“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.