Vancouver Restaurant Posts Craigslist Ad Looking for Bands to Play Free. Bad Idea.

“We can’t pay you, but it’ll be great promotion!”

Ugh. If I had a dollar for every time someone pitched an event like that to me, I’d be long retired and living the Caribbean. Musicians get it a lot, too.

“Come perform your art for free and help my business/event! There’s no money in it, but you’ll be able to get great exposure.”

Piss off. Musicians need exposure, but they need money first. Last time I checked, getting people to work for free was illegal. Why do so many people insist on devaluing music this way?

Whenever I or one of my musician friends get hit up for these kinds of gigs, I tell this story: One day, the great artist Pablo Picasso was sitting in a cafe in Spain. He’d be dead in a year, but he left a legacy of amazing, transformative, influential art. An American tourist spotted him and ran over.

“Oh! Oh! Mr. Picasso!  I am SUCH a fan of your work! I believe you’re a genius! Every time I look at one of your paintings I feel so many things. Thank you for all you’ve done!”

Picasso just smiled and nodded before turning back to his coffee.  But the woman kept gushing.

“Could you–I mean, may I impose on you,” she said, pulling a napkin and a pen out of her purse, “to, you know, doodle me something? It would me SO much to me.”

Picasso sighed and took the pen and napkin and with several flourishes sketched out something.  But just as the woman reached for the napkin Picasso snatched it back.

“That’ll be $30,000, please.”

The woman was aghast. “Thirty thousand dollars? That’s absurd! It only took you fifteen seconds to do that.”

“Yes,” said Picasso, “but it took me seventy years to be able to to it in fifteen seconds.”

With that, take a look at this Craigslist ad posted by a Vancouver restaurant looking for someone to play the place for free. Then note the response.

Play for free copy


(Via DIYMusician)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “Vancouver Restaurant Posts Craigslist Ad Looking for Bands to Play Free. Bad Idea.

  • September 29, 2014 at 10:32 am

    That’s fine IF you are a professional musician. Many of us are hobby bands that play for fun and like to get in front of a crowd once in a while. We don’t need the money, don’t mind playing for free, and can usually promise the bar owner a small crowd on a weeknight. Perfectly fine by us, and rather than ‘passing the hat’ we ask people to generously tip the bartender!

  • September 29, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I’m with Chris. When I had my first band back in high school, this kind of thing was what got us our first gigs. We eventually graduated to proper paid shows, but these free coffeehouse shows got us our stage legs.

  • September 30, 2014 at 2:56 am

    You don’t need to fill a bar in order to set and asking price. Why aren’t you entitled to some profit for setting the mood for another persons business? The whole “Do it for the exposure.” angle is a facile argument.

    Sure, in theory I could perform for free, spend my own money on gas, food, equipment costs, etc. and get a reputation, but it’s at the expense of future attempts to make a profit. Unless it’s a backyard show or open mic arrangement, I’m letting someone else make all the profits from an endeavor that was (at least partially) my hard work.

    I’ve always loved that Picasso analogy. It’s indicative of the standard conception of most people when it comes to art ie. it’s not something earned, it’s something handed down from the heavens without adherent monetary value. Picasso didn’t just pick up a brush and gain an expansive knowledge of art theory. It’s something gained from years of practice and training. Trying to get that for free is akin to the argument of “I can do that, I just don’t want to…” without the comedic drum roll that immediately plays out in you head upon hearing a sentence that absurd.


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