Sure. I'll work for free

Because someone will ask. Lots of people will ask. “I can’t afford to pay you for it, but can you do this for me?” It comes with the territory of being an artist.

At this point, I have a few standardized responses I can just pull out.

> My standard answer #1:

I’m happy to do it at no charge.
First priority, though, is paying gigs who paid extra for a rush job.
Next are the regular paying gigs.
Then I have the stuff that I create with the intention of selling later, and doing the marketing for my own sales.
Then there’s some on spec stuff where I’ve actually got a contract guaranteeing me a percentage.
Then there’s stuff that I do for a couple charities that I get to claim as a tax write off.
Then there’s my own projects I’m working on.
Then there’s possibly some other on spec stuff, prioritized by the time investment to probability of success ratio.
As soon as I’m done with that, I’m happy to get to your thing- Probably sometime next November, if I don’t get any other paying work between now and then.
"But we really needed to have it by next week."
No problem- Rush rates are on my website.

> Standard Answer #2:

I will play for fun, but I can’t work for free.
If you want me to jump up on stage and jam a few tunes, that’s fun for me- I’ll try to remember to bring my guitar if I make it that day.
If you want me to commit to a day out of my schedule, deal with contracts, compose a set list, learn new material, rehearse, do promotion, pack up my equipment, drive there, unload, set up, put on a good show whether or not I feel like it, pack down, load out, and drive all the way home- That’s WORK, and I get paid for that.

> Standard Answer #3:

This isn’t so much an answer, so much as a response. I have an Exposure Contract. If I’m asked to play for the “exposure”, I send it to them.
In simple terms, it says that I agree to do the gig at no charge, on the assumption that it will lead directly towards $X in merchandise sales, and/or $Y in other paying gigs.
And obviously, if that doesn’t happen within 60 days, then the booker of the original show agrees to make up the difference.
With interest.
And penalties.
And service charges.
EXHORBITANT interest and penalties.
Exorbitant to a degree that pimps and payday loan agents would be ashamed to even suggest.
I’ll put the gig on my schedule as soon as the contract is signed (notarized) and returned via FedEx.


“No, but thank you! Best of luck.”


There are advantages- Response #1 and #2 have actually turned a freebie request into a paying gig on at least a couple occasions.

And by my math, if I can find three people dumb enough to sign my “Exposure Contract” and go 90 days overdue, I can retire


I enjoy David Thorne’s take on being asked to work for free:


I like #3 a lot. It appeals to my inner evil overlord.


I’d comment on this, but I’m waiting for your PayPal payment to clear.



I imagine they have. I just don’t ever want to deal with anyone who doesn’t respect the time of other people. I’m totally content burning that bridge.

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Long version reply to that request?

Some variation of everything you just listed, with “sure,” being the option least often used.

Short version reply:


A friend of mine a while ago:

“Hey dude, we should make an iPhone app. I’m thinking something like a cookbook app which lets you look up recipes based on what ingredients you have. I’ll do all the artwork, and you can do all the programming.”

That app didn’t get made, needless to say.


the wonders of devalued labor :sweat_smile:


Sadly it’s par for the course in the creative fields. I did not do jobs for free, but very cheap when I was starting out. I did tell people people who said “do it for the experience” to bugger off. There were businesses whose model was to to take advantage of young artists, one particular Manhattan animation studio hot in the 80’s & 90’s comes to mind. They stopped hiring me when I stood up to their bullshit. I had a friend lose his photographers assistant job to a trust fund type who would work for free.

I’ve done a few things for free, but at my initiative - either because the other person was giving out something for free that I used and wanted to help improve or because I liked their work and wanted to buy it but couldn’t figure out how from their website. It’s one thing if you volunteer to support something you believe in.

But a businessperson (or wannabe) asking for free work would be quite a different matter. When I was contracting, I had no problem shutting off even ‘paying’ customers who dragged out the payment way beyond when it was due (“Because paperwork, but can’t you just go ahead and do this other thing?” “You do the paperwork for what you owe me and when I get the check then we’ll talk about new things.”). After awhile, I just refused to work for anyone who wouldn’t pay a good chunk down in advance.

One potential customer refused to pay anything in advance, and right at that time I quit contracting and went to a full-time job. About a year later when that contract would have been up, the potential customer contracted me again and said the contractor that they got instead of me didn’t work out and would I reconsider - they needed someone to fix what that contractor had done. I just said no thanks.

Customers/clients who can’t or won’t pay are the worst to deal with. The ones who are already successful and pay well with no complaints and no questions asked not only pay better but are more importantly far easier to deal with. They’re also the ones who, when you have to tell them that you’re raising your rate, just say “ok no problem, and by the way we have more work for you if you can do it”


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