How Musicians Devalue Music
Yesterday I attended a concert a relatively new Arts Center that recently began a chamber music series. Not only was the concert fantastic, with literally world-class musicians, but it was free. And, that free concert came with coffee and pastries catered by the arts center.
While I agree that outreach is extremely important, we musicians devalue our own work by performing for free. In a recent conversation with a friend who is looking to freelance, she mentioned that she often plays for free in hopes to get paying gigs.
If you play for free, people think one of two things:
You’re making money doing something else, and therefore doing this for personal enjoyment only.
You must not be that skilled and therefore not deserving of payment for your skills.
I do not play for free, except for a gift or for charity. Last weekend I performed at a friend’s wedding, and did the contracting work and played, but this was my gift to the couple. What we do when we perform for free is devalue not what we do, but also devalue the market that we are a part of. Living in Arizona, gigs with local symphonies will pay as little as $31.50, and this fall there was a local orchestra that charged musicians to audition.
One reason that wages are low is too much exposure for the demand. If you can see a large orchestra perform 40 weeks a year, often with three concerts during one week, the local population has plenty of opportunities to see the orchestra throughout the year. This overexposure leads to less value. Coupled with the rise of local regional orchestras, there are places in the United States, including Phoenix, that perform similar concerts at varying degrees of greatness every weekend. How does the local community sustain this oversaturation?
On the reverse side, there are musicians that make millions each year – they have a brand, are recognizable to different age and cultural populations. This is not by coincidence, it’s by having a plan.
In thinking about what your goals are regarding being a musician, think about what kind of life that you want to have in ten years, and how to value to your ensemble or business model, Friday will start the discussion on the business plan for musicians.