what to charge for a music gig

What to charge for a music gig, Part II

Consider your own financial needs when it comes to working and pricing appropriately when someone asks, “What do you charge for a music gig?”

In “What do you charge for a music gig? Part I,” we shared basic advice on how to come up with a quote for your work as a musician that will make you happy and, hopefully, keep your clients and collaborators coming back for more.

Pricing your services has just as much to do with you as it does your client, says veteran Washington, DC musician and bandleader Glenn Pearson. Here are additional tips to help you consider your own financial needs when it comes to working as an indie musician and help you quote prices that will adequately compensate you when asked, “What do you charge for a music gig?”

Be realistic about your time and expenses

“If you’re a piano player being asked to play two hours at a private party — and provide your own keyboard and amp — keep in mind that’s more than two hours you should be compensated for,” says Pearson. “You may be talking one hour of travel and setup and one hour of break down and travel home, so that’s a total of four hours you are carving out of your day. Even though you’re only sitting down to play for two hours, it’s perfectly reasonable to be paid something for the full amount of time that you’re setting aside for the job.”

Similarly, try to figure in your expenses when coming up with a quote. Will you have to pay tolls or other transportation costs? Will you have to get clothes dry cleaned and buy an expensive meal out while in transit? Will you miss out on other lucrative opportunities by playing this gig? As Pearson stated in the first post, one size rarely fits all — so having a clear picture of the time and money you’ll spend to make any given gig happen will help clarify how much you need to earn to make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Administration and client management

When you’re chewing on how much to charge for a gig, remember that it’s not just about loading up, showing up, playing, and leaving. Someone has to engage with the client before, during, and after; hammer out details; and make sure everything works as intended. It’s entirely fair and appropriate, says Pearson, to include compensation for such efforts in your price quote.

I put this principle into practice when I brought the Michael Gallant Trio to play a number of shows for a corporate client in New York City. After agreeing on a fee and basic terms for the first performance, I found myself sinking hours into navigating insurance and load-in issues, all in order to comply with convoluted safety standards at the company’s HQ.

Needless to say, when my client asked us back for a second and third show, I made sure my quote was significantly higher to cover the extra time I would have to spend, not just on music-making, but on the business end if such problems reemerged.

Set your own standards

“Pricing is a very mercurial thing,” says Pearson, “but once you have a sense for who your clients are and what your market is, it gets a lot easier.”

Case in point, I’ve worked with a number of musicians who have done enough studio sessions that they feel comfortable quoting a standard hourly or full-day rate up front. These are all veteran players who have a strong idea of what they bring to the table, what will be asked of them on nearly any gig, and what market standards for compensation are, so they are able to ask for compensation that seems to work well for them and their clients.

Whatever your genre or speciality, pay attention to the gigs you play where you feel like you’re being well compensated and the ones where you don’t. With a little experience and thoughtfulness, you should be able to home in on some personal standards for compensation that will serve you well as guidelines for future opportunities.

What do you want to earn?

“Lots of musicians tend to underprice themselves because they want the job,” says Pearson. “I don’t recommend that. You have to charge something that shows you’re worthy of what you’re doing.”

Pearson suggests thinking less about what your client wants to pay and more about what you want to earn. “What do you consider fair compensation for what you’re doing, within the range of what the market will accept?” he asks. “It’s a simple question, but it’s important to think about. When you know what’ll feel good to walk away with as far as money, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate.”

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

It’s easy for indie musicians to fall into the trap of feeling like they have to take every gig that comes their way, regardless of pay, says Pearson. But there may be times where the compensation just isn’t there to make a particular endeavor worth it. In such situations, “unless you can’t pay your rent or your car is being repossessed, don’t hesitate to say ‘no, thank you.’”

Turning down a gig does not have to mean burning bridges, and doing so politely and honestly can lay the groundwork for future collaborations — at a pay rate you can stomach. “It’s perfectly fine to say, ‘Thanks so much for thinking of me,’” says Pearson. “Even though this time isn’t working out, let’s stay in touch and talk when you have a greater budget to work with.”

For more on Glenn Pearson, visit pearsonproductions.com.


Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.

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3 thoughts on “What to charge for a music gig, Part II

  1. Hi my name is PEDRO VALENTIN i am Salsa Artis the problem i am seen is the promotors in the latin industry are not hiring artis that doesn’t have a big name also people that do festival only want Big Artists name and night clubs don’t want to pay a the proper amount to the bands.

  2. Promoters and talent buyers either purchase music based on the artist brand or merely to fill space with sound for a particular event. You are addressing the latter. One must be able to a digest the available metrics on an artist career trajectory to determine price point for the former. Experienced industry players including EXPERIENCED booking agents will set price point based upon information, both tangible an intangible, but starting with real-time, to-the-penny costs. Every penny for which is accounted.

    Notwithstanding, one of the first of many questions I ask an artist seeking my services as management, publicist, consultant or independent booking is, “What is your break even?” I do not ask what the respective performer charges. I will determine that after I know what it costs to produce a show in a 50 mile radius, 100 mile radius or a fly date beyond those routed dates. There are many things to consider beyond, as in, will the talent buyer provide a backline, what is production budget for the event, etc. My job is to read the buyer and get what the market will bear but will begin with an amount over break even.

    If you do not know your break even, then you are not ready to perform dates. After break even is determined, you then can factor in a cost benefit analysis. Benefit is not always valued in pecuniary gain. The show may access multiples of impressionsas in television or opening for major artist,, sell merchandise, audition for prospective sponsors, expand your fan base, fanclub sign-up, sharpen your brand or just give needed rehearsal.

    The essential asset package EVERY artist needs is documented Break Even (not anecdotal), Stage Plot, Technical Rider, Personal Rider, Bio (long version and adaptative abstract), Fact Sheet, Talking Points, One-Sheet, Sizzle Reel, ESP and EPK. Don’t ever think you are to small to create these. These are tools needed by promoters, talent buyers, production managers, industry players and on and on. These tools are not merely evidence of where you are in your career.

    The best thing an artist can do is hire a professional and just play music,
    Or,
    you can kick around the neighborhood bars and local events filling space with sound, and getting what you can get.

    These are two distinctive paths. There is only one right way to do it if you are seriously considering a career as an entertainer.

  3. One thing with a new customer ( I have been gigging for 46+ years) that I ask is what is your budget for this project? If it is too low I can bow out and say I can’t, but I know a band or artist that is in that range or budget. I have been surprised by the budget some venues have to spend ( specially casinos) on a project. Most of the clients I deal with are local though you never know where the call is going to come from.

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