Music is the best service an authentic musician can offer from his heart, with his passion and full of love. In India, when a musician presents his art in front of people, he first tunes his instrument. When he does that, he is also tuning into his audience, their energy, mood, receptivity. He also tunes with the energy of his surrounding and space and after sensing all of that, he intuitively chooses his raag or the piece which he is going to present. These skills of presenting, sharing the music and bringing people to a totally different space, takes years and years of learning and practice before one is able to do this - she or he has invested a big part of life in learning all that - at least in Indian music it is so, it requires a lot of maturity.
So after having been through this phase, when a musician is asked to perform for free, it naturally comes as a shock to him, why people are not ready to pay. Lets start from the basics of the law of life and balance: any service or goods have to be paid… the dentist, the post, the electrician, the food-delivery, the laundry, the hairdressers. One never goes to a pedicure or a driving lesson, or a spa and asks the service for free. It’s unthinkable. Simply because it would be begging - one becomes, basically, a beggar.
Especially in the new age world of yoga and alternative healing, with so much fake and misunderstanding circling around, being a musician in the sacred field, i am often asked to do concerts …for free. With different kind of ‘sweet’ justifications behind it. The most common is to claim “we are a non-profit organization,” they love to use this language. This, I hear so often that I would like to clarify one point: a NPO is a legal entity and they pay all the services like any other corporation: the employees, the gardener, the water dispenser, the internet connection, etc. The characteristic of this type of firm is that it uses its surplus of the revenues to further achieve its ultimate objective, rather than distributing its income to the shareholders - but that doesn’t mean that they don’t pay their suppliers, bills, employees and services!
Other organizers say things that sound really nice, like: ‘it is a benefit concert for poor people in India’....or ‘no one is making money in this, all the collections go to some project in Africa’....or ‘it will be a good exposure for you’. All excuses. That doesn’t mean that one can decide to donate his funds for something, but that is personal, it shouldn’t involve others, it shouldn’t involve begging. In this case, I tell them, “OK no problem, pay me what I ask and then give me the name of the charity and I will transfer the funds to them after paying all our musicians and myself.” Usually, when I propose such solution, they disappear. And this is because in 90% of the cases, their true purpose is not the charity, but to promote themselves as a business.
Sometimes people even say ‘it is dharma’ or another word they love to use indiscriminately in the west is: ‘we do seva.’ I think they like how this Sanskrit terms sound maybe they think they will impress. But because I am from India, I know right away they are mis-using it.
Sevā is service with the right attitude… and it is given, not asked. And seva does not mean ‘to work for free’… it could be to provide a service with love, compassion, kindness, dedication, gratitude, with a smile … even when it’s paid. It’s an in what we do, even in cooking, in how a teacher talks to children, etc … it’s not a synonym of “unpaid.” It’s a much bigger dimension.
My question to those people expecting a concert for free is always - do you ever tell a plumber whom you have called to fix something in your house that you would like him to do it for free? Do you ever go to a notary and ask them if they can solve your case for free, in the name of seva? That kind of thought will never occur …but when it comes to music, specially in this genre, there is a thought that if one is spiritual, one can act as ‘a beggar’ as well. When actually it is the contrary situation. The more spiritual, the more consciousness, and the more consciousness, the more awareness and “proper acting” will be there, and proper acting requires that one pays services when one is hiring them - for whatever personal or corporate reason is behind.
Ironically, usually when I work with people who are not at all related to yoga and spirituality, this situation of ‘trying to get things for free’ never arises. In that way, the so-called spiritual circles many times are the most unspiritual. It doesn’t happen so frequently, but it happens in at least 15% of organizers.
SEVA is positive. BEGGING is negative.
GIVING free services is a vallid personal choice.
ASKING free services is begging and brings bad karma.
