By Armand Cabrera
Working for free is always a touchy subject for artists. For the sake of this discussion let’s ignore requests from family and close friends. That is a different situation and depending on your family dynamic or relationship it can be a nightmare that has no easy answer. My opinion is to avoid it whenever possible. If you must succumb make it clear it is on your schedule and paying gigs always take precedent.
Strangers are easier to handle. After all you aren’t being paid so your time is better spent working on your own projects or trying to improve your weaknesses than giving away services. Working for free includes giving away your expertise to for-profit corporations as a teacher, speaker or demonstrator.
Charities and causes are the exception. I believe non-profits need our support; a for-profit corporation needs to compensate me though when they want a speaker or presenter. Compensation doesn’t always have to be in the form of monetary remuneration. It can be a trade for services or advertising or merchandise. The key here is to get something to show for your work and not buy into the idea of ‘exposure’ which nine times out of ten is useless to you as an artist. Most people are well aware of the free and low paying end of the market so the exposure you get is usually more of the same kind of clients coming out of the woodwork. Not exactly a career builder.
When you are starting out this attitude is more important than you think. New people want so badly to get established as artists they are willing to do almost anything for a chance at proving themselves. This is where most people get taken advantage of by unscrupulous businesses. This type of work will actually impede you on your road to paying work by taking up all your time if you let it. The experience you get from it won’t apply to high paying jobs or better venues because the professionalism at the free level is non-existent or very limited. Respect the profession and it will respect you, limit your donations to charity.