So I just took a call I was not stoked to take. I can't say I didn't expect this or that it hasn't happened before. It's always awkward, distressing and generally uncomfortable:
Someone asked that I perform for free.
I get it. No one values music the way other musicians do. People don't see live musical performances on par with a lawyer drafting a will pro bono. Or a doctor giving you a free check up because he/she is a family friend. Doctors and lawyers have to have degrees to be able to do what they do- you can't just call yourself a doctor without having gone to med school; you can, however, call yourself a "self-trained musician" without having studied privately, without having gone to university or even without having a modicum of talent. I get it. I really do.
There are a lot of Holden Caufield-approved phonies out there who masquerade as musicians. They brag about how much ass they get after barely scraping by at a dive bar where two people have shown up (only to drink cheap beer and not actually hear a band play). They play the same riffs over and over without trying to challenge themselves to learn anything other than the first few sweeps in the infamous "Freebird" guitar solo (you're just bending a minor third, moron). As much as I want to call out all the talentless rock hacks I know, it happens just the same in the classical world.
People expect to get free services all the time.
As someone who models (albeit insecurely) AND plays music, I can see both sides of the spectrum. I've done plenty of photoshoots for free. I have no problem with that, unless the automatic expectation is that I shoot for free because I don't value myself. There is a HUGE difference in collaborating and taking advantage. When you collaborate, everyone works together for a unified goal with the understanding that there is a mutual respect and similar level of talent. Frequently, the people with whom I collaborate are old friends. Sometimes, they're super talented and I'm just stoked be a part of their creative world. But the thing is, I didn't go to school to model- I do it as a side gig.
I went to college to study violin performance.
In fact, I spent 4.5 years struggling every single day to finally end up with two degrees in two musical fields. I worked my ass off in high school so I could get scholarships to be able to pursue a musical career based on a controlled and regimented foundation, something I had seriously lacked in my early years of study. I am still paying off my student loans, though my financial burden was fortunately way less than many of my classmates' burdens. But yet when people ask me to perform for free, it's like my entire life thus far is being told a fat, flat FUCK YOU.
They expect me to forget that I struggled to get where I am. Sure, I didn't HAVE to study music in college. No one HAS to study past high school. Hell, no one even HAS to study at all. But it was my choice. I chose to be a musician, and validated this decision by striving for and eventually obtaining a degree in performance. Even had I dropped out of music school (which I had considered many times), it still would be unfair to assume that I'd undervalue myself and keep taking gigs for free. Sure, everyone takes free gigs from time to time. When I was trying to establish myself as a local Florida musician and was still in college, I took free gigs all the time. It was about exposure. It was about networking. It was about getting to do what I love.
But now, post college and pre solo violin career, what kind of message does taking free gigs send? How could I afford to take free gig after free gig while never getting paid? What's even better is when people tell me now that their gig will be "good exposure" - I can't live off of good exposure, especially when you're then running your mouth telling people that you somehow convinced me to provide a service for free, which cheapens my abilities even more. ACE MOVE, BRO.
It send a message that I don't value my craft, and that I don't value myself enough to charge for a service. It sends a message that I don't take my career seriously. It sends a message to all of my colleagues that I am lowering the value of our craft, thereby collectively demeaning so many others in the process.
Everyone wants to be seen as the good guy. I'm not writing this to appear like a total doucher who will absolutely never take free work. That is both untrue and unfair. It has taken me a long time to value myself as a musician. All I'm trying to say is that people need to start valuing truly professional musicians as just that- professionals.
Fine Young Poet : Em
an artist who chooses to starve