Donate your live music

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    If you have any kind of a harp, and are comfortable with as few as 15 pieces, think about giving some of your talent. There are many possibilities out there, for helping non-profit organizations, for lifting the spirits of others, and so on. Look around in your own area, for events that could benefit from added harp music. Check first with your local Musicians Association, if you belong, and they will most likely approve of your playing with no charge. You will gain personal satisfaction from donating the beautiful sound of a harp, and you may be pleasantly surprised how your unselfish gift brings offers of paying performances to you. If you are a teacher already, it could bring you new students. Do some of you who have done this, want to tell their experiences?


    Doesn’t look like anyone’s keen on this…and my response will not be what you are looking for. The “donating” I’ve done was playing at nursing homes for several years when I was a rookie. I went out once a week, going to all the area homes. I didn’t do it out of the goodness of my heart. I had terrible stage fright, and it helped immensely to have a fail-safe audience.

    Aside from that, early in my career, I was duped into playing a couple of events “to get noticed, to get known, etc.” Someone told me he had seen me playing at _____’s house party. Well, I had never been there, but I knew the name. I backed him into a corner asking for a description of the harpist, and he agreed it could not have been me. Trouble is, those people were the ones who had me play one of those events, for free, so I’d get known…but they had paid someone else to play their party.

    After that, no more freebies. I work too hard and have too many thousands of $$ invested in equipment to play for free. Everyone wants money from me…the grocery store, gas station, electric company, etc. for their services, and I want money for my services.

    That’s just my viewpoint, of course. If anyone wants to donate, maybe they feel that would be appropriate for them.

    Allison Stevick

    I know this topic has been discussed *extensively* on other threads in the past, and seeing the heated debate that came up, I was very, very intimidated to say anything on any thread this forum for a long time. I think that those of us who *do* donate any playing at all might be afraid to admit it in these forums because we could be harshly reprimanded by some others for doing so.

    I do think we have to be very careful how much and for whom we play for free, because if “free” becomes the overall expectation, how is a gigging musician supposed to earn their living? As Sylvia stated, harpists invest a LOT of work and money in this, and it is their livelihood.

    That being said, live music *is* a wonderful gift, and I have been blessed to see it brighten people’s days many times. I think there can be a balance.

    An example from outside the music world: I know a few dentists who, though they charge (of course!) for their services 363 days a year, get together once annually and do a 2-day event of free dental care to ANYONE who shows up during that time. They have done a LOT of good though this for the past few years, and it has not hurt their regular business at all. Donating services can be done in such a way that it is beneficial to all those involved!

    I have only two places where I regularly donate my music, and they both have to do with the same organization. I am involved (on committees, programming, etc.) with a local art gallery, and I have played opening receptions for them as a donation. I also play monthly at our local cancer treatment center for patients on chemo days. That engagement is ALSO directly through the same art gallery (we call it our “Healing Arts Program” and there are several other musicians and artists who do short programs several times a month to comfort and entertain the patients during chemo).

    I will add that my playing for the gallery events is written off as an in-kind donation to this non-profit organization, so it’s not just like a total freebie. I also only do that for the one organization, and that is because I am heavily involved and want to do whatever I can to further their mission. I have had some people approach me for paying gigs after those experiences, and it has worked well for me. When they approach me to play for them, I give them my rate, and they have mostly been fine with that. When they haven’t been fine with it, they simply didn’t book me.


    Playing for free is an anathema to me. I would only do if I felt it within my bones that it would make a difference in someone’s or organizations life. I too have worked to hard for where I am at professionally. I too have been burned by those who have taken advantage of my generosity. I too have been met with “this will be great exposure”. I once insisted on being payed for a culinary event for educators at a local high school. Would you believe that all those who helped at the event were acknowledge at the end of the program by name where as I was met with “and this is the harpist who said she did not need the exposure”. I thought this was very, very small of the director of the event. But at least I kept my head up high and got paid.

