I was gonna blog at greater length about this, but someone already said most of what I have to say, at least as well as I could: http://justincolletti.com/2012/09/13/in-response-to-amanda-palmer/
Here’s what I have to add to what Justin Colletti said:
There are solid reasons for musicians to consider playing for free, starting with a good cause, and I can’t recall a year where I didn’t play at least a couple of charity gigs, with six being about an average year; I know I’ll be asked, and I’m happy to be of service, but for non-charitable causes, like Amanda Palmer‘s for-profit tour, there’s a formula for determining when a gig is worthwhile. In order of importance to the professional musician, the formula goes a little something like this:
Five Reasons To Take A Gig
1) The Money
Self explanatory for the most part; money buys strings and picks, pays rent, utilities, insurance and puts gas in the car, if you’re lucky, but if money is the only reason to take a gig, I usually won’t take the gig. Reread that last part. I might take a gig for money alone, if circumstance dictates, but I won’t do it for long, because a straight money gig will eventually kill your soul, and ultimately kill the music inside you. This is why great musicians leave successful bands, in case you were wondering.
2) The Music
Every musician needs to play, and great music feeds our souls in a way most civilians will never understand. I’ll take a gig where the money’s crap, or even nonexistent, if I’m treated well and the music gets me off. Playing with U. P. Wilson paid me nothing, and I leaped at the chance; any musician worth his salt would sit in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band or Emmylou Harris or nearly any living legend who asks, but if I’m asking, I’m paying something, even if it’s a token, because I’m not a legend, just yet.
3) The Hang
The hang is about who I’ll be playing with and where; I’m always willing to take less money or play less-fulfilling music, if I’m doing it with great musicians, in a great atmosphere or venue, or for a really appreciative audience. And to be honest, great free food and beer don’t hurt a bit, but I’m a professional and I expect to be paid something, especially if the sponsors are paying the caterer.
4) The Education
This can be a little bit about the music, too, but if it’s a style I’m unfamiliar with, or a kind of gig I need to learn to navigate, such as weddings or casuals, I’m willing to put up with less than stellar company, money and perks, because the real value is in the on -the-job training, while I’m learning the ropes. If the money’s also okay, I may even put up with a PITA conductor/leader.
5) The Rep
The last thing I ask of a gig is, “Will it raise my profile?” Does it enhance my resume, or get me noticed in a way I can’t do on my own? If it’s a feather in my cap or a stepping stone to a better gig, I can do with less or maybe none of items one through four, but I’d think real hard about that. I wouldn’t want to have a rep as the kind of gig whore who’ll do almost anything for nearly nothing, because that hurts all of us, and not just the musicians.
A savvy musician will note that items 2-4 are interrelated, and that items one and five tend to have an inverse relationship in any gig you’re likely to be offered.