Should You Work for Free to Move Ahead Creatively?

Should You Work for Free to Move Ahead Creatively?

As creatives, we are all too often asked to volunteer our time and resources for free. Film and music people are notoriously known  for being expected to give their time for nothing more than recognition and a thank you. As a musician and a filmmaker I have worked at no charge in order to practice my art, be recognized and network with some fantastic people. I love making music and film and usually jump at the opportunity in whatever manner it may present itself. For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the music end of things but this is applicable to any creative endeavor.

Many bar and restaurant owners know that a lot of musicians are dying to get a break and will play for free. You can’t blame them for using this as leverage while they make money off the efforts of these artists usually with little or no promotion. Not only do the bar owners expect you to play for free, they also expect you to promote the shows, fill the seats and help sell liquor and food with your music.

While some establishments will split the door with you, most will ask you to sell tickets and that is the only money you make. If you are lucky (and smart) you can negotiate door sales and a base rate. While this works great in theory, some unscrupulous owners will lie about what they made at the door and in some cases renege on what they agreed to pay the band.  Your business skills will improve the more you play, although it will probably come with hard lessons. Sounds like fun, eh?

My story begins with the seminal 1990’s heavy metal band Centrafuge where I played bass and was the unofficial band leader. We had some success on local radio, won a few Battle of The Bands, put out a decent selling ( 1000+ copies) of our debut album and were the local house band at one of the big bars in town, “Rock Central Station”.  Our manager at the time had toured North America extensively with some successful bands and had an “in” at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Go to Hollywood and be discovered. The big catch was that most of the bars on Sunset Strip at that time were “Pay to Play”, which meant we had to buy $250 worth of tickets and then sell them to people on the street but we couldn’t sell them in front of the bar or on the same block as the bar.

This was much more serious than just playing for free, we had to PAY to PLAY!!! Adding insult to injury, there were flights, hotel rooms, car rental, food … and we had to rent amps and drums when we got there.  It was a major expense to get down there to possibly be seen by someone important who may or may not like us. In the end we pooled our nickels and dimes and made it happen, however, our manager did not disclose all the details for our gig….

We arrived on Sunset Strip and checked into our hotel. We ran into a stagette about an hour in and that’s how the trip started:)

Centrafuge Sunset Strip stagette

Centrafuge Sunset Strip stagette

Centrafuge in the Hollywood Hills.

Centrafuge in the Hollywood Hills.

It was a wild one as we explored Hollywood, The Sunset Strip, Universal Studios and the magic that is Los Angeles.  We saw Dennis Hopper on a chopper and ran into Dan Aykroyd at the House of Blues on Sunset; it was a grand time.

Our manager promised great things for our gig on Sunday but failed to mention we would be playing after Gospel night. As a non-promoted Canadian metal band it was not the best fit to put it mildly. We put on our best show that we had  played to date; we were pumped for this regardless of the circumstances! It was fantastic and I paid some extra cash to record the show for prosperity.


It was one of the best experiences of our young lives as a band and as individuals. Was it worth it to go beyond playing for free and paying to play, HELL YES!

Now every situation is different and I am not promoting the “Pay to Play”model or playing for free but you have to ask yourself if the rewards are worth taking a chance regardless if there is a payday at the end. Life is too short for the “what-ifs” and “should-haves.” I recommend weighing the risks and taking chances if you feel you can move and grow towards your goals and the person you want to become creatively. Get out there, have fun and follow your passion!

 

It Never Hurts to Ask … or Does it?

It Never Hurts to Ask … or Does it?

One of the challenges I face as a producer is the fear of rejection. Being afraid to ask for something because someone might say “no” is probably not high on the list of desirable things you want in a top-notch producer! So how do I deal with this part of my psyche?

First I consider my goals. What do I need? What do I want? Then I prioritize my goals. How important is this to meet my goal? What am I willing to give up for this? Finally, I give myself a little encouraging talk … you’ve probably heard phrases like “you don’t get 100% of the jobs that you don’t apply for”.  It’s kind of the same when I need something. I tell myself … “if they say no, where does that leave me?” The answer is “in the same place I am now … “ I may not be better off, but I won’t be worse off either. What is the best thing that could happen? They say yes! What other outcomes might be possible? They might refer me to someone else or they might say “not now, but try again later”. Those are all GOOD outcomes!

Another note of encouragement is that by asking for something, I have opened the door for later connections and I have introduced myself as a filmmaker. That alone has opened a lot of doors.

Let me share some stories about asking …

Some of you know that I am also connected with the Edmonton Short Film Festival (ESFF). Last year, the festival featured a panel event for filmmakers and we featured some hardworking and knowledgeable local industry, educational and government representatives to present to our filmmakers. I was SO afraid to approach all these people, thinking they would all be too busy or not interested … but I asked anyway. And we ended up with a phenomenal panel of 10 leaders from Edmonton’s/Alberta’s film community! This year, I was reading an awesome book: “Filmmaking for Dummies”. This book is filled with so many great hints, advice and information about creating film projects and I was inspired. So I thought it would be fabulous to invite the author, Bryan Michael Stoller, to be our special guest for the Filmmakers’ event at the 2015 ESFF.  The little voice in my head said “yeah, right … he’s a Hollywood filmmaker … look at the work he’s done and who he has worked with! You’ll NEVER get him!” I told that voice to hush up and sent Mr. Stoller an email. Within DAYS, he enthusiastically said YES! (Okay, now we have the problem of raising enough money to cover the cost to bring him in, but one problem at a time, eh!).

I have never paid for a filming location and we have always had GREAT locations that have been ideal for our projects … everything from a mansion on Ada Boulevard to a University to a private lake resort to a former hospital. For each of the locations I made personal visits to the property owners/managers and introduced myself. Then I talked about what I was filming and finally asked if they would be open to allowing us to use their space. Even for the occasional “no” I get when I ask to film somewhere, the “no” is often accompanied by an invitation to connect at another time, or an offer to help in other ways.

Even in requesting funds, I have approached funders “out of the blue” with well-crafted and detailed proposals, stating exactly what I want, why I want it, when I need it, and how I can acknowledge their contribution.

So, again, to paraphrase … “you don’t get 100% of the things you don’t ask for”. I encourage you to take that scary first step, face down your fear of rejection, and ask for what you want or need.