Indie goddess Amanda Palmer really put herself in it, didn't she? She raises $1.2 million for her tour through crowd funding then puts the word out that in every city on said tour, horns and strings players can perform with her...for no pay. After a massive outcry she has changed her tack but it still goes to show how common that expectation is - you play music, it's fun, so don't expect to get paid for it! Never mind the years of sweat, blood and practice that goes into getting good enough for it to look like fun. How many jobs could you do that require massive amounts of training and proficiency to arrive at a point where you're good enough to actually sell your skills - only to be expected to do it for free? Hey I'm in need of a kidney transplant, any surgeons out there free this Friday - there's a slab of Tooheys in it for ya?
I am the first one to demand that people get paid what they're worth but sometimes there are better things than money. When I started performing my own original material, most of the gigs worked like this: a local venue would let you use their stage as long as you promised to bring 30 of your friends willing to pay $10 to get in the door. The bands got paid by splitting the door money. You probably shared the gig with two other bands. The sound guy would need to be get paid, as well as the door person. If you had to pay players to accompany you, you would be lucky to finish the night with $5 in your pocket. Now this is not necessarily about the venue being stingy, it's about market demand. It's very difficult to get people in to see original music, particularly if they've never heard of you. Pubs need punters, so this is their way of trying to make everyone happy and keep their business afloat.
I started a night called PopTarts. It was a series of weekly events that female indie artists could use to showcase new material, network with other artists and sell CDs. It was free to get in, so people off the street weren't shy to pop their heads in and the bands got to increase their exposure beyond Auntie Ethel. As a music artist I am happy because I get to air my new songs at a well organised, publicized event. The pub is happy because there are more punters drinking, which also pays for the sound guy and a bit of promo. Sure the artists don't get paid in cold hard cash but money isn't the only currency there is - opportunity is worth its weight in gold. You use gigs like this to build up a great fan base so that you can put on your own show for which you get paid handsomely. So, playing your music for money? Fabulous. Getting your music to a new audience? Priceless!
P.S. PopTarts' live shows aren't running at the moment but you can check them out in the PopTarts TV Series that ran on TVS and C31.
The whole series is here: http://blip.tv/poptarts-tv.
Keith Armitage runs a great series of similar nights around Sydney called Songwriters Live.