Re: Joe Walsh - The truth about music
I see your point of view and used to subscribe to it (the 'playing for free' side) but I can happily say that playing for free does not increase your 'exposure' unless you are very, very lucky. Generally speaking, bands that have a genuine following will charge a fee for playing and those that want to see that band are happy to pay a fee to see them. 'Free' gigs offer almost no 'actual' exposure because you'll never share the bill with a band that have commercial interest.
The bands that can charge will be in the professional position to do so. They won't play for free and bands that can charge will be the bands with a following. They won't play free gigs. Do you expect them to suddenly stop charging all together so that you can play on their bill for free? Absolutely not. All you'll end up with on a 'free' bill are a group of bands that are only seen by family and friends, with few fans outside of that - and that is no way to get exposure. All you're doing is encouraging promoters to not pay you.
If you were offered a non-paying slot at a festival, where there are followers of other bands there that will see you by co-incidence, that's fine. You will expose your band to new people. If you're sharing the bill with a band with a large following then you will also gain exposure. In neither case would I expect to play for free but then - and only then - will you play a decent gig. Otherwise, all you're doing is telling promoters that you'll do it for nothing.
You get strung along with promises of 'bigger gigs' and they just don't happen. Trust me.
In terms of my own music, I'm happy to release anything I write under a Creative Commons licence and release it free of charge but that's purely because I subscribe to a 'Copyleft' philosophy when it comes to my own art and music is not my primary source of income. My music is not commercial and I'm much more interested in the idea spreading but if I were to write commercially-viable music and it was my main source of income, then I would absolutely charge for it.
Record labels are now much more about handling distribution and marketing. For artists to make serious money, it certainly helps to have a label on your side to deal with the complexities of distribution and marketing. The bands that have 'gone it alone' (so to speak) King Crimson, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, etc and still made significant money succeed largely because they have a following that their labels helped create. It is possible to release music successfully and make money without a label now (democratising power of the Internet) but it is very, very difficult and rather than acting as an artist, you effectively would have to quit any job you had and deal with marketing as a full-time job.