June 28, 2022
The Price Of Admission: A Female's Guide To Navigating The Man's Music World

So you want to book gigs for free? That is book gigs that are free for the audience and venue. Gigs that don’t pay you any money.

There are pros and cons when you book gigs for free. In this article and podcast learn when you should say yes or no to a free gig.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes whether you should book gigs for free or not we need to look at how history played out for bands who played free gigs.

The Backyard Band

Before Van Halen rose to stardom they played in everyone’s backyard. Based on all the documentaries of Van Halen, it looks like they played in literally everyone’s backyard in Pasadena. To start they played for free. Eventually, they started making money.. in the backyards! With all the experience and fans they gained from playing free shows they moved up to clubs.

Many bands have followed in the same footsteps. Practicing and performing with every opportunity.

Set Your Goal

Before we look at the pros and cons of booking free gigs you have to answer this question. What is your goal?

Do you want to make it in the music business? Do you want to make a living as a cover band? Do you simply want to make living playing music? Or, do you just want to have fun playing some gigs?

Know your goal and it will help you focus on whether to play a free show or not.

Pros of Playing Free Gigs

There are many advantages to playing free shows with your band. This is especially essential for young and inexperienced bands. You have to pay your dues and hone your craft before you get paid the big bucks to showcase your expertise.

  1. Free Exposure For Your Band

    Take all the free exposure for your band that you can get. Free gigs maybe charity shows or even backyard BBQs. Don’t miss out on the opportunity. Pass out cards with links to your website and include contact information.

  2. Good Live Practice For Your Band

    My guitar professor in college reminded me often, “An amateur practices until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.” I’ve never forgotten that. Nothing brings out what is wrong better than playing live as a band. Live shows are rarely perfect. The more you prepare the better they will be. The more live shows you perform the better they should be as well.

  3. Could Lead To Booking Paid Gigs

    This is especially true if you’re just starting. You need shows on your resume. You need experience. Don’t pass up a free gig if you are just getting started. Take every show you can get.

  4. It Is Fun To Play Live

    If you don’t enjoy playing live shows then you need to rethink why you’re even reading this article. Admittedly, playing live can be very nerve-racking, especially the first few times. But the rush from playing live should outweigh any nerves you started with. Be confident in your skills and you’ll enjoy it even more.

  5. Opportunity To Sell Band Merchandise

    Get paid even when you play free gigs. Be sure to have your merchandise on hand and mention it to the crowd before, during and after your set. Touring bands make a living on merchandise. A free show with a responsive crowd could net you more in merch sales than if you were paid for the gig.

Cons of Playing Free Gigs

Look, the truth is, there are cons to playing free and paid gigs. This isn’t a perfect world. Assuming everything goes as planned, here are 5 reasons you may want to pass on a free gig.

  1. No Pay (Obviously a con)

    Of course “free” means you don’t get paid so that’s not great. You can as I mentioned earlier sell merchandise. But, assuming you drive to the show, spend your time and offer your talents with no compensation means no pay is a con.

  2. Same Amount of Work

    You can’t just perform a free show. Most non-performers have no idea the time and effort that goes into preparing for a gig. First off, you had to practice your instrument for years. Secondly, you have to form a band, learn songs and practice together, which takes hours and hours. Before you even get to your first show you could easily have put a year’s worth of work into it.

    Even if you have experienced musicians and form a new band, you still have to learn a bunch of songs and practice together. The bottom line is preparation takes a lot of time.

  3. No Guarantee There Will Be An Audience

    There is a good chance that you’ll get asked to play a free benefit concert in your life. The promoter will have 100% good intentions. He’ll organize everything and secure a great line up of bands. Everything will go perfectly except no one will show up. I have played for 1 person before. I have performed for thousands before. You just never know. You take a chance when playing the gig for free. Keep that in mind.

  4. You Could Devalue Your Worth

    It’s kind of funny how when someone finds out you played a show for free. They’re like, “That’s my price! I want to book them.” I’m not even kidding. Don’t be afraid to turn down charity shows or free gigs they could devalue you.

  5. Takes Away From Paying Opportunities

    Free shows take time (said that a million times). Time is not unlimited. If you have a free gig booked then you obviously can’t book a paid gig. I have had conflicts like this more than once. I ended up taking an early slot at the free show so I could accept and make my paid gig. Early slots on free gigs are usually the worst slots.

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