I hear a lot of musicians sharing their gifts in the Subway and on the streets, but today I heard a unique sound I never heard before. This guy was making amplified sounds with a didgeridoo while, at the same time, drumming with his hands and keeping a beat with his feet on a hi-hat cymbal. It was impressive and it sounded amazing.
But something interesting and obnoxious happened every time he played. As soon as he noticed a crowd begin to gather, he would stop and almost yell at the gazing spectators demanding they either contribute money or take one of his cards to pass along. "Why don't you contribute instead of just gathering data for your own pleasure!" He would shout. Needless to say, he lost his fanbase pretty quickly.
Sometimes—well, most of the time—you need to be willing to do things for free in order to earn trust and gain attention. If you love it, you would do it for free, anyway. Plus playing for free pays off in other ways you don't even plan on. It's rare to get a crowd these days in the Subway. Everyone's got places to go and there are lots of talented performers demanding your attention. Not to mention the variables that make it difficult to draw a crowd—loud noises, hot, mucky conditions, etc. So if you're lucky enough to provide something people like, don't all the sudden get cocky and turn your something special into something distasteful.
If people are into what you're offering, chances are you got there by being generous in one way or another. As you continue to grow and scale, remember that people like free. They will wait in long lines for free. They will share things (your things) for free. They will trust you for free.
Playing for free always pays off in the end.