Pretty much anybody who considers her/himself an artist has been asked to do pro bono work by a friend or family member, another artist, or somebody representing a business or larger production. The act of asking for free art isn’t what’s wrong here–there are scenarios in which this is perfectly appropriate–the problem is when there is a budget but art isn’t accounted for, even when deemed necessary to the success of the production. Event organizers need to understand that if they require professional art for their event (off of which they intend to profit), the artist needs to be paid.
Common misconception: The vast majority of musicians/photographers/graphic designers/etc. are hobbyists who have loads of free time in which to leisurely pursue their artsy-fartsy trade.
Fact: There are many amateur artists. However, if the expectation is one of professional-quality art, it needs to be funded accordingly, especially for an event that is generating money.
In my personal experience, drama productions tend to have issues with budgeting money to pay musicians. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some fantastic experiences with theater companies (most notably the Walking Shadow Theatre Co.), and I love actors/directors/dancers/stage managers/lighting technicians/etc. The problem is that, since the people managing the finances/organization of drama productions are almost exclusively actors/directors who focus the vast majority of their energy on casting and figuring out how to pay the best actors/dancers possible, musicians are frequently hired as an afterthought. And once they’ve got a killer cast, dependable tech crew and a rockin’ venue, there’s nothing left to pay the musicians. I totally get it, and I respect that kind of dedication to one’s art, but an artist is an artist and we’re all in this together… right? We’re all the same kind of crazy for wanting to do art for a living, and in order to eat we all need to get paid living wages. Now, it’s worth noting that it’s hard to pay anybody living wages off of the revenue generated by small theater productions, so oftentimes everyone is starving, which somehow makes it okay. Not that it’s okay to starve… but you know what I mean.
A unique approach to procuring pro bono work is the “performance opportunity,” where someone extends an invitation to participate in their production, the only compensation for which is the great exposure it will afford you. Sometimes, if exposure is what you’re after and you can afford the time commitment, these gigs can be great–but only if it means that the time/effort that would/should have been invested in procuring the funds to pay you is still available for promoting/appreciating you. This is a different kind of budgeting, but not necessarily less meaningful. When somebody goes out of their way to publicly show genuine appreciation, it’s worth a whole hell-of-a-lot, on both professional and spiritual levels. But it can be hard to tell going into a gig if you’ll be treated well, which requires a rather well-developed judge of character (and there’s a damn steep learning curve).
Here are some very effective techniques that one can use to increase the chance that he/she will be afforded this kind of non-monetary compensation, all of which fall under the ‘good person’ heading:
- Be genuine
- Do your best
- Treat others with respect
- Collaborate as much as you damn can
- Project confidence!
By no means do I always act this way, but in the situations where I have, there’s always been somebody there to notice and go out of the way to make sure I feel appreciated. And I’d like to propose that, as artists, it’s our responsibility to be that person going out of the way for our peers, whenever the opportunity arises, because that’s a big part of what the scene is all about. Let’s not just budget money to pay fellow musicians, but set aside time/energy and genuine thoughtfulness, and even some love. I’m lucky enough to be part of an incredibly supportive arts community here in the Twin Cities, and everything I know about how this should work is based off of the many inspiring interactions I’ve had with some amazing individuals, and y’all know who you are.