How Much to Charge?

How much to charge for gigs, prospecting, negotiating?

The discussion below is taken from a thread launched by "Scott Langholff" on the Synth Zone Arranger forum. Click here to go to the original thread including any additional comments.

Scott Langholff
09-06-2002 10:38 PM

Hello. Thought you people could update me on how much I ought to be charging on different types of gigs as to type and time involved, any real good prospecting ideas on how to sniff out work, and how about negotiating the price, getting and keeping the gig, making deals for steady work etc.

I have mainly been taking work that just comes to me mostly from exposure selling Lowrey organs, teaching and exposure as organ concert artist/clinician. I live in Pensacola, Florida and do not sing, but, I sometimes play chords with my left hand on the PSR-2000 and right hand trumpet (the real one you have to blow). I've also considered pulling out my soprano sax and playing along to midi files. Thanks for input as always. -- Scott Langholff

Scottyee
09-07-2002 12:06 AM

Scott L: From my own personal experience, I can definitely tell you that if you sing (while playing the keyboard), it will greatly increase your gig earning potential! Singing somehow commands and holds the listener's (audience) attention "a lot" more than performing an instrumental set only. I strongly urge you to seriously consider investing time to develop your pipes (voice lessons?).

As far as rates go, first find out what the "going rate" in your area is for people doing similar gigs (nursing homes, retirement communities, clubs, weddings, etc.). Start your rates at the lower end of the spectrum to attract/build up clientele. If you aren't already established or known in your area, approach a suitable venue and offer to play for a first time intro rate (such as 1/2 of your normal rate), but do NOT play for free (even for the first time) to potential paying clients. I've found this technique usually doesn't work out. I reserve free playing only for legitimate nonprofit fundraising benefits and events and for family/friends. I recommend establishing and charging all similar type client venues the same rate because nothing is worse than one client finding out you charged more/less than the other guy. Consider raising your rates only after you've established yourself in your area, your gig schedule is fully booked for a month, and you can afford to turn away work. Honesty, integrity, promptness, and an outgoing friendly attitude will bring you respect and subsequently bring more work and more $. After playing a potential ongoing venue a couple of times, I strongly recommend you sign a mutual business contract to protect both parties. I also insist on written and signed contracts and receiving a nonrefundable deposit for wedding, anniversary party and corporate gigs as well. I hope these suggestions help. I'm sure other pros out there (Uncle Dave, Donny, DonM, Mario, etc.) will have other suggestions as well. Good luck. -- Scott

Uncle Dave
09-07-2002 08:14 AM

All good points Scott, but I disagree about a free audition. I have never shied away from a free sample to showcase my act in the clients "home area" and it has never come up dry. When you are unknown to a client, it's a great offer of good faith to do a sample set or two so you can all get the feeling of how you fit in that situation. After you are established, this is not as important because clients can come and hear you somewhere else. Until you are set in a regular schedule, I see no down side to a few auditions to get your name out there.

I quote a price, and tell the client that if I am asked back, they pay the rate. Period. If they are not happy with the price, too bad, I walk. They almost always give it a try IF they like the show. You have to earn the right to stay at a job, but you usually have the advantage in the beginning, if the client likes your work.

I intentionally price myself above a lot of my competitors, because I think I'm worth it. Once you work cheap, you can't go back very easy. Establish an act -- set a price, and then get out there and sell it, man! Let the repeat business speak for you. The best advertisement for an entertainer is a happy client as a reference. Hand out lots of cards, and send out contracts the same day you get the call back. Be aggressive -- your competition will be!

The Pro
09-07-2002 09:34 AM

I disagree with you Uncle Dave because in another recent post you said you charged $150 for the majority of your nightly gigs, which is what ordinary sidemen have charged for decades. If that's more than your competition charges, you need to move to a better market.

Singing is overrated as are many singers -- entertainment value and professionalism is what counts when you go after classier venues that are able to pay more than your regular beer bars. I charge more as an instrumentalist than my singing competitors, but I look and sound like a very expensive act and people expect to pay more for that. Nobody ever expected to pay less for Liberace than Hank Williams just because one of them sang -- it's a matter of the market and your personal marketing.

I purposely located myself in an area that has a lot of resorts and establishments that cater to an upper-income market, then worked on my image and presentation to outclass my established competition and went after their gigs aggressively. Taking over the nightly gig market then allowed me access to the area's private party market. If you want to swim with the sharks, you gotta have an appetite.

Scottyee
09-07-2002 10:08 AM

Originally posted by The Pro: "Nobody ever expected to pay less for Liberace than Hank Williams just because one of them sang."

