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“I Am Worthy - $1200 to be Exact”: How to Decide Pricing as a Performer

The time has finally come; you’ve practiced for years, the band is assembled, the songs have been learned, and your musical services are finally being requested. But then comes the big question - what, in an exact amount, will you be charging for your services? In striving to attain our artistic goals, we performers sometimes gloss over this very real question of what is the monetary value of lending our skills and talents to those who wish to hire us. From $10,000 to 10% of the bar, the price tag on a music performance runs the gamut of options, with numerous options that must be considered before claiming a solid price.

No One Owes You Anything for your Practice Time
This is a hard pill for many to swallow, but it must be understood in order to know where clients are coming from when looking to hire a performer. After investing thousands of hours and years of our lives towards the mastery of an instrument, it’s hard not to feel the whole weight of this sacrifice when asked to share our talents, but the reality is that it is a personal choice owed to no one but ourselves. The value of this time spent must be proven of worth by our quality performing and ability to convey it through media, but practice time is simply the investment to earn a place at the table, not an inherent debt owed by others to be repaid.

Media Matters!
How is it that we so often see mediocre performers getting great gigs, and others of great quality floundering or stagnating in regards to paying performances? Most often, the answer is in the quality of media being presented. You could be a player on par with Herbie Hancock, but a cellphone video from a poorly lit dive bar will likely deter more clients than it will attract. Media for musicians is tantamount to advertising, and in this way must be seen as an investment towards future success, rather than simply any means of recording what you do. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating media promo:

  1. In the 21st century video is essential, but video must be quality. Paying a videographer to be at a higher end show is worthwhile, and a well made music video can do wonders. $200-500 for quality footage will seem more worthwhile when it leads to $1000+ bookings.
  2. If you truly can’t afford such expenses, get creative. Everyone has a friend with a good camera, and simple media editing software is easy to acquire and use. Pair an intentionally and cleanly shot video recording with the audio taken from an audio recorder carefully placed in the room, and you can make yourself a video that clearly displays your talents. Don’t restrict your creativity to just the music.
  3. Photographs are still necessary! Like a bachelors degree, quality band or individual images show that you are serious about what you do, and help convey professionalism. It’s often better to have a select number of quality images than a barrage of sub-par shots; just as with song selection, curation is an art form that does not go unnoticed.
  4. Create a quality website. Whereas once web page creation was the realm of trained professionals, it has by now been greatly democratized by online web page building sites such as Wix, Squarespace, Wordpress, etc. These services offer simple-to-use tools and affordable pricing, and with the aforementioned media already prepared you can have a working website created and online within hours. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are great for networking and promotion, but are absolutely not a replacement for a website and can potentially give off the sense of a lack of professionalism and effort.

Market Demand Matters
Consider this: When bands and musicians like Chicago, Tom Petty, and Radiohead were beginning to play original music, they likely were making only meager payments on the exact same music that would later bring them to fame, while modern bands that specialize as tributes to these groups can make upwards of $5,000+ per performance. This is not because these tribute bands perform at a higher quality, but because they are playing music that has an established and agreed market value, rather than one that has yet to be created. This extends to most aspects of the music economy, from cover/tribute bands to niche markets like music for Oktoberfests, to the modern dominance of DJs in nightlife as a surefire way to supply patrons with music that will suit their expectations for established songs. A creative musician should never let this deter them from working to establish their music, but until you have created a market desire for what you are offering this is a reality that must be taken into account when determining the price of your performances. By no means should one undersell their art, but don’t be offended when you’re offered $1000 to play covers at a wedding but only $200 for your original music at an event.

Different Prices for Different Clients
Some events have a budget of $10,000+; others are lucky to have $500. While maintaining a healthily high expectation of payment is necessary, realistically pricing your services towards the specific client also must be taken into account. It may feel good to know that your band can give itself a price tag in the thousands, but in the overall scheme of things a degree of flexibility is key. Though discussing financial details may not be everyone’s favorite topic, ascertaining budget early on in negotiations can save a lot of grief down the road. A small scale wedding where they really want live music may only have $500-800 to offer, but if your performers still feel properly reciprocated there’s nothing wrong with the lower price. Not to mention that one wedding often leads to more! On the flip side, if you know that a potential client - such as a large business or government organization - has funds and simply does not want to spend it on music, don’t lower your standards just to get the gig. Musician’s unions used to have a lot of power in determining these matters, but have unfortunately lost much of their clout in recent years. This leaves it up to us performers to stand up for ourselves and establish value collectively. Even if someone else is willing to give away their performance for pennies, insisting that your art is of a high enough quality to be worth a minimum amount will most always prove worthwhile in the long run.

Competition - Or Lack Thereof
As previously stated, standard market principals are always at play when selling your musical services, and in some areas competition can be a large factor. If you live in the Boston area, running a quality Mariachi band may be a rare specialty and priced as such. Change that locale to San Diego or El Paso, and you’re looking at a very different scenario and market with vastly greater competition. Each location and style will have differences in local competition, so make sure to take the time to see who else is working in a similar vein in your area, and where in the quality scale those groups would fall compared to yours. Clients seeking musicians are no strangers to shopping around, so knowing who they will likely be looking at can help greatly in assessing a reasonable price to your services.

What are the Local Standards?
Though utilizing the same currency through all of the US, prices and local valuation can vary wildly from state to state and city to city and ought to be considered when deciding a fair payment. If the local standard for a string quartet is notably low, it’s likely because the local economy cannot afford higher prices, so no matter the quality of your group it would be foolish to price your group far above others in the area. On the other hand, if local prices are noticeably higher than usual, this has likely been established over time as what the general population in the area can afford, and thinking that your winning solution will be to price your services below other groups can both gain you an unfavorable reputation amongst local musicians and give the impression of being the “budget” group, even if your services are just as good. If the average person can afford the higher cost, marketing to that demographic while maintaining options for lower income clients can be a great strategy to appeal to the widest audience possible.

Options for Upgrade or Downgrade
A great method to achieve pricing flexibility is to create a set of purchasable group formations. Studies have shown that people are more inclined to make a purchase if multiple options are available, aka the $700 4-piece cover band sounds like a steal when compared to the $1,000 sextet. Many bands are able to have such formations, with a core group forming the heart of the band while still maintaining a satellite network of musicians who can join in for events seeking a more full outfit. This strategy works especially well for groups working with established genres and repertoires such as cover bands, jazz groups, Oktoberfest bands, Mariachi, etc. Original music is certainly possible for this as well, just make sure that your material is properly and clearly charted, else you’ll end up wasting the time and patience of your players, which is an invaluable resource in the long run!

This may seem like a lot of variables and information to process, but when it comes to determining the value and price of your craft it pays to give it some thought - literally! At times the musical lifestyle may seem like a somewhat isolated jaunt into the artistic abyss of self-determination, but in truth the musical economy is as much a living, breathing marketplace as any other good or service. Taking the time to sufficiently scan your local economy and see how you and your music fit into it is critical to success - just as a sailor must assess the wind in order to properly set the sails, a musical director/manager is required to assess and properly understand their specific market in order to best direct their band, ensemble, or solo performances on a successful path. Only you can determine what your craft is truly worth, but we hope that these concepts help to outline a method by which to best determine the prices you can confidently ask for from clients, and build a lifestyle as a working musician that truly works!

“I Am Worthy - $1200 to be Exact”: How to Decide Pricing as a Performer
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