Minneapolis Fundraisers Haven’t Learned the Duluth Trick: Not Paying Artists

Fundraisers cost money?

And save the “we’re too poor / we’re too stupid” excuses. I’ve heard them all.



about 9 years ago

Ok - I will bite on this.  We recently had an event for Chester Bowl where we did everything we could for the musicians.  We were very grateful for their talent and their willingness to share it.  Betting on the extremely fickle public to come to your event and cough up is super risky.  I imagine if Bill Clinton and Elton John had been there the attendance would have been greater.

We did not pay for the bands or beer or the sound truck or the labor of six of my good friends who ended the day exhausted.  But we paid for everything else - the food, the tent, the charcoal, the parking controls, the rent-a-cop and so forth.
The thing about musical talent is that it is not common - only so many people have it.  So it isn't like you can say oh never mind - I will do it myself.

So we did what we could for the bands - free drinks and beer, drums and stage all set up they just walked on, green room with AC, etc.

But no one has ever paid me to cook at a charity event.  that's why they call it charity.

I understand your resentment - but what do you think is the solution to it?  Happy to listen.


about 9 years ago

Is this complaining that bands who agree to volunteer for charity aren't paid or is it complaining that some bands won't work for free even though it is for charity?


about 9 years ago

Nettles- I was wondering the very same thing.


about 9 years ago

I think I know what Adam's talking about, but I honestly think this falls into the "everything's negotiable" category. If you're organizing a fundraiser, it can't hurt to ask people to volunteer. If you're asked, you can say yes, you can say no, or you can also say "I'd be happy to help you out, but I'll need to cover some time and expenses."

I've been asked to donate art, books, design, my questionable musical talents and more to lots of things. Sometimes I say yes, sometimes I say no. Sometimes I say, "I can give you a discounted rate." 

I think "artists" are the most visible donors of their talents, and probably the worst at negotiating their value. I've been involved in plenty of non-profits where people are writing grants, volunteering the bookkeeping, phone calling, organizing, and more. They're probably giving more time and actual skill than a band, they're just not doing it on a stage in front of people.

The benefit Carla put on was a generous one. If I'm not mistaken, all the musicians approached her asking if they could play, and the food, drink and accommodations were unexpected and great. That benefit may have been the exception to the rule. Even so, let's be honest, asking Tangier 57 to walk up the hill and play for an hour is much different than bringing Elton John to town.


about 9 years ago

It's a complaint that, frequently, the musicians — the draw, the acts — are the only ones not getting paid. And that seems to be reasonable to fundraisers. Door guy gets paid. Sound guy gets paid. Bartender gets paid.

Obviously there are variations, but I frequently see events where the only ones walking away sans pay are the advertised acts intended to draw the crowd in the first place.


about 9 years ago

No one to blame but themselves. They want pay, they should ask for it. And honestly, unless it's you specifically not getting paid and upset over it, how do you know how the other bands feel? Perhaps they see it as not only helping a charity, but free publicity and exposure, which goes a long way.


about 9 years ago

I thought Elton John played guitar for us? Seriously, I try not to play benefits unless there's giving going on all around. I hope Carla and company put that on again next year. A cooler day and annual tradition will go along way to make that a great benefit. Thanks for the great food, drink and chance to make $$ for Chester Bowl.


about 9 years ago

Benefits? Fundraisers? 

I agree, it can depend on your feeling about the "cause". The Blue Water Big Band not only will play for nothing we have also donated a silent auction item of a 3-4 hour gig on occasion.

I think there is something missing in the comments I have read and that is exposure. Unless someone is a "heavy hitter" exposure is always worth something.

I also agree on picking and choosing which gigs you will play for. 

I don't know of many local musicians who don't have another job. We all do what we do because we love to play. Partner that with a cause we love and it's a perfect fit.

I say to those organizing fund raisers, be creative in how you can pay if you are able to and never be afraid to ask.


about 9 years ago

Ultimately, it's the musician's choice. An event like the Chester Park Fundraiser was a true community endeavor. When a big non-profit puts on an event, the economy of scale is different. If the goal of a fundraiser was say $100,000- perhaps $100 towards the band is not too much to ask.


about 9 years ago

Didn't Trampled by Turtles offer to play for free to benefit Duluth's flood repair? I agree with the others, it's the musician's decision to play for free for a good cause or not. I do feel bad for visual artists in town, they're always being hit up for donations for auctions, etc. I hope those who attend these fundraisers take that into account when buying art.


about 9 years ago

It is the musician's choice to play for free or not. But I hear what Adam's saying - why pay other workers but not the musicians. When I was doing African drumming EVERYONE wanted me to play for free for every benefit. It was kind of ridiculous, it was like the music I was playing made people think they had a right to use it to make money for charity. But, I'll say this: I pretty much only pay for free now anyway, so no big deal, but people don't ask me anymore, 'cause we're not the same kind of draw - or something.


about 9 years ago

@Adam- Here is my take on everyone but the band getting paid.

Some jobs are best left to skilled and trained personnel (service, sound, security, venue management). The event runs much smoother if venue employees are present and doing their jobs.  Having volunteers is a huge headache for certain positions (Homegrown) so using employees is a much more productive choice.  

That being said employees do not choose what gets booked at a venue.  The management can not legally schedule you to work your job and not pay you for it. This gets a little messy when you are trying to put every penny into the fund you are rallying for.

My personal resolution is to donate my wages to the benefactor of the benefit show, unless I do not support them, in that case, I take my money and go home.


about 9 years ago

I have no dog in this fight, but just saw this online, and it reminded me of the thread.


about 9 years ago

Having been a part of many benefits, believe me, you try to get services for free. However, its been my experience that if the bands are willing to donate their services for free, they at least want their music to be showcased appropriately. 

For example, when I was securing bands for the Pelkey Family benefit, Al of Low said they'd do it if I could secure a good sound engineer. There was a lot going on that night so we had to pay to get the good sound guy. All bands got free booze (donated), and me as free, drunk hospitality. 

Presently, I volunteer on the Rochester Orchestra's Black-Tie Gala planning committee; we're going to have an after-party with band for which we hope to get a corporate sponsor (i.e. someone else donates band's fee). Really, it depends upon the time the organizers have to plan the event. The Gala, been planning for months. The Pelkey Family benefit, just a few weeks.

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