Actually, both Liberace and Hank sang. Though Liberace was more famous for his keyboard skills and campy style, he wisely added singing to his act as well. His vocal rendition of: "I'll Be Seeing You," which he sang at the end of all his weekly television shows, is perfect testament to how effective adding singing to your show can be.

Uncle Dave
09-07-2002 04:05 PM

I don't know how all this financial news centered around me, but the $150 price is an average for club dates only. That's not even half of my years work. The private parties are where I make my real money. The clubs are just a place to hone my skills and meet clients. My average prices are well above all my friends, so whatever you're thinking, don't pity me for not having enough cash. I do more than OK. .....

Tony W
09-07-2002 07:44 PM

Hello UD,
I have never read a review of one of your gigs where the "attendee's" were not bowled over by your performance. From the few samples and mp3's of your work I have heard, I curse my bad fortune for living so far away that I may never get to see you perform live. It is this talent that makes you a true pro and maybe that is what prompted such sour replies to your post.

The fact that you obviously earn enough to support your family AND change keyboards five or six times a year seems to have gone unnoticed. -- Tony

Uncle Dave
09-08-2002 08:21 AM

It's been more than 20 years since the "club circuit" has been considered a viable place to earn a living in the music business. Today's working professional has to diversify in order to survive, and the "outside" (private/corporate) is where all the real money is. The private parties are definitely the highest share of the money market, and that is where my income comes from. The club dates are a small part of the package that pay a few bills and keep my chops in shape. It's also a "meeting ground" for clients.

While $150 doesn't seem like much money to some ... it really is about average for the kind of work I specified, and way more than you get in certain parts of the country (USA, that is). I could probably live on my private parties, but it would be a stretch, so I prefer to keep the "business" aspect of Show Biz as active as I can. By doing a wide assortment of jobs (including my recording studio), I have managed to stay full time and still squeak ahead a little at a time over the years.

matias
09-08-2002 11:25 AM

The distinction between a "pro" and an "amateur" has never been very clear to me. It separates people more according to weather or not they make an exclusive living of music rather than according to the money they charge for their acts. Personally, I DO NOT CARE who's a pro or amateur in this forum. I know that this is a "cliché," but I feel that I can learn with almost everybody. Maybe this is so because I'm totally relaxed in what concerns music: I make a living from teaching mathematics in a small Portuguese university.

Each of us has his own strategy of pricing our services and have our own ideas of how to prospect and to get jobs. I have tried some of the ideas of Scott Yee, Dave and The Pro and will tell my results. But I must warn you: I'm not a typical musician and I come from an untypical country in this forum with an untypical music market. And although I have some scholar musical background (well above average in the area where I live), I have little experience in entertaining (4 years, but I'm really going slowly at a rather relaxed pace). In addition, the music market is very limited around here (this is a poor region of a relatively poor European country), and people don't really value a quality performance/entertainment. The bookings are very seasonal and much more achieved by people networks than by quality of the act. The "Pro" strategy, although theoretically a valid one, doesn't apply to my case. Nevertheless, I try to be careful about my image and presentation, but am conscious that my audiences might give the extra value for the "wrong" reasons: they tend to judge me more by my appearance than by my musical/entertaining act. Oh well.

I started four years ago with low rates (the lower end of the spectrum), just like Scott Yee suggested. Very wise strategy. I also considered two ways of presenting myself:

- play for half of the rate (1st time)
- play for free (1st time)

They are both good ideas, but the second one proved to provide better results, maybe because of cultural reasons. Here people expect you to play free, but I only do it once (exceptions with friends). I usually get more jobs from these freebies.

I never work with contracts, but I wouldn't recommend anyone to do the same. Things in the USA are surely different, and contracts are mandatory. Maybe I've been lucky, maybe I'm in a very relaxed position in what concerns music, but I like to trust and I like people to trust me. I never regretted it.

I always have cards with me when in a job and I agree with Scott Yee: a friendly attitude, flexibility, and honesty count a lot in building respect and trust. In private parties, some audiences like to participate and sing along with me. I am very permissive and flexible to that (contrary to many of my colleagues, from what I hear) and feel that my reputation as an entertainer gains a lot with that practice. Here there are many possibilities of getting jobs for private parties, but one of the best is to have excellent personal relations with places that host these parties. Owners of rural houses that host weddings, for example. They will recommend you to potential customers if they like your work. I give a special treatment to all of these who chain their customers to my entertaining services.

Steady work is difficult to find here (people network play a major role), especially when you're not born "in town" (I come from the south of Portugal and came to the north just for the work) but it was never an important issue for me (it's not my first occupation).

