So Bruno Mars was paid $0 for his Super Bowl performance. Some are up in arms about that. I’m not.
Every gig I get offered I put on a career building (exposure) vs. compensation scale.
If the gig has high career building potential (ala playing the Super Bowl in front of 100 million people), I’ll accept much less pay. If I’m background music at a private event, I’ll need a huge payment. Those gigs are soul sucking.
Most gigs fall somewhere in the middle.
Musicians get offers to play private events all the time. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, corporate parties, mall music, proposals (“so just hide in the closet until I bring her into the room”), and the like. It’s safe to say that most of these gigs will not bring you instant fame or shoot you to the top of the iTunes charts (like Bruno Mars’ album the day after the Super Bowl).
Too many musicians accept free gigs because they are promised great exposure or high merch sales. If you want to actually make a living playing music you’re going to have to learn some negotiating techniques (before you get an agent or manager to do this for you).
Here are 7 negotiating techniques that will hopefully help you get the most coin for the gig.
1) Never Accept The Asking Price
When a buyer pitches you a rate for a gig always negotiate this. Never settle for the asking price. This goes for when promoters and other bands offer you a guarantee for a club show as well. You don’t need to go all Ari Gold on their ass, but if they pitch you $100, ask for $300. You’ll most likely settle at $200.
2) Have A Normal Rate
More times than not, a buyer will ask you what your rate is. It’s good to always have a rate (and set length) you fall back on. You can set your “normal” rate at, say, $1,000 per show up to 2 hours (for private events) – with a “normal” set length of 70 minutes. I’ve done 70 minute gigs for way more than my “normal” rate and for way less, but, by default, I ask for my “normal” rate + expenses. Remember everything that has to be factored into this price: (local) travel, rehearsal, equipment, years of practice honing the craft, writing the songs, recording the album, creating the website, building your reputation, on and on. And above all, you’re better than anyone else they will ask who is cheaper! Sure, the buyer could get his brother to play, but he only showers once a week, gets drunk before he begins and is kind of racist.
Also, the further out you lock in a gig the higher your price should be. If you reserve a date, that means you have to turn down other (potentially higher paying or better exposure) gigs.
3) Price Points
Set different price points depending on time like:
0-2 hours = $1,000
2-3 hours = $1,500
3-4 hours = $2,000
The reason I say 0-2 hours and not set a specific set length is because once I’m setup it’s no difference to me if I play 15 minutes or 90 minutes. And they will think you’re charging based on performance time. They’ll try to get extra services out of you. “So since you’re only playing for 45 minutes but you’re charging for 90 minutes, can you give my son a guitar lesson for 45 minutes?” I kid you not this happened to me. I learned – after I gave her son a guitar lesson.
4) Feel Out the Gig
My rates definitely vary depending on the gig. College gigs I charge more and friends’ events I’ll charge less. If a company hits you up to play their holiday party, you can bet they have a large budget. Pitch them your “normal” high rate. They can always come back at you and say that’s more than they have budgeted and you can negotiate from there. If you ever pitch a rate and they immediately say “sounds good,” you under sold yourself. Up your rate!
5) Get All Details Up Front
Do they provide sound? Lights? Stage? Seating? What kind of event is this? Can you sell your own merch? How many sets? How many breaks? Do they provide dinner/drinks? Lodging? All of this factors into the price. I have my rate + sound, lights, food, lodging and travel. If they don’t provide any of that, then I factor that into the price and explain that to them. Your rate could be $1,000, but once you work out plane tickets, sound and light rental, hotel, dinner and rental car, it may cost around $2,000.
6) Have set points of expenses that are factored in:
* hotel buyout = $100 (either they provide one or add $100 to your check – if you have more band members factor in the extra rooms)
* food buyout = $15 per member
* plane and rental car you’ll have to look up and factor in per show basis
7) The Massage
If you pitch a rate WAY above their estimated budget, they may not respond to your email. You may need to follow up and ask if your rate is in their budget and if they are “ready to move forward and discuss details.” Massage them – metaphorically of course… or in actuality… whatever works. If they reply stating your rate is way out of their budget, come up with an excuse as to why you can be flexible with them (you like the organization, it’s last minute and you’re free, you have a close mutual friend, whatever) and ask what they can afford. Then negotiate from that point.
Club gigs are another beast and you’re most likely going to get a cut of the door. Those are the “career building” gigs. You’re not going to get paid much initially, but you build that fan base and the 3rd or 4th time through the city you’ll not only be able to negotiate a better cut of the door (or even a guarantee), you will be bringing out the numbers that will actually earn you good money.
+Worst to Best Club Deals (and Paying To Play)
When to play for free? Free free? Like no chance of receiving a dollar following the performance? Reserve that for when you’re in front of millions of eyeballs tearing up the 50 yard line.
Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business, a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake