How much is the fish?

Just for the record, musicians are not super humans with the ability to live on nothing but air. It is okay to play for free, if you can really afford it. I am pro charity, sure. But there are a few buts…

If you are a so- called professional musician and you play all the time for free, who is really paying your bills? Don’t be naive, someone has to. Is it society, your mom, you boy- or girlfriend? Don’t get delusional, you do need money. And I find that part of being professional means that you get paid for what you do.

I had this conversation a while ago with a friend of mine about why I don’t just give singing lessons for free. Because some has to pay my bills and I’d prefer it’s me. And on the other hand, I paid for all my lessons too, spent thousands of euros and dollars for the knowledge that I have now and keep spending more for more knowledge, so why should I give it away for free? There is no suck thing as free lunch…

But why is it so that artists are the ones to be exploited most of the time? Some argue that art is not what you need in your daily life, what you need is food and shelter and so on. You can check out Maslow’s hierarchy here and see that creativity is at the high end of this pyramid. You can reasonably say that you don’t really need that. (Maslow might be wrong though)



But what if you do, what happens when all your other needs are filled and you want some music in your life? You download it for free from the internet, right?

It seems that many people don’t get the part that being a musician or any other artist for that matter actually means you work. You work a lot and hard to try to catch a glimpse of the silver lining. Glamour is pretty far from being an artist. Maybe once you made yourself a  “name” you get a taste of glamour, but all in all, it’s work, just like anything else. (Yes, I am repeating myself. ) I can understand that the image we see in papers from successful artist is them posing on various occasions in this or that “add label here” dress…But I bet whoever is on those pages worked hard to get there and works even harder to stay where they are.

The thing is I’ve done my fair share of gigging for free. I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with it say if you are still a student and you really need the experience. But even then, I’d say a small compensation would be nice. Think about it, any other service you want, you have to pay for. Why don’t you want to pay for a musician or whatever other artist you need?

I’ve heard many versions of why. The one that I like the most is that, well, you would do it anyway because it’s your passion or something. And if you don’t come then I know others who are willing to play for free. Great! Call them. Yes, it is my passion, but from where did you get the idea that I don’t need an income? You might say, that’s not your problem. True. What I am really saying is as an artist do consider the pros and cons of playing for free. Yes, I would perform free in Superbowl if they’d ever call me.

The other issue is, asking too little. I mean if you ask 20 euros for an hour of voice lesson, I doubt that you pay your taxes or any other social fees. You might think that it’s fine now, but there will be no pension for you. Finland is still considerably cheap what comes to voice lessons, compared to the USA for example. On the other side of the Atlantic, a voice lesson can be anything from a 100 dollars to 300 dollars.

But how can we make our possible customers understand?I do find it really strange that people are willing to pay 5€ for a latte, yet they think that 20 euros is enough for a 60 minute lesson. How do they add value to a service? How do we make them understand why a 20 euro lesson might not be as valuable as a 50 euro lesson? I have no idea. I’ll tell you once I figure it out. And no, it’s not the customers fault that they only want to pay 20 euros, it’s the musicians’ and voice teachers’ fault that ask for too little. You can say it’s about supply and demand. True, but I think it is also fair to say that you should know what you are worth and don’t sell yourself too cheap. You’ll regret it eventually. And if you think that asking for example 50 € is a lot for an hour, after the taxes and all the other fees you’ll end up with a salary of 12 to 15 € in your pocket, depending on how much taxes you have to pay.

You can count your salary here:

So how much should you ask for a gig in a restaurant for example?In the end, everything is negotiable. In case you have no idea what to ask for, here are some guidelines, in Finnish:

I am thankful for all the places that respect the musicians and actually pay them. Thank you! I hope you continue the good work and help us survive. And last but not least. Be sure to have things written down. Contracts or so, even an email is good. I had to learn  my lesson long time ago the hard way when I only had an oral contract and the festival had no intention of ever paying me.  Take care of yourself, no one else has your back.

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