I love Christmas. I am guilty of being one of those people who has a Santa Hat on my head before December 1st, watching as many Christmas movies as possible, and listening to carols in my car. This time of year is one of my favourite as it creates an excuse for us to catch up with friends we haven’t seen since last Christmas, cook yummy treats that we can then feed to friends and everyone seems to just be in a better mood. For a musician, this can be the busiest time of the year as Christmas oratorios such as Handel’s Messiah pop up again and we dust off our favourite renditions of classics such as “O Holy Night” and “The Christmas Song”. Christmas is a perfect time of year to share music with the world and introduce people to the magical sounds of classical singing.
Christmas can be a difficult time for musicians though. Whilst a lot of places will pay their musicians for their time and effort, a lot of community events will request your services for little to no money, asking to perform for the sake of Christmas joy. The other day I received a request to perform one song, travelling 50 minutes east of where I live and was offered not even enough money to pay for my fuel. When I politely declined, I was compared with the Grinch. “This time of year should be about giving to the community, not about a job and money.”
I’m being pay-shamed. Shamed for wanting to be paid for something I’ve spent four years studying hard at.
Imagine if I walked into a restaurant and asked “one meal… Give me one meal because it’s Christmas and you should be spreading the joys of the season.” or walked into a bottle shop and said “one bottle… It’s not about the money, it’s the season of giving!” Perhaps if I was sick and walked into a doctor’s office requesting free treatment or asked a teacher to teach me for free because “I’ve been good this year!” You would never do this. No one would ever do this. So why do you expect musicians to?
We work hard at what we do. Remember that when you’re hiring a musician, you are hiring someone for their performance, equipment, hours of rehearsal time, travel expenses, promotion and website costs, telephone and Internet bills used to organise the concert. Christmas gigs are often the concerts that help us pay for those extra Christmas expenses. My Christmas gig money has always been spent on presents for others – and the quality of the gift for our friends and family depends on how ‘giving’ that event was. I’m not particularly proud to say that I have, in the past, bought my grandparents a $6 biscuit tin because I couldn’t afford anything else. Christmas events should be making more of an effort to pay their musicians. When organising a massive event such as a Carols by Candlelight, you have already expanded your pockets to pay for lighting, staging, booths, rides, games, food etc. Why wouldn’t you include paying musicians in that?
Today I was called a Grinch for not performing for free for the community this Christmas. Perhaps some people have read this thinking “Well Kate, you do seem a bit stingey.” Musicians spend a lot of their time giving to the community. Personally, I spend a lot of my year performing for free and giving back to the community. I sing at schools, my grandparent’s retirement home, my parent’s church, for various family members, for operatic concerts ran as fundraisers… I am on committees for local groups and run an opera blog and do not get paid a cent! I will dedicate my free time to do these performances and help out because I am passionate about what I do and I enjoy performing at events such as Carols by Candlelight! But we do not owe you that performance. You shouldn’t get angry at us because we declined performing for free. It is our choice which events, if any events, we choose to perform at in our free time. My Christmas wish this year is that our talents and hard work will one day be respected and validated by the community. I hope next Christmas season, I won’t be shamed for wanting to be paid for something I’ve worked and studied hard at.
Written by Katherine Goyder