Doing musical things without monetary compensation can be healthy. But it can also be unhealthy. Our greater culture really does use money to determine value, and, unfortunately, it devalues things that are offered for free. People assume that a free concert, for example, might not be as good as a concert that has an admission charge. They are often wrong. Sometimes sponsoring entities make it possible for concerts to be free for audiences by paying the musicians and paying for the venue. Sometimes musicians like to play concerts as a community service, and they donate their services.
The free concerts that I have played (and I have played many) rarely have as big an audience as the concerts I have played that were not free. People who have hired me (or my quartet) to play for weddings are usually aware that the price we charge is fair, and that it reflects the quality of our performance (we are professionals, and we take our work seriously). They always respect the terms of our contract, and they know that if they don't pay us (and pay us in advance), they won't have music for their wedding. It is an easy and ethical form of commerce.
It's the same with orchestral jobs. The hiring entity pays me and my colleagues for our time and professionalism, and we do our best to live up to their expectations, and most of us hope to exceed them.
Its those "iffy" situations that bother me. Providing entertainment for an unknown charity that is hosted by an acquaintance, without the terms of the agreement spelled out, or writing a piece of music for a specific charity-related performance for which I simply couldn't, in good conscience, ask for money, and then learning, for whatever reason, that the ensemble didn't play the piece. These situations always seem to involve lack of communication on the part of the person requesting my services, and I always feel the tacit sense of a lesser regard for the value of the thing (piece or performance) that I have given as a gift. I always take it personally. I believe there is a subtle difference between receiving something as a gift and getting something for free. I believe that a gift has more value than money. I try not to get into those kinds of situations, but they still seem to make their way into my musical life. I'm sure I'm not alone.
I do play concerts for my health, but only when I play violin and viola d'amore. I almost always play for money when I play the viola. That's just the way it works. It's part of my personal musical agreement with myself. I also keep this blog for reasons that are totally non commercial, and I find that doing so contributes a great deal to my sense of well being, musical and otherwise. It helps me connect to a larger musical community, which is a vital necessity for musicians living and working outside of the usual areas of musical discourse.
I do write for my health. I get a great deal of joy out of writing music. I provide all my new music to people for free because I don't think of performing musicians as "consumers," and don't believe that they should be the ones to pay money for the music they play. I believe that audiences and concert organizations should be the people responsible for providing the finances connected with musical commerce (including commissions).
As long as it doesn't cost me anything, and as long as I have a place to make my music available, I will continue to do so. Does that make what I write now less valuable than music I wrote ten years ago that is available for purchase from a publisher?