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Pay to Play?

Q: Just recently a drummer friend of mine offered me a gig. It’s a little local bar gig, with a fixed payout (around $150 for the night, for the band). My friend suggested we hire a great piano player for the gig, but to get him on this trio, he said we’d have to give him the full payment. I play quite a lot around town and with many people, and until now, I’ve never “paid” to play with someone. I figured if we’ll all on the gig, we should be paid accordingly. Would you pay to be able to play with someone?

A: There’s a lot that goes into a decision like this.

Some people would stick to their guns and demand equal treatment and equal pay, regardless of the situation. And that’s certainly defensible.

I tend to treat every situation differently and weigh all of the variables before making any decisions. Admittedly, I don’t pay to play very much these days, but I have quite a bit in the past.

My criteria for a gig was always threefold:

  1. The money is good
  2. The networking makes it worth it
  3. A high fun factor or artistic value

If any of those three criteria were met, I am generally down for the gig. Any combination of the three makes it easier.

If the piano player will elevate the level of the band, it may be worth it for a gig, or even a few.

If the pianist presents an opportunity to show your stuff and, potentially, get more and better gigs through him, it may be worth it.

However, if they are just taking the gig for some extra money and you don’t think there’s any chance of a reward beyond the gig, it probably isn’t worth doing.

Ultimately, you are the best judge for your situation. If it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then it’s not worth the energy and time. It may be worth doing once, and then see how you feel about it if there’s another opportunity.

Generally speaking, until I had a bit of a reputation in my music community, I pretty much took every gig I could, because I figured that it was the best way to get heard and also the best way to learn.

I’d suggest that you make a little list of pros and cons and see where you land at the end of the day with it all.

Either way, have fun!

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