It is no secret that the music biz isn't what it used to be and that is certainly true in bluegrass music as well. Artists are always searching out new avenues for generating revenue. This frequently leads to some creative methods including unique sponsorships, partnerships, digital retail methods, and more. It is certainly an exciting time in music today or, at least, different than the past. One thing is certain, the music as a commodity is definitely in a new commodity exchange marketplace.
Artists at all levels are generous. They donate a lot of time and energy to their favored charities and benefit functions. They happily carry the banner for everything from The Pink Arrow Project to homeless shelter fundraisers and fire department support. There doesn't seem to be any good function that a band won't support.
When I was into large format film photography, I never wanted to do it as a business because once I started doing that for work, it wouldn't be fun any more. I traveled all over the place taking time to setup and get the right light for that perfect shot. It was fun. Once I started charging for it, the game would change. I would be told what to shoot, how to capture it and then sell the product. It wouldn't be mine any more.
In some ways, the music artist shares that same philosophy. Before one becomes a professional artist and earning a living from that, they may have taken their instrument to a friends and played a bit. They frequented the jams. Maybe did the garage band thing. They may have actually performed in a coffee shop or pizza parlor for fun. However, now that they perform music for a living, they can't (and shouldn't) be expected to "play for fun" anymore.
If I invite a band as my friends to an evening Barbeque, I certainly wouldn't expect them to play without being paid. That makes perfect sense to me and the band -- or, at least, I hope it does. I wouldn't expect a plumber friend to fix my toilet either. Professionals are to be paid period. It needs to be an arranged agreement prior so that everybody is on the same page. If you want or expect an artist to perform, sign a contract and hire them. Plain and simple.
If I'm having a get together with a bunch of friends and I break out my banjo or guitar just to have some fun, there is no foul. If somebody else, not a professional artist, wants to join in, fine. Nobody cares. The professional artist however, is frequently put into an uncomfortable position by doing so. They can't play for free. There is a reason too and its a good one.
If I were a farmer and I sell my wheat on the global market for a fixed price, it is my commodity just as a professional artist sells their music on the music commodity market. If I were to give my wheat away to some country for free for whatever reason, the rest of the world would expect to get their wheat for free also. There in lies the rub. Even if a professional artist wanted to join in and play, they end up providing a service they sell for a different fee to everybody else. They can't let that happen because, somehow, word would eventually get out.
That's a dangerous position to be put in. If word got out, they'd be invited to every party with the expectation that they play for free. Obviously, that should never happen which, is why, if I invite a professional band to a party, I would set the expection of non-performance up front. Or, if I expect them to be the entertainment, I go through their booking agent like everybody else and hire them for a gig. There can not be a double standard and there shouldn't be.
The artist is a professional and they play for profit in any public setting regardless of size. The others who may pick and jam now and then are free to play for fun. Never shall the two mix unless it is by the sole discretion of the artist -- NOT me or others.
Artists work very hard to establish themselves as professionals and many give up better paying jobs to sustain their artist vocation. Please support them in that manner.
I had an artist friend refuse to join us for our 4th of July get-together because he thought he would be expected to perform for the other guests. I assured him that was not the case and, in fact, to leave his instrument at home. We were just going to have a good time, toss down some ribs, burgers, dogs and a few brews. He was invited as a friend -- not the entertainment.
I understand his refusal. The "Once Burned -- Twice Learned" had set those wheels in motion. We will get together for a private dinner some other time where the expectation won't even arise. Playing for Fun and Profit should be reworded as Playing for Fun OR Profit.
So, we'll get together another night and, I'll be buying!