What are a few hours of making music worth? For those of us engaged in this endeavor as professionals, there's isn't a more trying time than during a recession to ask this question.
I just got offered a week's worth of work. Its a gig I've done every March for the past 4 years. The first time I played it (2006), it paid $750 for 6 services. Not bad. The following 2 years I relented to a $100 pay cut because, well, March is generally slow and a couple of good people were going to be on the gig as well. Plus, I figured that it was at least $100 per service, which is not terrible. This year the pay for the same amount of work was offered to me at $540 and I said no.
Yes, I know we're in the midst of an economic downturn. Yes, I need the money. Yes, March is still painfully slow. But I said no anyway, and here's why:
If I agree to work for $200 less than this particular gig paid just 4 years ago, then there is zero incentive for the folks doing the hiring to even consider raising the pay scale in the future, even if the economy starts going gangbusters and they have money to burn. If they can get someone with my level of skill and experience to play the job for this ridiculously low rate, that hurts not only me but everyone else in the talent pool of capable musicians.
Musicians tend to think mostly about the short term. I know because I generally do it myself. Gotta make the mortgage this month, which means I need to make x number of dollars between my performing and teaching incomes. If this was the only way to look at it I'd have to say yes to whatever work gets flung in my direction. But, of course, in the long run I'd only be shooting myself (and my peers) in the foot.
This is a very tough decision to make, as any freelance musician will tell you. I don't have another gig to fall back on for that week in March, although something might come in between now and then. So this is an educated gamble I'm making about my future in this business.
But the sad truth is that once I start working for sub-standard compensation it will be very difficult to convince those who would hire me that I'm actually worth being paid a living wage for the service I provide. And that's not good for any of us.