Let me give you a little background before I plunge into the meat of this story.
I've been playing the flute professionally for 20-some-odd years. I've performed in ensembles like Santa Fe Pro Musica and the Santa Fe Opera.
In short, I'm good. I'm a pro. And it's taken me almost 40 years to get here.
So, that said, on Saturday afternoon, I posted the following on Facebook:
AN OPEN APOLOGY TO ARTISTS, WRITERS, MUSICIANS, AND OTHER CREATIVES
Inspired by conversions with some of my colleagues, I hereby announce that I am no longer performing in public for free.
For the last 25 years, my playing for free has taken food out of the mouths of other musicians who are trying to make a living at their art, because when they ask to be paid a reasonable rate for their skill, what they hear is, "Why should we pay you when we can get Catharine to play for free?"
My dear colleagues, I apologize; I have done you a huge disservice. While I can't change the past, I can now stop enabling the de-valuing and exploitation of creative artists.
FROM NOW ON, I WILL NOT PERFORM PUBLICLY FOR LESS THAN $100 PER SET (hour).
And let the record show that I am quite content to play music with my friends in our living rooms. I don't need to perform in order to be happy.
If people want free live music, I'm sure there is an abundance of fifth and sixth graders who would be happy to oblige.
The charities weigh in:
I've been lucky enough to have many musical friends and acquaintances who will gladly play for free to help out...If it gets to the point where musicians will no longer do that, I guess we fund-raisers will find someone else to donate their time and talent to help us out. If it gets to the point where nobody cares enough to help, then I'll do something else with my time, and let the community fend for itself...
...I'll continue to try to help, and you can continue to be selfish.I'm sorry, but wouldn't paying everyone a fair wage for their services result in less need for charity?
But all that aside, the whole charity thing puts musicians and other creatives in a very difficult position.
On the one hand, if we donate our services to charities, it supports the perception that music and other artistic creations should be available for free. This hurts us and our fellow creatives.
On the other hand, if we say "no" to charity events, then we are labeled as "selfish" and lose "nice points" in the community.
In the case of plumbers and lawyers who donate to charities, this isn't an issue. People EXPECT to pay plumbers and lawyers, so if they donate their time or services, it's not that big a deal.
I, too, would probably be feeling a bit more philanthropic if my annual income were in the six-digit range and people didn't feel entitled to free music.
Personally, I'm done being "nice".
Working for "exposure" or "experience":
Charity and fundraisers aside, the work that artists and musicians put into their craft is vastly undervalued compared to other, 'non-creative' professionals. I really appreciate your statement, Catharine, as I often feel conflicted and frustrated at being asked to offer my services for free. Often the argument is that it will be 'good exposure' or a 'valuable experience'. The older I get the less that argument works for me. I have experience and I am educated in my field. I think setting appropriate boundaries, like you have done in this post, is the only way we creatives can be taken seriously. And of course, donating our time and efforts when the cause and situation fits, but overall committing to a standard for yourself that you expect others to respect as well.
We shouldn't have to feel conflicted and frustrated. Would a plumber feel conflicted and frustrated? I think not.
We creatives need to stop allowing others to manipulate and shame us into compliance when we choose to say "no" to working for free.
Can we stop this train?
In the engine car of this train are millions of artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, and other creatives who are willing to give away their services. They're all in there, shovels in hand, piling on the coal.
Perhaps if enough of us stepped in front of this train, we'd have a prayer of slowing it down a little bit.
I'm afraid, however, that it's far more likely that the few of us who are selfish enough to say "No" will just end up get squashed.
Wanna join me anyway?