We’re nearing the holidays and musicians have been asking me what rates they should pitch to buyers who request their services. Be it a corporate holiday party, rotunda in the mall or a corner in a restaurant. This is an entire business in it of itself. I have friends, well, one friend who makes his entire yearly income off of holiday season gigs.
I’ve done a handful of these kinds of holiday gigs, but more so, I’ve done various festivals, private parties, bars, wedding lunch-ins, bar mitzvahs and other gigs where they paid me a flat rate. I rarely do them anymore, but when they arise I have my negotiating skills honed to get the most dough out of the gig.
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.
+What Do You Mean We Don’t Get Paid (The Confirmation Email)
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.
+Should You Pay To Play
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.
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.
Feel Out the Gig
My rates definitely vary depending on the gig. College gigs I charge more and friend’s 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!
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.
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
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.
Career Building vs. Compensation
Every gig I play I set on this scale. If the gig has very high career building potential (exposure, merch sales, future opportunities) I’ll accept much lower compensation. If it’s a private event and I’m background music and not allowed to sell my merch then I will pitch well above my “normal” rate. Those gigs are soul sucking.
+Should You Take The Gig or Not (The Perfect 30 test)
Send A Contract
For these private gigs always send over a contract. It makes them feel like you are professional. The confirmation email is good for clubs, but write up a 1-2 page word doc contract. You don’t need a lawyer to do it, just something that simply states the facts of the event and make sure everyone is on the same page.