As a musician, you may have heard phrases thrown around such as: ‘that’s a standard fee’; or ‘oh, it’s below MU rates’; or the classic ‘did I charge enough?’ One of the biggest questions musicians ask is, “How much should I charge for a gig?”
The truth is, NO ONE knows how much to charge for a gig. The rates of pay have fluctuated greatly since music’s inception, even more so since the Internet. There are several things that affect how much musicians can charge, some things are within the musician’s control, others are out of our control. The situations outside of our control can sometimes have a knock on effect to what you charge.
Here are a few examples of Unions to look at to get an idea of what they charge. In the UK, The Musicians Union (www.musiciansunion.org.uk) have their own set of rates. Then you have unions for worldwide www.fim-musicians.org and America www.afm.org. As good as all this is, these unions are still independent to their territories, and are used as an indicator, not a rule. They are also not linked, so they have their own individual arrangements to determine charge rates. I could say the rates are fair, but then what are my grounds based on?
The best advice I was given, was ‘start at a million pounds and then haggle your way down to expenses’. As ridiculous as this sounds, the theory is in essence, totally true. We SHOULD (in our own eyes at least) be worth at least £1 million. Unfortunately, budgets don’t always agree and usually, neither does the band or musician’s promo. You have to find a compromise.
There are SO MANY different types of gigs, of all levels, sizes and budgets. And ultimately it comes down to the money available. Along with this, there are so many things you can do as a musician to increase this and your self-worth.
You need to be comfortable with what you are being paid. My advice is: if you do not like the fee, don’t take the gig. We all know it WILL (99% of the time) be filled by SOMEONE (whether the quality is compromised or not) and that’s ok. There is nothing worse than having a musician take a gig for a low fee and then spend the whole time bitching about it. Treat every gig like you’re on top money – be professional. This job is not your normal 9-5 and regardless of how much fun we may have, it is still a job; something the majority of Joe Public are not aware of. You may doubt your worth by being surrounded by ignorant attitudes – never underestimate your location. Worth is all about perception. Just because you change your strings every gig, doesn’t mean your self-worth goes up…
If you are unhappy with the prices, you need to show clients why they should be paying more. I find this is a lot easier to see in bands. However, for individual musicians, online promo, videos, jam nights and solo projects are all great ways to ‘add more strings to your bow’ (just be wary as they may want a single strung bow). With bands, one great way to increase your value is to simply increase your production. If you see an act getting lots of gigs for $1000 (for example) and think you deserve to be paid more and can do better, you will need to put the effort in to show potential clients why they should pay more and not just book another band. It takes time to change perception. There will still be instances when clients will go for the cheaper option. However, I do believe if you stick to your guns the only gigs you will be offered are those in the price band you want. Caving in to lower prices will mean that YOU WILL play for lower prices, and the same artists will offer you the same wage (not all the time, there are some who do stick to their word of ‘when the pay goes up, so will yours’). It’s all starting to become a game of poker, reading people and calling bluffs.
We live in a world where every person with a camera phone is a photographer, everyone who has a friend with said camera phone is a model, and every other person makes the ‘yeah but I can play triangle’ joke. There are numerous open forums on social media calling for last minute musicians and deps, opening up the market to players of all levels and experience that take fees of all kinds. Every gig is different, and it’s up to you whether you think you are compromising your worth by doing these other gigs or whether the potential networking, meeting and playing with other people would be beneficial. If you want to go only go for £500 a gig, only go out for £500 a gig.
So we have a mix of aspiring professionals, professionals, semi-pros, and wannabes. This in itself can make what you think your worth is fluctuate. If you are regularly playing gigs with people that work a 9-5, they are going to have a different attitude to those that work freelance or have chosen this as a full-time profession. Some people might spend more on their gear and maintenance & rehearsals. Different lives, different values. If you are playing a lot of pub shows, to crowds that just want to be entertained, they aren’t going to care about your cool re-harm pattern or the fact the singer just missed the cue and you start the verse 4 bars later than usual. In the same way, if you are on a touring production, you are constantly with like-minded people, all with one task and job in mind. This combined with everyone in the venue working towards one goal (the gig) and then crowds coming to sing along to your songs. That is also going to have an effect on how valuable you think you are. I think a great attribute every player should have, is to adapt to the present playing situation. It can be quite the culture shock going from a long tour, then into pub gigs, or visa versa.
We are constantly mixing with musicians of all levels of training and backgrounds – from PhDs to self taught. In most cases, competing with them for gigs for both booking bands and individual musicians. This can leave our sense of perception warped, which easily happens, and is often not too easy to spot.
We all get it wrong at times, we will sometimes over or under charge for a gig, and the important thing is to suck it up and not sulk about it. Learn from your mistakes instead of repeating them. It’s OK to make mistakes, but one thing that makes us feel better about it, is the self-knowing that you are content with what you’re doing and what the price is and for how much time spent. Constant self doubt comes with the territory, and it can be controlled. If you are on the gig, and it doesn’t feel worth it, don’t do it again. Lessons will be repeated until learned.
So, if you came to this article looking for a definitive answer, a price list or some sort of per year calculation, I am sorry (well I’m not reeeeallly) but that is beyond anyone’s knowledge. And that goes for any artistic lifestyle. Failing all of that, if you are still in doubt and unhappy, every time you get a gig, just match up the time from leaving your house, to getting back in. Calculate how much would you get for minimum wage, and see which is better, bearing in mind, you don’t get paid to travel to most jobs.