Do It For Free!

Brooke Waggoner

Brooke Waggoner


There’s a popular quote out there that says, “If you’re good at something, you should never do it for free.”  I disagree with this…sometimes.  In many cases, you have a greater chance of making money if you provide your service for free.

Give Free Music
Brooke Waggoner is again my prime example for this. Waggoner is fairly new to the scene.  She’s only got two CDs (one ep, one full-length) and approx 600-700 song plays per day on her myspace.  This is why I think she’s doing so well:  She gave away her ep for free.  I’m sure this was teamed with some heavy duty marketing and promotions as well.  During the year,  her calendar was booked up with at least 5 shows per week all over the US.  So she made practically no money off her ep for over a year and she spent tons of money on touring.  With the fact that her music is top quality and free, news of her release spread all over the blogosphere and word-of-mouth totally paid off for her.  Her much anticipated, new CD, Heal for the Honey, came out this past September.  And everyone in the indie-sphere was on top of it.  She got shout-outs and write-ups on NPR, Paste Magazine,  Paper Magazine, American Songwriter…etc.

Now that the new CD is out, Waggoner’s ep is no longer free unless you sign up for her e-list.  Pretty nice incentive…and a very clever tactic for building your e-list.

fyi: if people really like the song you’re giving away, there’s a greater chance they’ll buy your CD. 

Do Shows For Free
Play out as much as you can!  In most cases, you wont get paid. If you need to decide between doing a free show or staying home…play out!  You’d be surprised at how many opportunities come out of doing something for free.

But Don’t be a Puppet
There are some people who will continually “use” you if they know you’ll do something for free.  Beware!  There’s a point where you’re giving way to much and the venue or establishment is making money off of you.  Example: 

  • An art gallery has asked you to come play during gallery house.   
  • People come to see the art. 3 pieces are sold and the gallery makes over $1000. You make $0.
  • Sometimes it’s ok to do pro-bono events like this but if a venue is continually using you to make a profit and not giving you a cut, that’s wrong!

That’s it for now. Feel free to add your comments.

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2 Comments on “Do It For Free!”

  1. JC Says:

    The problem with this advice is twofold. First, most people do not know what business they are in. And the second is that they cannot figure out which venues should pay no matter what.

    The girl in the example is in the recording business. She plays pro bono to promote her recording career, from which she hopes to someday enjoy the profits. Most people who read this blog are not in this business, and the majority of them cannot figure out the difference. Most of them are in the “playing live music for money” business (performance). If you are in the performance business an occasional free show, like a showcase, can be helpful to building up the bookings. Otherwise charge for your services. Period. Professionals charge. Ask a brand new doctor for some free service and see what you’ll get! This same thinking trickles down to the idea of “giving a venue a break” because it is the first time you’re playing there. When you do that you’re not cutting them a break, you are setting your price. They don’t give you a drink discount the first time you walk into their bar, either. Businesspeople do not behave this way. You shouldn’t either.

    As far as venues go, if they charge you should too. It’s that simple.

  2. grassrootsy Says:

    Hi JC,
    This blog is for independent artist who are trying to get their name out there…not professionals who are already established. I can give you countless examples of how free shows have personally paid off for me. When you are just starting, you can’t charge.

    I wouldn’t want a someone working on me unless they were a certified doctor or health professional. It’s only the professional that’ll get my money.

    So for artists who are not professionals, I definitely reccomend playing free shows occasionally . This, of course, is just my opinion…but its worked for me which is why I’m passing it on.

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