    Onita Sanders


    I’ve done it for over 20 years. However it must be a legitimate charity event that I wish to contribute towards, that does not have sufficient funds to hire a harpist. Also, volunteering at the local Cancer hospital to sooth patients frayed emotions. Otherwise, it’s standard rates. Promos for generating business can so easily be simple write-offs and never really generate income, just requests for more freebie work.

    B Y

    I agree with every response. Musicians go to school and study to become professional musicians, just like any other profession. Those that continuously go out and play for free make it nearly impossible for those that do this for a living. You should be respected & paid for your work, period.

    Angela Biggs

    I do occasionally volunteer, but the key there is that *I* volunteer. In my experience, when I’m invited to play for free at an event, it doesn’t work out well. It’s unfortunate, but people do have a tendency to equate value with price.

    I occasionally play at the local parks on a beautiful day, and that’s very satisfying, I volunteer harp for my church four to six times per year, sometimes during Mass and sometimes for events like a children’s Advent fair. Seriously, THAT was fun! The organizers were cheerfully accommodating about my need to have the big harp blocked off so that kids couldn’t play with it unsupervised. I brought along an old pink Harpsicle to let children try (interested adults were invited to my performance instrument), and really had a blast. The adults in the room were also very appreciative of the music itself. It went quite well, and I will volunteer the harp again this year if my schedule allows.

    As for charities, through a series of events I’ve come to understand that there is no market for that kind of humane harp work here, so I’ve even given up on pursuing harp therapy for now. My area is decidedly odd, though. I often feel like I’m through the looking glass.


    I don’t play for free. I sometimes play for no pay, but I always expect something in return. I believe, for some, volunteering your time is not the same as playing for free. If you are given something from the performance (tax deduction?, someone offering to do something for you) then it is perfectly acceptable to not take pay. Playing for free, however, only cheapens what we do.


    I had the opposite of what happen to Onita, I succumbed to a plea to play for an event for free. I was playing during a silent auction time. After that there was a dinner and they had a guy playing the piano for that part of the event. I knew the guy and saw him some months later. He made the remark that he hoped they paid me well, he had to fight for what he got. I was a bit set off.

    If I get a request to play for free, I will say no to any that tell me it would be great exposure, I back away from those right away. But I will consider those that I feel can not really pay and need the help. I do my research. There are some that I do yearly that I truly believe in. One is a volunteer dinner for a local animal shelter. I contacted them about playing for free. Plus you can also ask for trade offs like being mentioned on the charity’s website along with a link to your website. I have done that.

    I also go to a local book store that has a reading room/coffee shop and play on Sunday morning. They let me put out a tip jar, and most of the time it pays off pretty well. I have also gotten quiet a few paying gigs from it too.

    I did hear of a harpist in my area that was playing for an annual charity event I have played in the past and got paid for it. This event is invite only and usually the very wealthy are invited. She did it for the “exposure” , that took a paying gig away from me. Think some musicians need to wise up and know when they are being taken advantage of.

    Do some research before you say yes.


    While I do think it’s really wonderful to offer free services to a charitable organization, I disagree that harpists should be willing to accept *requests* from groups that want music but simply don’t think they should have to pay for it.

    I’ve been freelancing in New York for ten years and have received occasional requests to play for free. The most galling, without question, was an invitation from the wedding website “The Knot” to play FOURTEEN weddings in a row at the Empire State Building on February 14th as part of a special promotion. Cartage was available to get the instrument there, but despite the unbelievably grueling schedule they were proposing, pay for the harpist — any pay at all, even just enough to match the cartage they were willing to spend — apparently was not part of their budget. The contractor’s email went on and on about the “exposure” (how I have come to loathe that word) that I would receive if I chose to play, that I would be featured on local news as well as dozens of wedding sites, etc, etc. This is an example of a so-called “opportunity” that I would absolutely not hesitate to turn down with a strongly-worded email about the value of what we do and how much time, energy, and money we have to invest in our careers only to have organizations like suggest that we should be thrilled at the chance to play fourteen consecutive weddings because NY1 might show one or two frames of us through the strings. (Sorry to rant, but that one made me really mad!)