About money: I would never aggressively ask you what your earnings are (not polite, not polite..), but of course, I'm curious of having a crude idea. I was a bit surprised of UD's rates. They are close to (slightly higher than) the rates here (mine included), despite all the differences in the cultural and night life scene. The only significant differences occur in the small/medium dinner-dances (much less here: around $200/$250). The musical act is normally paid by the house who hosts the party and not by the participants (not directly, at least).

Hope to keep reading your useful inputs in this "warm place"...

-- José.

Mario
09-08-2002 02:53 PM

Scott L: After all that has been said, let me throw my five cents in. After 35 years in this profession, one thing stands clear for me. Once you are established in a community, it is very important to charge uniform prices for your services. Regardless of their decision, people will respect you for it and value your self worth in a professional manner. All those gigs that you lose because people are not willing to pay your price, are more than offset by those that do. Because the moment the word gets out that you are willing to bargain for your services, people will expect you to do better for them every time; and ultimately you will end up working for "peanuts"; they will be under the impression that you are in dire need of the work. You may not work as often as you'd like, but then again, this is time you could use for other things that are important in your life.

At 60 years old, I am picky about my gigs and I refuse to work for less than what I think I am worth. I could be working twice as much as I do now, but I don't want to if it is unpleasant work for me and doesn't pay me what I feel I am worth. I also understand that many folks in this business don't have that luxury, but if you want to be happy at what you do and make a living at it, then this is what I recommend to anyone. Once you prove your worth, let the community know it and they will gladly pay for it, almost always. Good gigging! -- Mario

The Pro
09-09-2002 07:29 AM

...And that brings me back to this topic and a subject near and dear to me: how to entertain an audience as a side effect. Last night, in addition to my regular wages, I made $50 in tips, all in singles and fives. What's surprising is this: I don't put out a tip jar and I very rarely even play requests. The money came from people laying the money on my keyboard as I played, half of it from children sent up by their parents.

My approach to entertaining is my own. Some time ago, I laid aside all the crappy songs that I'd played for too long and gave up on entertaining anyone but myself. This is a very negative professional attitude (in the minds of some) and likely won't work for Tony ... or anyone else with a successful stage show already in place that relies on audience endearment. My voice was dying and never was very good, but I had enough of singing partners who contributed little more than the honor of the presence to the gig, so I decided to try things my way for once. I chunked my song list and started over with instrumental cover versions of popular songs that I REALLY LIKED vs. the stuff/junk/burnt covers I usually get requests for. Most people ask for songs they have heard in the past in live music environments, forcing a sort of hive mentality on musicians: they all play the same thing within their genres. To make a long story short: I now play my favorite songs from all eras -- the music that I always wished I could hear played live by someone. To maintain marketability, I try to choose things that are recognizable but chosen according to my taste, like "Kiss From A Rose" by Seal, "Dessert Rose" by Sting, or my own ultra-contemporary version of Seals and Crofts "Summer Breeze," and an acid-jazz version of "Pure Imagination" from the movie Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. I also do some twisted beautiful versions of "Misty" and "Moon River" that are totally unique. The entire idea was to take a chance on pleasing myself first and foremost and hoping audiences would share in that pleasure.

It worked. At least it has so far. People are secretly craving a real change of pace. I am often asked why I have no tip jar: that's because I am already well-paid and I say so. It also goes with my state of mind: I came to play my music, my way, and if you didn't leave when I didn't play "Brown-Eyed Girl" then that's all the gratuity I need. Many of my counterparts are surprised this works at all but really, by offering a real alternative to what they do, it's not that surprising.

Just for thought...

DonM
09-09-2002 05:20 PM

Clubs: Week days $100-150/a night; Weekend $175-200/a night
Parties: $250 - $400
Animal Circuit (you know, Elks, Moose, Eagles, etc.) $250-$350
Casinos: $200 - $300
Nursing Homes: From free to $200. (Very few pay very much, but Christmas Parties, special occasions sometimes pay fairly well.)
Currently working Wednesday through Sunday at Supper Club Piano Bar. Monday and Tuesday Nursing Home Shows (a separate business).
Additional income from tips and CD's: $30-$100/a night.
All suggestions for making more money are welcome -- as long as it does not have anything to do with a REAL JOB.

Leon
09-11-2002 10:20 AM

I've done the freebies, just to get heard. I gig at three regular venues; did the first gig at each for nothing. It's to my benefit, too, as it gives you an opportunity to check the place out -- how the room sounds, how the general clientele is -- so the first time freebie aspect don't bother me. If they like you, they bring you back. So far, they keep bringing me back, so I must be doing something right. Sometimes, ya gotta spend money to make money. Just my thoughts...