One unsurprising result of replacing roughly half of my previous wage with a newly-begun freelance career is a significant drop in overall income. Since I (and basically everyone in Oxford, repeatedly found to be the least affordable area in Britain) was living pretty close to the break-even point anyway, that inevitably means cuts to expenditure. So one of the slightly counterintuitive effects of becoming a professional musician is not that I won’t but that I can’t play for free – if I’m not paid, then the inevitable costs of travel, eating out or takeaway because I’m away for half a day and can only take one packed meal, a social drink while schmoozing fellow performers in hope of future gigs, become a set of luxury expenses that I don’t have the disposable income for.
There is a very fair point about not playing for free as a professional because it brings the market price down for everybody else; solidarity is necessary to make music remunerative and doing it really well requires too much time and effort to hold down a full-time day job simultaneously, so everyone playing as a hobby because they love it is not a serious option. There is also a point about not selling yourself individually short; that if you start off in the scene of unpaid music you may well get stuck there rather than finding it ever any easier to ‘graduate’ into properly paid work than it would have been at step one.
But there are nonetheless things that I would dearly love to play which don’t bring in money. Semi-staged Mozart opera in Devon; small-forces Bach St Matthew Passion on Good Friday; electric blues jamming and perhaps low-key gigging for fun. They all really do sound like fun; but if they only cover travel, or are profit-shares that mathematically can’t make me more than I’ll spend on being in them, then I’ll only be speeding up my movement towards being broke by doing them.
The temptations have to be resisted. Choosing paid music over unpaid is rarely difficult, but if I have to choose to stay in by myself when I could spend money going off and playing fun stuff – well, I knew what I was getting into.