    Unfortunately, I have also heard of amateur harpists offering their services for free or almost-free in direct competition with full-time professional musicians who charge a reasonable rate, because they have another job that pays their bills, or are independently wealthy, or are just looking for an opportunity to perform publicly. This is something to which I strongly object. I feel that we have an obligation to have enough professional regard for each other not to undercut one another’s rates in an attempt to get work. To me, this is no different from crossing a picket line to play in an orchestra that has shut out its musicians during a labor dispute.

    In short, freebies should be saved for events put on by family/very close friends, for your own church or school, or for fundraising events to which services can be properly donated, perhaps even for a tax deduction. If you receive a call from a stranger, acquaintance, friend-of-a-friend, or an organization with no charitable interest, you should charge no less than the average rate in your area. Otherwise, you are taking work away from those who truly make their living with musical engagements.

    Angela Biggs

    On the other hand, people in all sorts of industries occasionally volunteer their expertise for reasons they deem worthy, even when it doesn’t result in a tax deduction. I got the impression Patricia (the OP) was simply talking about doing something kind.


    Yes, Angela. Never take an unpaid harp playing job if it is apt to take employment from another musician. I agree, we have all worked hard for our playing skills and need to have income from all that sacrifice of time and money. But my philosophy is that not every single moment of our harp playing life must be equated with money because there is a great need out there for people to have uplift. Surely you have heard of doctors who volunteer some time on the ship HOPE, in order to help less fortunate people around the world. Lawyers also have a group that helps, for one time, for perhaps a half-hour, those who need advice but cannot pay standard fees. Habitat for Humanity, Homes for our Troops, and other charities could not survive without donations. I had mentioned non-profits in my post, and also people who need uplift. That is my wish, that we could do some good in the world because there is so much need out there in the world, for good music to counteract that which is not so good. Life is short. Values we learned as children -play nice, share toys- mean we must not become hardened to those people who through circumstances often not of their own choosing, are poor in spirit.


    My teacher has said, “People have been known to *die* of exposure!”! That being said there are a few things I do for free that no-one would be getting paid to do. One is a big arts festival. I love the atmosphere and none of the musicians are getting paid anyway. The other is a monthly crafts / farmers market. I do it once each summer. Again, no-one would be getting paid to do it and I love the atmosphere.
    My current job (I am one of those ‘amateur harpists’ who makes her real living at a job unrelated to music) which is a charity is encouraging employees to generate feel-good stories and extra revenue by doing something unusual. For example, one of the managers got sponsored to do a sky dive. I’ll be busking outside my shop on a sunny day next week. All the money will go to the charity. I won’t even pay myself back for the taxi. A nice thing to do and it all goes to a good cause.


    So here I am, very much an amateur on lever harp – just a few years in, learning on my own. I would like to get some practice playing in front of people. I also would like to do something nice for people. I surely don’t want to step on toes of those who make a living, though (at my level, I can’t imagine that I really could ). What about hospice? Do professionals get paid to play for hospice patients, or could I volunteer some time there? Our family recently had the services of a hospice and I take my mother-in-law to a bereavement support group. So I have a hospice connection and I could volunteer for them.


    I only play for free when it is a charity fundraiser for a charity that I am both familiar with and would be inclined to donate to anyway. I consider my playing to be my contribution. The only charity have done this for regularly I actually ended up serving on their board for several years.

    Other than that, no, if you want me to play you pay me. That’s how this free market economy thing works.

    Priscilla, I am not going to tell you not to play for free for the hospice. But yes, people get paid to play at hospices. Also hospitals and nursing homes. I have no doubt that they try to get free performers when they can, and use the fact that they do care work to justify it, but the fact is that most, particularly nursing homes, actually have budgets for entertainment for patients / residents. It’s part of their operating budgets. So if you want to donate your time to a hospice that’s fine, go for it. But they do typically pay people and no one should feel mercenary for expecting to be paid for playing at one.

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