There are many reasons to work for free in the music business. First of all you are probably not the most famous act in town. Open mics are a great way to get known and exposure actually leads to gigs. A club owner might give you a shot if you’ve already been on his stage at jam night a few times. Remember you are basically a businessman, and networking as well as word of mouth not only with the public but other musicians is essential for building a business.
I just did a 3 day gig for $3 in tips. Not going to retire on that, but I met 10 other musicians and interacted with about 40 other people. I got invited to the next event they put on. I am going to go. People will remember me. That’s just the thing, man, you’ve got to start somewhere and the bottom is where everyone starts. From a professional standpoint I have made about $15 in my short newbie career.
Be a good sport with your audience and other musicians. You never know who might need an opener. You also don’t know who is having an anniversary or staff party or business function, so bring a business card or contact info to all your free gigs. People talk, and recommendations do come.
Be patient. There is no such thing as an instant success. Work just as hard on the business side as on your music. Doing a few things other musicians aren’t doing might help a bit. Have a little merch or cheap freebies to give out when you busk gets you more attention than people who don’t, and yes dude, you are in it for attention.
Learn what other musicians are doing, take advice, and be influenced by their business. Take pointers from other musicians. The biggest pointer I got from this event was to be more confident and to fake it till you make it. I am taking it to heart and will do just that.
My advice to the new musician is to get out there and do it. Work for free, get noticed, practice your stuff. You don’t have to be the best man, just be yourself. -M.W