Through my spiritual journey with two masters from India, I learnt that whatever is given or taken for free has no value. Also, when one pays a price for something one values it more, one feels its preciousness. My masters also taught me that by offering services for free, one creates what is known asrinanubandhana: a bondage of debt. When one has offered something for free, one has put the receiver in a debt, which also means one has put the other under an obligation to reciprocate. One has created an egoistic position that subtly is saying, “see, I am a such a great person, since i have done this for you for free.” So, unconsciously, one puts the other under a load or a bondage of debt. And the favour from the other side is later awaited too, even when it’s unconscious. That’s why there is a phrase in Spanish, “Los favores siempre se devuelven” or “favours must be always returned.” And normally, if the favour is not returned, it will proceed by the law of karma to compensate that energy and sooner or later the energy manifests to balance the give/take law of life.
My Guru advised me strictly against taking things for free (even staying at a house of someone for free when one travels) because it creates an unbalanced account of karma, while the whole effort of a seeker is to eradicate all accounts, all karmas, so eventually he is in zero, and can liberate himself from this Sansaar Chakra - the wheel of life. It’s very thin line… only if you have a higher awareness you will relate to what I am saying, otherwise you will misunderstand.
Sai Baba of Shirdi, one of the most revered and worshipped saints from India from the 19th century, has also said - “Never ask for anyone’s service for free.” And he was the most compassionate and generous enlightened being you will ever find. Still, he said this as an important rule of the spiritual and righteous man.
Unless one really feels from one’s side, unless one feels this strong feeling within, to offer something for free, to donate or to volunteer for something, it is wonderful to do it by one’s own choice. But it should be never asked - not even suggested. It is a personal action. Otherwise, it creates a disturbance, in a way it’s a subtle spirituality-violence and a call to an unfair exchange. Who are you to feel entitled to do this, by the way? And many desperate people will surrender to this request to do things for free… under the hope that they will be promoted, under the hope that this will open some door, under the hope that they will find some opportunity. But this usually never happens, because the very source is wrong.
Therefore I am always 100% honest that I do not work for free… Nobody does! Once I got a call from an Embassy official from Berlin, asking for a concert for free - they would only cover the travel expenses. So I simply replied, “do you work in the Embassy for free?” Sometimes people have to identify themselves with the situation to see how this sounds - it’s called empathy. Note that those who ask work for free usually have more resources than people who would never do it.
Have you seen employees, bakers, farmers, builders, teachers, gardeners, babysitters… working for free? No, simply because it’s not normal, it goes against the natural energy flow of things. Besides, we all have a family to maintain and thanks to that, we have our occupations.
This bad habit of asking things for free is also against the law of prosperity - it goes totally against it because begging comes from an unconscious behaviour of selfishness and advantage-taking. I don’t say it’s bad to give something for free (I did and do that a lot myself too with my own choices which I keep silent) but it is wrong to hire a service and not having the intention to pay it.
In India, a lot of significance has been given to Daan which basically means to donate without any expectations in return. But Daan cannot be imposed or requested. It has to be a spontaneous happening from the side of the performer, not of the receiver.
In true sense, Seva is something done very silently and secretly... and without any expectations of any kind. Giving can happen from an overwhelming feeling of joy and gratitude but it should be such a silent affair that, in India we say, “if your right hand is doing seva, your left hand should not know about it.” And this is key in the sincerity of the action.
Many a times, I saw the misuse of this highly revered term seva by some popular mantra singers in the west. It was hilarious to observe that sometimes when they were asked to do free concerts for a massive gathering, they will do it simply because it will give them a big exposure in front of people and in the media. (I personally think it is ok to do this once in a while and I would also do it) but in this case there is an even trade, there is clearly a benefit of a kind, in this case very good promotion. But these mantra singers call it a seva and if seva is not motiveless: Nishkaam, then it is not a seva, it is a commercial trade.
Seva is not about taking a few hours out of our busy week to help others or giving a free concert. It’s not something to be turned on and off, as if kindness, compassion, and gratitude are qualities to be doled out in limited amounts. Every action, every interaction should be seva.
Sometimes it is said that music is not a necessity as much as other services. To those, I can only say - spend a few days without listening to any music, any beautiful sound, or go to a wedding, a festival, a movie, a theatre, a retreat… without the right music! … it will be a failure 100%. Music is clearly an integral part of human life and has its great value, also in an event.
