Building your music brand and business is a massive undertaking and today we will tackle the topic of free shows. Playing for exposure and to expand your fanbase are widely discussed in the music community – is the time and effort worth the end result?

While each individual situation is unique and potential benefits of any gigs need to be carefully weighed, playing gigs for free is generally advised against. Why? Here are the eight reasons you might want to reconsider playing any free shows in 2021.

Sets the value of your time at 0

Whether it’s an in-person appearance or an online performance, playing a free gig means you are setting the worth of your time at zero. Define the hourly wage you are comfortable with and charge accordingly, whether it’s a guarantee or ticket prices.

Free makes it feel like it’s worth nothing

Playing a free show or gig devalues your time and skill – like it or not, a free show usually feels like it’s less valuable than something people paid to attend or set up. While big industry names can afford to have a free performance here and there to offer fans as a gift, lesser known and not that popular creatives in the music industry end up reaping what they sowed as their music risks being further perceived as not worth to be paid for.

It’s only free because you pay for it

As you play a show, you invest time to rehearse, promote, plan, rent equipment, pay for transportation (for in-person shows) or location (for online). This can end up costing you a pretty penny, as we’ve estimated in our post on calculating online show ticket prices, so you actually end up not with zero profit but take a loss.

Quality takes a hit

Any quality performance requires investment, be it costumes, better lighting, an assistant, or just your time and effort. With free shows, you don’t always feel inclined to deliver as good a performance as your paid ones – this would feel unfair to your fans who spend money on your music and shows. But free events are often accessible to a higher number of people and their low(er) quality can affect your brand and the way you and your music are perceived.

Strive to make each of your performances the best quality possible because you never know which will be the first show of yours that your next potential biggest fan or a label executive sees!

You could be doing something else

While playing a show or a performance can be exhilarating, exciting, and rewarding, doing it for free won’t get you far. As they like to say both you and Beyonce have 24 hours in a day. Your time is limited and it’s important to prioritize it well and create a schedule that will benefit your music career and business the most.

Yes, you could play this free show, but you could also spend time interacting with fans, working on your promo campaign, completing your upcoming album, learning a new guitar trick, taking an online course, recording a cover to monetize on YouTube, or writing a new song to sell to your Show4me subscribers. Or – doing a paid gig!

Portfolio of paid events is better than free ones

One of the most popular reasons for musicians to play free gigs is that they can build a good portfolio. The reality is, unless you are playing The GRAMMYs (who can afford to pay your rate, by the way), paid shows will be much more useful to your prospective business liaisons in the music business as such events will prove to them that:

  • your performance meets the basic requirements of a professional show
  • other businesses deemed you professional enough to pay for your service
  • you are a reliable partner

All of these can be described as a kind of social proof – when others tried it and have been happy with it, more people are likely to do the same.

Free gets the ball rolling

The more free events you play, the more people expect you to perform without charging. Playing a teaser show or event can be a good way to introduce new fans to your music or test the waters on your new tracks, but make sure you avoid falling into the trap of playing more and more free gigs and shows just because people have been hearing you did the previous show for free.

It’s not just about you

While it seems like it’s just you donating your time and effort in order to either gain exposure, build connections, or help a charitable cause, playing for free regularly also hurts fellow musicians as more and more people assume the price of a live music event is zero and the musician would be happy to do it because it’s art and they love doing it.

Final thoughts

Even industry experts agree that it can be challenging to make money off your original music if you are unknown, but don’t let this lead you to prioritizing free opportunities over smaller, but paid ones, leaving money on the table and hindering your music business.

Learn how to run your music business using Show4me tools or dive right in and launch your very own ticketed online event today.

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