Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Playing for Free?

Earlier today someone left a comment regarding the fact that the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts doesn't actually pay anyone to play at their noon concerts. Here is the comment in full:
Is anyone aware that the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts doesn't PAY for these concerts in The Richard Bradshaw Theatre.
Oh, they pay the heat, they pay the staff, they pay the administrators, the people who book the musicians, the piano tuner, the IASTE guys to set up the stage and lights and sound, but somehow there isn't a penny left over for the people who actually are the whole REASON for these concerts... the musicians.

One has to wonder how this bastion of high culture, good taste can get away with not paying these world class musicians. Yes this multi million dollar venue can't come up with a few bucks to pay these musicians.

One must wonder WHY these player are playing for nothing. Is it because that's what they think they are worth?

I too have played at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for that series, and although I wasn't paid by the FSCPA, I was in fact paid by the presenting organization (Opera Atelier) for my performance. At the venue, there were several people from OA who held a raffle for free tickets (and harvested a large number of emails from the sold-out crowd), as well as handed out brochures for the OA season. These types of events are integral for building audiences and mailing lists, and result in both new audience members, higher attendance, and potential donors down the road.

Many artists play at this series (and the First Canadian Place series a few blocks away) and aren't directly paid, but use it as an outreach opportunity, building audiences and community, selling CDs, and promoting future events.

Of course, many musicians object to this type of series and it is their own choice whether or not they choose to play at these venues. However, my experience from playing at the series was that it was a very positive atmosphere and is an essential part of the outreach mission of many performing organizations.

But if I were asked to play at a free series and there was nothing in it for me, of course I would decline.

What do you think of non-paid concert opportunities? Would you play at them?


  1. Things I simply won't do without good money for it (and in some cases simply won't do even for money):
    - most Christmas music (I hate it)
    - accompanying that isn't fun or educational for me (especially Christmas music)
    - background music
    - pop/cabaret/broadway
    - anything with a student or amateur (if they're in a desperate situation and I know this, I'll adjust my fee... but I can't starve either)
    - anything with a choir unless they're REALLY good (there's exactly one choir I know and like)
    - anything at any religious service whatsoever

    Things I gladly do without pay (or an "honorarium" that barely covers dinner that night):
    - a good friend's recital, especially if it's rep I like and it's a real help for them
    - chamber music rep I want to know or don't get much chance to do
    - solo program that is worth my time and energy, that doesn't conflict with my schedule, of only music I'm interested in doing
    - a really awesome venue, or a really awesome group of pros to play with that will get to know me and ask me again
    - fundraisers for a cause REALLY dear to me, because otherwise I need to be paid

    But really, I want to be paid, and in a timely fashion. I feel like I'm damaging myself when I'm not being paid unless I really feel like it's a good reason. I need at least some token of appreciation even for the stuff that is of benefit to me, because frankly, I could have been doing other things with my time that would have paid more, or just gone home and actually slept for a change, and I'm sick of eating rice and beans and running on 5 hours' sleep. My friends are a different matter because they're my friends.

  2. Just out of curiosity, if you were playing with singers, were the singers paid by OA? If I had a nickel for every event/concert/etc. where the pianist was paid but the singers weren't (including a number of the opera companies in the city) I could, well, I could afford to do more free concerts.... At the end of the day, I would wager that singers play for free (or little pay) more than pianists, although you'd certainly know more about it than I would, and I imagine that that's a whole other topic.

  3. To be honest Gerrit, I have no idea if the singers were paid separately for the engagement or if their services were included in their contract for the Abduction show.

  4. Hi Chris,
    My equivalent to this is being asked to be a guest speaker at universities to talk to students about their press kits.

    Or donating my services to a worthy cause.

    I'm happy to come and speak to people's classes for the expense of my travel and that's it. It's an educational thing, it's worth donating my time, and it's how I can "give back" a bit. Mentoring is very important to me! Also, I like to practise public speaking and it's a chance to do so without the pressure of "having" to be good with a fee involved. I also usually get a client out of it, which is a bonus, but not my incentive.

    I have recently donated my services - writing a bio and art directing a photo shoot to a fundraiser for a bass theft + Regent Park School of Music. My services were auctioned on, so that's another way I can give back.


  5. all artists who participate in OA outreach gigs are paid, even if they are on contract, and we don't technically have to pay them. It's respectful and the right thing to do.

    Jane Hargraft
    General Manager
    Opera Atelier

  6. Thanks, Jane! That has always been my experience with established performing organizations that use the facilities of free venues.

  7. That's great to hear!

  8. Anonymous6:30 AM

    This is not correct. I have done such performances on 3 occassions, and received no pay for any of them. It is most unfortunate that there seems to be an expectation in this profession that we do these "freebies", and we do them in hopes for contacts and work down the road...

  9. I've also been asked to play for free on a number of occasions. Guest what? Unless the presenter is an organization that I really, really, believe in, I simply turn them down. The promise of future work is most of the time a false one.