To the event organizers, I can say… the moment you come with the idea to have music or concerts in your event… that same moment you have to know that you have to analyse how you are going to pay for that wished service. Otherwise, simply go without live music, and play recorded music, which is totally fine too. It would be much more noble to act like that. As it’s said, “never spend in what you can’t afford, better go without it or leave it for another time.”
To the musicians - my message is that if possible, don’t do concerts for free if you know that you are truly a professional musician…unless of course it is really your inner wish, a deep call from the heart - but then the free concert must be suggested by you, not begged by the organizer.. Maybe it is ok in the beginning of your career, to get some experience, to get some exposure, but even after many years in the field, if someone still asks you for a free concert, they are simply not worth it. In this way, you are spoiling people, you are devaluating your skills and creating consequences for other artists too. It is your profession, your work and it is absolutely normal to ask for your fees...and it is absolutely abnormal to be asked to do it for free... unless it is just your hobby. Remember, when someone pays you, he will value you, he will remember you.
In India, there is this concept of baithak, which in simple term means a house concert. And 99 out of 100 times, the host will not pay the musicians but will lure the musicians in the name of exposure. Sometimes I have been told - I wonder if they would organise a baithak for a carpenter, or an electrician, telling them that it will give them a good exposure to the neighbours… how ridiculous and manipulative.
One thing is to have a low budget… that is something else, and I am the first one to be flexible in that way, when I see that the person is earnest, I always do all from my side to come to a solution. Another thing is to have the freshness to ‘beg’ for free services in the name of a justification or excuse created by their own project and own interest.
It’s always very hilarious, that when it comes to food, people never think too much about the price. More or less they know the value of it. Sometimes people pay exuberant prices for food in fancy restaurants, which is OK. But these same organizations that request music and presenters for free, are not leaving a restaurant without paying… simply because they cannot talk to the restaurant in wrongly used words like seva… they will just laugh if they do or will think they’re crazy.
Recently I got a mail from a successful Tea-corporation in Europe who is organizing their party in the shape of a ‘charity event’ and want great music, yoga teachers and other presenters… but all for free! They even set up a very convenient form to enrol for free. Absolutly zero compensation. They send mass mails saying that they send the funds to a charity. Yes! do this, definitely do charity if you want, but first pay the debts with your vendors, otherwise you are begging. Your thought wants to create good karma under the excuse of doing charity and you are creating bad karma by not acting fairly with money value exchange. Also, the corporation, if it’s really willing to do charity, it can do it from their profits. But no… they rather use the money of others, not their own! It’s a big hidden falsehood. It’s like the big supermarket Jumbo willing to donate funds to India, tells their employees that they won’t pay their salary this month. Not only is not correct, but they will have a big problem just by suggesting such idea. When i personally gift money, i clearly do not involve other people, because it's my own problem, not theirs.
As long as you want something from someone, there will always be someone out there to control you. Charity that is not silent, is selfishness or under-covered self-promotion.
The rule is very simple when one decides to go into a project, like a celebration or restreat. First, one has to think, can I afford it? I want to have a new car, but can I afford it? I want to travel to Japan, but can I afford it? I want a personal cook every day, but can I afford it? I want to donate money to Africa, but do I have the money? Yes… it’s easy to say “I want this or that” but if I it’s not under my budget or possibilities, one must simply abstain from it… I don’t go to the travel agent to ask for free services in the name of charity or dharma…(words loved by the organizers of 'spiritual' events.)
The main problem I think, is unconsciousness and ignorance about the law of nature when it comes to energy interchange. So my suggestion is, next time someone has the idea to go out there to artists and teachers to beg for free work, meditate on it for a few days and see the trick behind it. And saying that the funds go for charity, is even worse, so abstain from that one. You don’t want to generate karma to yourself… it will come back.
”Don’t get any work done free of cost from anybody.” Shirdi Sai Baba