A couple weeks ago Amanda Palmer, formerly of the Dresden Dolls and current musical diva of Kickstarter, announced that she was going to have volunteers supplement her touring band and that they would be playing for free (well technically for beer and hugs). This announcement literally lit up the intarwebs where the righteous indignation meter was absolutely pegged. People pointed to her past career, the “fact” that she was worth millions from previous deals, and the million plus dollars raised by her Kickstarter. One of the interesting things here is she walked away from the potentially lucrative deals she had and spent several years writing and getting ready before re-launching herself as an independent artist. Sure she raised over a million but that was to support the new album. Before that money was raised she had already shelled out for recording, paying the musicians, mixing, and mastering. That was a lot but she was raising money on Kickstarter for duplication, cover art, printing, packaging, and worldwide distribution not to mention all of the art books and other extras that were to be part of the Kickstarter promos. Add to that the cost of taking a group of any size on the road and I’m seriously not sure what would be left…it might be a lot or it might be nothing. Of course, you can make a lot of money on a tour in support of the album if you handle the merchandise correctly and keep your costs down…which brings us back to the original “problem”.
MANY people decided to judge the situation based on their own preconceived notions and there was much vitriole and tons of recriminations but I see it another way. Here’s one example: I’ve definitely played open jam sessions before so I’ve played for free in front of anywhere from a handful to a large roomful of people. This usually took place in commercial enterprises called clubs in which “someone” (i.e. not me) was making money but I did it for my own reasons: to get better, have fun, network with other musicians who might call me for gigs, be seen by fans or potential fans, etc. At the time, I weighed those potential benefits vs. the idea of not making any money and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs. This situation should be no different. In fact, the potential payoffs are much higher. You would most likely be playing in front of many more people and could network with national caliber musicians. The ability to hand a business card to players that are connected well beyond your region is priceless not to mention that you can put the gig on your resume and possibly get more gigs based on that.
If you always choose to make a decision about a gig because of what the headliner might be making or what you think they should consider reasonable then you will probably sit home a lot. If, instead, you choose to make a value judgment based on what the gig means to you and you can look at it objectively based pon what you can get out of it (not always money) then ultimately you will probably make better decisions for your career or at least for your sanity and my experience has been that I make more money in the long run but I have no way to prove that. I recently learned that she decided to go ahead and pay the local musicians who join the band in each city but I’ll say right now, if I was open and the opportunity came up I would probably do it and I don’t even like beer. It would be fun.