On the very first day of teaching Music Appreciation, I asked students to do just one thing this semester: Be respectful of everything you hear, even if you absolutely hate it.
I explained to them that there were lots of genres of music that I am not particularly fond of, like opera and electronic music. However, there are people that perform those genres, compose for those genres, and study them, and I am grateful that we have people who devote their time to advocate them.
But most importantly, there are people making a living off of their work in those fields, and I can’t imagine robbing those musicians of their livelihood. I asked my students, “Wouldn’t you hate if people didn’t support your career paths, or even your passions?”
I’m very blessed that my passion is also my work. With the exception of one job working in a retirement community dining room (good times…good times), every dollar I have made has come from music. Whether it was teaching music, performing, selling my own music, arranging for other groups, or as a church musician, music has always provided for me. For that, I am grateful.
I’m not telling you this to brag or to impress you, but to call attention to a major issue most artists face several times in their career. It’s a question so many of us ask when faced with certain situations, and it can really crush us for a day or two.
Why shouldn’t we be paid for our music?
Sure, I can see singing at a friend’s wedding for free because obviously we love our friends and want their wedding to be awesome. I think it’s just implied when a friend asks you to sing for their wedding, you just say yes and refuse payment. Otherwise, you’re kind of a jerk. I digress!
Turn the tables for a moment.
Would you ask your accountant to do your taxes for free? Would you ask your dentist to fill your cavity for free? Would you go to an art gallery and demand they give you a painting for free? No, you wouldn’t. No one asks a plumber, mechanic, or electrician to fix things for free. Why should we provide a musical service for free?
The only time I’ve ever provided my music or service for free is either for a friend or for exposure. Amateur musicians don’t have the PR teams and marketing professionals that mainstream artists have the luxury of utilizing. We are our own PR and marketing. If I want a new audience to hear my music, I’ll offer a free track off my album, or arrange something they desire at no cost.
What most people overlook is that these gigs or products require preparation. They require time. They require practice. While I may be an excellent sight-reader (which I am, really), I’m not going to show up to a performance and wing it. I’m going to learn the piece on my own time, as a professional would do.
This is a post that I feel like I don’t really have the answers. I will even admit, it was written out of frustration from a recent situation. It took about a month to post it, to make it less anger-infused and more of a level-headed explanation of my real feelings. I think when we are caught off guard, it’s hard to deliver this message any other way but frustrated and sad.
So there are no tips. No tricks. No anecdotes for how to handle the situation. This post was more for me and my own thinking through for future conversations. If it resonated with you, that is an added bonus for sure. Feel free to share, or comment below with any thoughts, solutions, or any words of wisdom!