6 Reasons Why You Should Actually Do A Free Gig

As a musician, finances are usually limited initially. As a self-managed musician – even more so. There is a constant battle to position myself as an artist whose talent is deserving of monetary compensation. In the last few years, I have been in situations that have caused me to question whether money should be the only reason to do a gig. Money can’t always be the deciding factor because life doesn’t quite work that way. Fortunately I have been exposed to scenarios that has given me 5 reasons to agree to do a gig for free.

1). Exposure

“It will give you great exposure”! – worst words to hear from an event organiser.

Exposure is hard to measure. The only reason that it could be a determining factor is if you are basing it on a collective or a demographic as opposed to one or two individuals. Being told a relation of Quincy Jones will be in the audience or a rep of roc nation is on the guest list is not a guarantee that anything will come of it. However, if you’ve been trying to figure out how to attract a younger generation to your brand and you get invited to perform at a “Sweet 16” birthday party, that would make sense (Data collection can be just as valuable as money).

Tip: Accept a free gig if it puts you in front of an audience/demographic you’re not usually asked to perform in front of.

2). Opportunity of a lifetime

I know it’s hard to determine what constitutes ‘an opportunity of a lifetime’. When I was called to sing the Nigerian National Anthem at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C upon the arrival of the (incumbent) President Muhammad Buhari (during his first state visit), it was a no-brainer. At the point that I accepted the gig, I didn’t really know who was going to be in the audience or whether I would get paid. It was an honor, a rare opportunity and a great thing to add to my resumé

Tip: If a gig is not making you money but is a very rare opportunity, it’s probably wise to accept it.

3). Cause

“ We don’t really have a budget” – said at least once by every event planner

A musical talent should be seen as a gift to be shared. I have had to accept several charity gigs that are creating awareness for a particular cause. ‘For charity’ is a good reason especially if it’s something you are really connected to and that you believe in. I was so lucky to be asked to sing at the Launch of the DRASA trust last year that raised money to prevent the spread of Ebola. It was an honor to be involved in something like that.

Tip: Accept a free gig if you know that the money given to you could be used to change someone else’s life.

4). Opportunity to leverage

A free gig could be an in road or open a door to another opportunity. It’s a ‘trade by barter’ and it’s just as honorable as any other reason on this list. Think wisely about how YOU can collaborate with other brands when the money is very limited. Think about what you would like them to help you with and present it to them in the most professional and creative way possible.

Tip: Give your talent for free if doing it will give you much more than money can or will buy.

5). Learning experience

I got this point off my dad and it’s a very good one. As musicians, we are called to all kinds of venues and asked to perform at a variety of events. There are learning experiences waiting to be discovered in almost everything we do. Sometimes music in a certain sized venue is better received if performed with a smaller band. Sometimes a particular age group would require a certain kind of setlist. Sometimes, the only way to know the answer to these questions is to perform.

Tip: If you are called to do a gig for free that will make you learn something valuable about your craft, you should probably do it!

6). Negotiate an honorarium

Yes, it’s true! Doing a free gig costs you another gig that you could get paid for. That’s the gamble you would be taking if you say yes. As a self-managed artist, understanding the music business has had to be at the forefront of everything I do. If I am called to do a free gig, it is in my best interest to negotiate some sort of compensation that will at least cover my costs and overheads. In rare cases if they’ve first asked you to do it for free initially, they may understand and offer to pay a little something if you ask. It’s worth a try.

Tip: Treat yourself as a business and see what compensation you can get to at least cover your costs so that you don’t make a loss. 

Next week, I’ll discuss what reasons are valid to turn down a free gig. They are many! 😉

Till then!

Stay Safe, Be Brave.

K xx