Brainwashing Creatives to Work for Free

There was a band playing Christmas songs in the mall. High school band. A flock of teenagers directed by a teacher. This is not an open air mall. It’s one of those poured concrete structures where sound bounces. And quite frankly, they sounded like they were playing from inside a metal garbage can. An acoustic guitar wouldn’t sound good there, and no adult musician would play a gig where they know they’ll sound three tiers away from playing your next Bar Mitzvah.

But here they are. Kids who don’t know any better, pouring several hours of work into making shoppers flee the echo chamber.

Not so much as a hat being passed.

And worse than that, the mall hadn’t bothered to turn off the music it pipes in, or to lock the piano that lives at the other end of the atrium. And yes, there was another teenager (who probably just shows up to practice.) playing at the same time. (And no, teenagers don’t have a lick of sense, do they?)

This is what we’re teaching young creatives they have to live with.

If someone asked those same kids to do inventory for free, they’d laugh.

But perform? Provide art? Write advertising copy?

I see a lot of this. Businesses using kids’ creative skills and then either not paying them at all, or making that tax-deductible donation to their schools. “Educational Partners” in ripping off young creatives. The kid does the work; the school takes the money.

This is inexcusable, even if we’re discussing middle-class kids who are going home to warm beds and full stomachs. Even if the worst outcome is that they give up on their dreams because you can’t make money doing that.

If we’re talking poor kids? The ones who play in thrift-store shoes and go home to the tail end of the month’s food stamps?

Letting a child work for free is not doing them a favor.


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