Natalie Haynes: If you don't pay for it, do you value it?

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Musicians don't have it easy these days. Sure, they're in a band, which means they will always have a girlfriend (unless they're the drummer. And even then they might get lucky with the bass player's ex). But financially, things aren't so rosy. Now the Musicians' Union has proposed that next month's TUC conference should address the issue of musicians feeling compelled to work for free at charity events. They have pointed out that musicians get emotionally blackmailed into doing charity gigs for nothing. They stopped short of adding that most musicians are in need of charity themselves.

As someone who did a pile of charity gigs in my time as a comedian, I sympathise with the musicians here. It's virtually impossible to say no to someone who works for a charity. They do indeed use emotional blackmail, it's part of their job. Anyone who can persuade a stranger on the street to set up a direct debit to help save sorrowful voles can certainly make you feel like you are personally responsible for stamping on the heads of kittens if you don't turn out to do their gig.

But when you get to the gig, you realise that everyone but you is getting paid. The ticket agency, the venue staff, the bar staff, the guy doing the lighting, and of course the charity's own employees. I once did a gig to stop the war: I can't remember which war, but I do remember we didn't stop it, even though I personally told some excellent jokes, which I was sure would be enough.

The gig was suddenly disrupted during the headliner's set by a bunch of drunks wandering into the theatre and shouting, before being bustled out by an usher, who certainly earned her fee that night. They were of course the charity bosses, hammered from a night of drinking on a tab that the charity was paying for, presumably out of the ticket prices of the people we were entertaining for free.

The problem is, that if you don't pay for something, you often don't value it (true love, beautiful sunsets and the ruined dreams of a hated rival notwithstanding). So the musicians should hold out for their money – they can always donate it, after the gig.