STOP “Working” for Free!

by Dan Harr

no-moneyWhether you are a professional photographer, DJ, musician, website builder or any number of other creative-type jobs, it is likely you’ve come up against those individuals who are not only undercutting your already rock-bottom prices, but are doing the work for free.

Yes… FREE.

By inserting themselves into the workforce for no pay, the “free” workers are undermining not only the economy by taking away paying jobs from individuals who have years of experience, it is more likely than not they are providing substandard services which only serves to set a low bar of expectations for anyone who comes after them. For an example of this, I’m going to relate my own story as a former professional photographer.

For many years, I worked as a concert and event photographer. My photos were submitted to various wire agencies like Associated Press, SplashNews and others, where they were distributed for publication. When a magazine like People or a newspaper like the NY Times used one of my photos, my average pay was $150 to $300 or more.

Then, along came the internet and inexpensive entry-level professional grade cameras. Suddenly, every hobbyist and music fan who could create an online blog became a “professional” photographer. Instead of three or four photographers at a concert, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a horde of 20-something wannabes who were willing to give photos away to magazines for “credit” just so they would be able to attend the concert and provide some photos for their own blog.

People magazine learned they didn’t have to pay me $300 anymore for a photo because they were going to get it for free from someone else, and never mind that the quality was reduced by a factor exponentially related to the experience of the shooter.

Within the space of about 5 years, I was seeing photos previously sold for $300 now being distributed for anywhere from sixty cents to $1.50, and maybe $3.00 if I was lucky. In the end, it became economically unfeasible for me to continue taking photos when all expenses like gas, parking, editing time and equipment costs were figured in.

My wife and I sat down and made the difficult decision that it was time to change professions. Together, we started an audio production company, providing everything from a single speaker and microphone to large concert stages with all the bells and whistles to events in the Atlanta area.

As part of our offered services, we went out to solicit jobs for DJ and Karaoke work at local eateries and saloons. We set our pricing at what we believed was extremely competitive with others who (previously) had been providing the same services. Then, as we contacted the businesses, we kept hearing the following:

“Sorry, we have someone who does it for a meal and tips.”

Essentially, they have someone who “works” for free, providing three hours of live sound along with an hour of load in and load out time for perhaps a $15 meal and a few tips.

In our local area, there are 4 companies (including ours) who provide professional Karaoke services. After talking with the others, it’s become apparent they are also experiencing the fallout of the “free workers”. Paying jobs have fallen off the grid as establishments who have experienced the “free workers” are now “offering” the reduced rates of “sandwiches and tips” to anyone who wants to provide professional services to their crowds.

Musicians experience the same, being told they’ll get $50 and tips for four hours of playing, loading in and out their own gear, and also needing to bring in their own crowd in order to keep getting booked. It’s not about the bars and the restaurants not having the money or the crowd. It’s about the “free working” musicians going in to these places and saying “hey, I’ll play for a meal and tips just so I can get the experience playing out.”

We all know the Craigslist ads which state “This job is no pay but we’ll provide you credit for the services and it might lead to more paid jobs if you do good work.”

Unfortunately, the Bernie Sanders’ “everything for free” millennials answer those ads, believing they are getting their foot in the door and garnering the experience they need to get paying gigs down the road. They don’t realize that “once free = ALWAYS free”.

My message to those people, and all others who will “work” for free… STOP IT. It doesn’t give you experience to get paying jobs. It doesn’t lead to paying jobs. It’s NOT a “training ground” for learning the ropes so you can “come to the attention” of someone who will pay you for your work.

STOP IT. All you are doing is devaluing the industry you are trying to enter and hurting those who do the work to pay their bills. “Credit for your work” doesn’t pay the gas or phone bill. Answering those “may lead to paying jobs” doesn’t cover your mortgage. The hamburger and fries and $20 in tips won’t pay off your car loan.

If you are willing to “work” for free, then I have a deal for you… come and mow my lawn, take out my garbage, clean my house and I’ll tip you $5 and make you lunch.

Get it???





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