“I don’t deserve to be paid”

Do you know what I hear from musicians all the time?

“I can’t charge that, no-one will pay it.”

“People get angry when you put a tip jar on an online gig.”

“We don’t work in music to get rich.”

What do all these things say, underneath?

I don’t deserve to be paid.” 

There are hundreds of nuanced reasons why musicians feel this way about money. I can often be heard proclaiming that musicians should never work for free – and I believe this! 

However, it’s more complicated than that. In fact, here’s a flowchart showing how complicated the decision can be.

Flow chart showing the decision making process of taking a free performing gig

This goes into the practical part of this complex matter – but doesn’t touch on the mindset issues.

In general, musicians don’t believe they deserve to be paid well.

And, organisations that pay them often don’t budget enough for what they need.

There’s a big money mindset problem here, on both sides of the industry. And, I want to change that.

I have an example for you, from this article from the BBC: 

Frank Turner’s Socially distanced trial gig ‘not a success’ – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-53578188

This is an article about a really sad and inevitable thing for the music industry – proof that socially distanced performance can’t make enough money to be viable. 

However, the thing that really stood out for me about this article was Frank Turner’s decision to do the gig for free. 

When I first read the article, I was angry – another example of a musician missing out on their fee for something that they’ve not been paid to do in months. 

But, then, I read his words again. Here is a quote from the article: 

“…the singer-songwriter said he’d agreed to play for free, in order to “demonstrate willingness to try”, on behalf of the decimated industry. 

This is not the start of a series of shows like this – that’d bankrupt everyone involved” he wrote. “But it was, as I say, a gesture of cooperation, an attempt to feel out the situation with an eye to taking steps in a better direction.

“But most of all it was a [expletive] GIG. I have missed that, for sure. It turns out, live music really, really matters.”

Doesn’t this say it all? 

Musicians are desperate to perform. It is not just our livelihoods, it is part of who we are. This is the overwhelming thing that I’ve heard from musicians about lockdown. 

I’m committed to helping musicians and music organisations change their money mindset and get the music industry working better financially.

But, to do that, it’s no good railing at everyone to stop taking free gigs  – I have to understand the reasons musicians take the free gigs. 

I believe we’re in a vicious circle – organisations under-value musicians, musicians undervalue themselves, organisations know they can get music for less/nothing… and so it goes on.

I want to change this.

Will you share with me how you feel about being paid? 

Do you believe musicians can’t be rich? Or are very rarely rich? 

What feeds this belief? 

Things you were told as a child? Things you were told as a student? Your experience in the profession?

I want to know your money beliefs, because I’m going to make resources to help with them. Will you help me? 

By the way, here is Frank Turner’s blog post about the event, which is quoted in the article excerpt above, and is a very moving account of what musicians are feeling at this time.

This feels so hard, doesn’t it. Let’s work together to make changes for the better.   

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