In the music world there will always be someone who is willing to do something more cheaply than you. Students are typically in this category. Look at the music scene around any music school. Students will be playing for their dinner, or coffee if it’s a coffee house or for the door. Musicians are eager to play; they love to play “their music.” Believe it or not, this turns out to be their curse. They often give it away too easily. Take jazz musicians as an example. If the gig includes players and music that they really like, they are willing to play for practically nothing. Even in large metropolitan areas musicians will drive miles, hassle with finding a parking place and play all evening and into the night for practically nothing. The upside is that they are networking, staying in the scene, keeping their contacts going, and communing with their friends.
Orchestra musicians do a similar thing. They will usually go out of their way to play chamber music. In this more intimate genre where they can be heard, they aren’t as anonymous as in an orchestra. The collaborative effort gratifies them and they have more control over the end product. But chamber music gigs usually don’t pay as much as orchestra services. The same person in an orchestra rehearsal who watches the clock, and when the big hand gets to quitting time has his instrument packed up and in his car, will have no problem doing multiple rehearsals for a chamber music concert that will pay what one orchestra rehearsal pays! The unwritten rule seems to be, “Don’t worry about money if you love the music, but try to get as much as you can if it’s a drag.”
As musicians we were called to the profession for the love of it. We love to play. Why does Nadia Solorno-Sonnenberg often join the orchestra in the back of the violin section, after she has just played her concerto? As the bass clarinetist with the Rochester Philharmonic I’ve occasionally found myself on stage but not playing a particular short piece or movement of a larger work. When the orchestra is hitting on all cylinders, I recall wanting to be a part of the music but I just had to sit there. It’s a balancing act. Even though we must make a living, we should all do things for our community, our friends, ourselves and our souls. But if we give it away too freely we end up undercutting ourselves in the long run. My advise to young musicians is to learn how to weigh every opportunity in terms of its benefits to you personally and to your advancement in the profession. Find out what the prevailing rates are for the various types of gigs that you are going for. Help out your friends, have fun, gain experience, learn new repertoire, but don’t always sell yourself short. Don’t give your talent away too easily.