Most cover bands and musicians will at one stage or another be asked to perform a charity gig. Although they range in size from large corporate events, to a fundraiser gig in the local bar, one thing is constant; Acts are often asked to play for free. This puts many bands and performers in an awkward position because it can be difficult to say “no” to a charity. So what’s the answer, should musicians play charity gigs for free? As a general rule it has to be “no”. But on occasion it’s definitely “Yes”.
The reason I say “No”, is because we are professionals and our services have to come at a cost. So just like the CEO of the charity, it’s admin staff, the venue owners, the venue staff, and the host of other people involved in an event, we need to be paid for our time. This may sound callus when faced with a request to help raise money for a very worthy cause, but that is not the case. As performers we are running businesses, so we need to be objective because we simply can't afford to do gigs for free.
Understandably, you may not think this way when the person asking you to do the gig is local, has been directly affected by the charity, and who themselves are giving up huge amounts of their time to do the right thing. So what should you do?
Charity is a very personal and private thing, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel pressured into doing a gig for free. If you’re not comfortable with it, just say “No sorry, I’m already booked”. Alternatively, state what your standard fee is an offer a discounted rate. The size of the discount will depend on a lot of things (who’s asking, what’s it for, etc.), but at the very least, ensure your costs are covered.
So when is it definitely “Yes”?
When it feels right! If the cause you are being asked to help fund raise for is something you feel strongly about, and you want to help make a difference, then say “YES, YES, YES”. But there are other times when it can feel “right” too; when there is a genuine exposure opportunity and future potential. But that conversation is for another day...