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LJS 34: How Playing Gigs For Free is Destroying the Music Economy

Welcome to episode 34 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about how playing gigs for free is destroying the music economy. It may seem harmless. It may be that musicians who play for free just want to get some playing time. But consider the consequences. Listen in!

Listen to episode 34

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In this episode

  1. It devalues the profession

  2. You’re cheating yourself.

  3. It damages the music economy in the long run.

Listen to episode 33: How Charlie Parker and John Coltrane Became Great

What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. OMG Brent I can't believe this post was even necessary. Who started this trend? Sure, I play free for non profits and other deserving organizations…..but in a hotel or restaurant that makes no sense. I'm sure they pay all thier other contractors . People who do play for free may do well by being more particular on who they play for free for. A venue that will profit from your free labor is not the place!

  2. Hi Brent,

    I could sense in your Podcast that this is a subject you feel strongly about.

    But although your arguments seem logical, that is one side of the story.

    The "problem" is that professional musicians earn their money with something that amateurs view and do as pure recreation and joy. That distiguishes musicians from – let's say – clerks in an office or a construction worker, whether one may like it or not.

    I can understand your point of view, but some people are in a quite different situation. I e.g. have a day job and play saxophone in a Bigband (18 musicians) in a rural area. This is not New York. You would be hard pressed to find any paid gigs at all. So we are generally happy when there is any opportunity to play before an audience and that usually means that the Band plays at communal festivities, small festivals or Bigband meetings – for free.

    What would be a just payment for a group of 18 musicians?

    Are we destroying the music economy? I don't think so. The alternative would be not to play at all.

    Nevertheless, my daytime job allowed me to buy your eBook, and I hope this helps keeping this excellent site alive.

    Best wishes


    • Hi Claus,

      It's certainly a controversial subject worth debate (though I don't plan on doing that here!). You make some great points, and there is certainly multiple viewpoints people are coming from. But thanks for purchasing the eBook! Really appreciate your support!

  3. I couldn't agree with you more, Brent! Really at the heart of what you are sharing here is the central issue of the legitimacy of music as a vocation alongside engineering, teaching, stock market analyst, etc. I think one of the things that contributes to this problem is that everywhere we go there is music being played whether it's on your car radio or sitting in a waiting room at the doctor's office and hearing music piped in. I think the general public has an almost built in unspoken creed that musicians don't have a "real job" The whole notion is false. When I think of the vast amount of time it takes to play my instrument you can bet that I am not playing just to be a blessing to people. I plan on making a contribution to this site as soon as I am done with this post! The availability of this site and the wonderful podcasts that continue to be churned out takes TIME and TIME equals money in our society. Keep up the good work! Long live LJS!


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