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Magic Choral Trick #272 Nothing Pays Worse Than a Free Gig

When my violinist daughter was about 10 or 11 she was asked to play a couple of fiddle tunes onstage at her school’s Big Fair Day. The crowd was already noisy when she got up there to play – but because the mic wasn’t turned up enough and the sound guy was having a very important conversation elsewhere, the crowd just chatted louder and louder as she played.

She bravely and gamely finished the two songs, walked offstage and burst into tears as I met her. But she was not only sad and humiliated, she was furious. Now, about 18 years later, when anyone asks her to play, compose or arrange music for free she insists on getting paid, because, to quote her “It’s not about the money – it’s the respect.”

She’d learned something by 10 or 11 that it took me about 35 years to realize – that when you play for free they ignore you, and when you charge them an arm and a leg, they listen intently, give you a standing ovation and ask you back next year.

I’ve never mind doing ‘wallflower’ gigs if the money is good enough – because even if the crowd is milling about and noisy (cocktail parties, art receptions…) in our culture the money = the respect. Though for choruses that work so hard on presentation, this sort of performance can be discouraging.

Did a freeby gig recently where we were asked to perform at 2:30 at the end of a group’s meeting. We waited and waited and waited while there was 35 minutes worth of unstructured debate about whether or not people who hadn’t been to all of this group’s meetings should be allowed to go to the free Christmas dinner (Yes – it’s July, and yes, obviously I’m still a bit of a sucker)

Meeting and banquet gigs are almost always like this.

My women’s chorus had been asked to sing at a national gathering of police chiefs. The event organizers had hired a very capable director/stage manager, and then ignored all of his suggestions. We were supposed to sing at about 7:30 p.m. The fact that we were charging a small amount of money (clearly not enough to earn any respect) was the only reason we stuck around for our performance at 10:10 p.m.

So I guess the moral of this story is to be sure to put some thought into charging exactly enough to make the performance worth doing. For some performances no money needs to change hands, and for others…..

“It’s not about the money – it’s the respect.”

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