5 people or a shitty bar on a Friday night where they expect you to bring the ENTIRE crowd. It’s a give and take thing. Musicians have to market themselves to gain their own following to bring along in exchange for the opportunity to grow that following, based on the venue having its own following. It’s tough and a lot of work, but doable, for both venue and performer.
But back to the idea of playing completely for free... nope. Not for me. That’s insane. I was blown away this week when another musician told me that they don’t have a lot of time to play for free right now. Neither do I or have I ever. Maybe in the first 6 months to a year that I started playing and considering it may be a career for me, I played for nothing. I went to jams and sang my heart out for a song or two. That was fine. It was a hobby and I was getting better at it as I went along. But I know career musicians who have to have a side job to support them as they go and play for free for a bunch of other artists who are trying to promote themselves. I’m not against these artists, but you have to pay your band. It’s a job, just like any other job, and just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s not worth anything.
I think some people are over valued, but then again maybe they’re not. I can’t give an example exactly, but let’s say Madonna makes a million bucks per show and sells tickets for $500 a piece (just an example, I have no real facts here). That’s great. I wouldn’t pay to go to the show, but a lot of people would, so she must be charging the right amount. We just went to Bryan Adams at Rogers Place this week and it was great. Concerts seem to have been more exciting before I started playing full time because I find myself analyzing the stage show more than enjoying the music now, but it really was a good show. Same with Kim Mitchell the week before. We splurged on a few shows and now we’re back to work! But my point about going to Rogers Place is that they charge $12.50 for a tall can of Coors Light. That’s ridiculous. And some would say that’s criminal. How can they charge that much? But that’s business. They can charge that much because people are willing to pay it. If they only asked $8 per beer people would buy it then too. If it was free, you can bet people would drink even more. If they charge $20 per beer, some people wouldn’t pay it, but I bet some people would still buy.
This said, as a musician, you have to understand your own value. It’s tough to get your head around at first because you want your band to be booked so you might play for free because if you didn’t play for free they wouldn’t book you. But if they won’t book you unless you’re free, then either that venue doesn’t understand your product and the value you bring to their business, or you’re really just not bringing enough value. So one way or another, you either have to communicate better or you have to find ways to add value or sometimes you just have to walk away. I feel we did a pretty good job of this with Two Bad Apples. My initial pitch to venues when looking for bookings was all about what we can do for your business when we show up and play. This goes for booking Feel Good Jacket now too. They’re two very different projects and have value in different ways, but it is always about my customer, the venue. If we pack the place, that venue stays open and rebooks. They rebook us for more money. A bunch of people tell their friends they saw us there and the next time we come back, we sell way more CDs and have a bigger party and the venue loves us even more. Pretty simple. Sell alcohol and have fun. I’ve turned down bookings because there’s not enough value in it for us too. That’s a hard one because you really just want to play everywhere until the whole world loves you, but that’s not reality and sometimes you have to choose. Up to now, I’ve never made a bad call. Maybe life would be different had we taken one gig and not another, but it doesn’t matter. Everything is the way it should be right now and we are happy to be in the place that we are in. I go with my gut and it’s never let me down. If we raise our price it’s because we have more to offer and if we play for free it’s because we can see the value in doing so. But I’m not sure that a lot of people think this way. I see too many people playing for beer and beer does not pay my mortgage!