I have a confession to make: I still play music for free sometimes. Even when other folks around me are getting paid. And I feel like a hypocrite for saying so, because I’ve posted before that I would never play for free unless the whole event were pro bono, down to the catering and security.
Truth is, my mind is changing. And right now I’m not sure what I believe in with regard to music and money.
If I keep arguing up and down in favor of compensation for every little musical thing I do, I start to feel like money is the only reason I do music. It’s not true, but it becomes the truth. And then practicing becomes a chore, creativity a bother, and learning unnecessary.
I also wonder if all this shouting and soap-boxing is just me covering up the fact that maybe I’m just not that good; if I were good enough to be hire-able, I wouldn’t have to defend my position on being paid. I wouldn’t have to raise my voice about it.
How did I get here?
Just a few days ago, I shared the stage with one of the premiere singer-songwriters of the Detroit area, Emily Rose, at a local watering hole/brewing company. We had prepared a number of duet pieces and lovingly put together a show that formed a surprising symbiosis with the crowd watching the Tigers play the Yankees on TV for the ALCS. Everyone was really supportive, the listeners were great, and Emily and I had a magical time sharing our original music as well as covers of Loreena McKennitt and Madonna. People drank beer and made merry. We met each other’s fans. We were applauded up and down, and we played a few encores. Tim Gay, sax player and bandleader of the jazz group Rare Standard, also happily jumped on stage with me to play Sade’s Smooth Operator at the very end.
When the time came to go (just after Valverde took the mound for the Tigers in the 9th inning to nearly throw the game away–but that’s another story), I actually dreaded the moment when I had to talk money with Emily and the manager–not because we didn’t know or trust each other, but just because I didn’t want any conversation about money to disrupt a perfectly beautiful evening. I realized that if money wasn’t involved, I would still be happy and proud for playing well and enjoying the result of all our hard work. I didn’t care about money anymore. Nothing was going to get in the way of me enjoying myself as a musician. I’d written a love song to my husband and sang it directly to him that night, and he loved it. I thought, “THIS is why I write my own music, this is why I collaborate with good people, this is why I practice so hard and memorize everything: for the magic of it.” If it were only about money, none of that would have any value, and I’d go right back to my old cubicle job.
That’s not to say I didn’t get paid, because I did. We did really well, in fact, money-wise. And so did the venue; it was mutually beneficial. But what we were left with at the end wasn’t the cash, but the bubbling-up of possibility in our conversation: We have to do this again; you can come play with me at the next open mic, and I’ll come to your show…be sure to bring your guitar! Yeah!
That warms my heart more than anything. And warming the heart and filling the wallet are two separate things, no matter how hard we try to fit them together or make them synonymous. I have to respect that difference, and when I do, I can have both the warm heart and the full wallet to keep me going.