Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should you Play for Free?

An important issue that musicians often face

In this video, Robert gives you some answers to a very common question musicians ask themselves pretty often.

Released on May 7, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin here at and The question today is, should you play for free? Wow! What is... Should you? You know, a lot of people have very strong feelings about this one way or another. It's a very important topic we're gonna cover today, and there's a reason why it's important that I'm gonna tell you right out of the gate.

You know that being a musician, whether it's a classical musician, a jazz musician, rock, anything, is so fiercely competitive that there are many places that are not only looking for people to play for free, but they're even paid to play clubs and venues. That's right. Did you know that people who play New York recitals pay to play just so they can get reviewed, and they hope to sell enough tickets to break even if they're lucky. And the fact is, unless they're a world famous artist, it's very difficult to get a get people to come to a hall, even if you pay for the hall, even if you give away the tickets.

So a lot of these are money-losing events that people do just for the notoriety and the attention. Same thing is true for rock bands, struggling rock bands, trying to play at the local club. Well, the club owner might say, "Yeah, you can come and play, but here, here's tickets." You gotta sell a certain number of tickets just so you can play there. Essentially, you're paying to play. You're going out there. You're getting the crowd for them.

So, should you do this? Well, you have to look deep within yourself, and you also have to look at what the specifics are of the situation. How much is there to gain? Sometimes, it could be worthwhile if it's a benefit concert or something of that nature. Getting involved in something where it really helps to raise money for worthy causes, you might not feel so badly about giving your time and pouring out your heart in a public performance. But be very careful, there's a fine line between doing something that opens opportunities for yourself and promote yourself, and where you're being exploited. And I think you have to be very cognizant of this.

So I would not completely discount the idea of playing for free if there's enough notoriety, attention, press, and things you can gain from it that are of value, but make sure that you draw the line for something. For example, playing at a party where it's more of a function rather than artistic expression, you have to really ask yourself, "Is this worth it?"

Thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming in. I'm Robert Estrin here at and See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ed Baran on January 18, 2017 @7:15 am PST
Great blog, Robert! This question has haunted musicians since "man" created night clubs and concert halls - LOL I'm 64 years young, now, and played electric bass and sometimes, guitar,in a '50s, '60s pop group. We were the "house" band because the club owner was happy with the increase of customers and revenue. I always felt we were never honestly compensated when you consider the amount of practice time the band put in. I enjoyed the audience reaction and positive comments about our group so this made it all worth it. In short it was fun for everybody.
I have a question: What do you think about musicians recording in home studios and using services like CD Baby and Music Submit, to promote their tunes? I did a guitar CD "Four Guitar Lovers" and went through both services to get the music "out there". While I'll never be a Wes Montgomery, I had fun in seeing what the response would be. I didn't lose my money I invested in the recording/copyright fees and there were quite a few positive comments from listeners, mainly overseas. What's your "take" on this?
denrus on January 18, 2017 @6:28 am PST
One of my favourite tales about this: A potential bride calls a bandleader about big band sound music for her wedding reception as a gesture toward her father who loves that music. She wants an 18 piece group, 9:00 p.m. - 1 a.m. The leader confirms his band's availability, the bride asks for a quote: "$5000." he replies. She's aghast! "5,000 dollars???" Why so high, she asks." His response: "Look, lady. Call your favourite plumber. Tell him you need 18 workers on a Saturday evening from 9:00 - 1:00. Get a quote. We'll charge you half!!!"
Ed Baran on January 18, 2017 @11:11 am PST
BEEN THERE! LOL! Reminds me of the time I received an urgent phone call from a local big band leader in Baltimore. The father of the bride only counted 15 members in the band and he was refusing to pay for the band. I grabbed my tux, guitar, amp, and "snuck" on the stage while the band was playing. Needless to say, both the leader and guitarist was happy that night.
Teo on June 7, 2014 @10:57 am PST
Charles Ives refused to copyright his music because he wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it. Though he was wealthy.. You are giving away your music in YouTube.. and I used to go download all the sample clips from artists I liked, so maybe one should just give it all away as much as possible? I'm just asking. Also: In the east I believe they have different copyrights, maybe Russia too? If one wanted to you know sell music to Tchaikovsky's people, would you have to throw out all the ideas of copyright? I just like your answers so far so I'm taking the liberty to bring up more - thanks bazillions Robert! Wishing you the very best, Teo
Robert - host, on June 7, 2014 @2:13 pm PST
Thank you Teo! I am happy to share these music tips. This is how I connect with people and promote my career. We are working on more extensive master class videos which will offer courses on complete piano works.
John Tiffin on May 7, 2014 @3:29 am PST
Thanks for your good advise and instruction. Well presented and valuable.
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