I have tackled this subject in other columns in the past but I think it is always important to revisit important topics like this one. The question, “Do FREE shows actually help your career?” is an important one and is something all of us performers must deal with. Let’s look into this situation with this column.
We have all had the phone call or email from some well intentioned chairman of an organization saying “We have no budget, but you will get great exposure which will lead to other shows”. Really? Other shows? Yep, it tells the world you do FREE shows, and you will garner more of them. To add insult to injury, if you do decide to accept this “freebie”, when you arrive you find it was catered, and sports a complete band or orchestra, and you know no one else but you is working for free.
Asking questions is the key to all of this. Ask the planner if everybody is working for free, if they say no, then you say no thank you. Period. Why should you donate when no one else is? If everybody IS working for free then you must decide if this date will advance your career or if it is a charity you want to support. If it is something you believe in, go ahead and accept this date.
To stem the tide of “freebies” I often ask the would-be “asker of free shows” to write me a brief proposal or email explaining why I would be a good fit. Now I don’t want to sound snobbish, but if this person is looking for free and looking for ANYONE to fill a spot, they will pass on you or you will never hear from them again. Problem solved! If they take the time to write you, then this is showing me the person really wants YOU and they are backing it up. I then would absolutely consider doing the show.
This is tricky business but once handled correctly, and the word gets around that you charge, many of these “freebie” people will drop by the wayside. You also need to consider if dropping in a free show will advance your own agenda. If it does, go for it!
To contact Mark Wade: firstname.lastname@example.org