Negotiating pay is a challenge every musician faces. Whether you’re a well-seasoned professional or beginning your journey as a musician, it can be tough to convince people that your art, expertise, and hours of practise are worth paying for.
Many venues and promoters are just not on our side when it comes to paying acts. That being said, there might be times you want to accept an unpaid gig, particularly if you're a singer-songwriter just starting out.
Here, we go through different gigging scenarios, when it's necessary to negotiate pay and how to do it.
OPEN MICS/ SHOWCASES
Open mics are a great place to practise new material and meet like-minded musicians. You usually sign up for a short slot (between 2 and 4 songs). They are very laid-back, casual evenings where anyone can have a go regardless of how talented, or not, they are. No one gets paid for these gigs and they don’t charge people on the door to watch. Who turns up and the standard of musicianship is always a total surprise.
We’ve been to numerous open mic nights over the years, some good, some bad. It’s worth checking online which ones are popular to ensure you’ll be performing to a decent-sized crowd.
Gauge the reactions to your new materials and see what feedback you get. This is what open mics are mainly for.
YOUR FIRST GIG
Don’t expect to get paid for your first gig. It’s highly unlikely a gig promoter will trust a band that has never actually played together in front of an audience before. Once you’ve done around 5 gigs together and have built up some experience and got some promo pics/videos, then you can start to negotiate a fee. Of course, this fee should increase as time goes by and you become more experienced and polished.
Those who are booking for corporate or wedding function gigs are including entertainment in their budget, and usually these budgets are more generous than your local pub.
As a result, you can usually get paid pretty well for these gigs. However, the fact you’ll probably perform long sets, need to travel further and may be taking many requests should be taken into consideration.
Some pubs will usually have bands that play at the weekend for a fee. This will be less than a wedding or corporate gig, usually charging £150 - 350 for a couple of hours’ set, depending on various factors. (see later on).
How to negotiate pay
CONSIDER WHAT TYPE OF GIG IT IS
I read this article recently which explained that all gigs are not created equal, and as musicians we have to constantly weigh up the pros and cons of accepting or declining different gigs.
This struck a chord with me.
Although I would generally advise you decline unpaid gigs, sometimes you’d be daft to turn down an unpaid opportunity if it's going to benefit you in other ways.
Some gigs might not pay but are great opportunities for networking and exposure. Some paid gigs might consist of performing to a loud room of uninterested punters and do zilch for building fans.
Deciding what the needs are for your band is important when choosing what types of gigs to perform.
ASK FOR IT
Sounds obvious but many promoters and venues will happily get by without paying you if they can. But if you negotiate for a (reasonable) fee before agreeing, you will come across as more professional and as knowing your worth as musicians.
This links to the previous factor. Being professional shows you take your music seriously. Ways of coming across as professional include having a polished repertoire, having business cards and a well formatted website. All give you more chance of getting paid.
BRING YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT
Having your own PA and backline is very desirable for venues as it removes the faff of them having to set one up for you and shows you mean business. It definitely acts as a ‘bonus’ when booking gigs.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU CHARGE
This depends on many factors:
The type of gig/ venue, as already discussed.
How many of you are in the band. You each want a valid fee, so the more of you in the band, the more you charge. Often larger venues,willing to pay more, are looking for full bands, so don’t feel you're at a disadvantage.
The distance you’re travelling - the travel costs should be worked out beforehand and included in your fee.
The length of set - consider what your hourly rate should be. If you’re unsure what this should be, take a look at sites with similar artists advertising and you can get a rough idea.
Whether or not you are bringing your equipment - equipment needs cars/ vans and setting up time. Include this in your fee.
Practice time - if you’re given 20 obscure songs to learn then this gig will require more practice than others - include that in your fee.
How experienced you are.
So, there you have it! Negotiating pay as a musician isn’t always easy, but if making money from your craft is important to you, then it's a skill you'll need to master. And remember, never be afraid to say no to gigs that don't meet your requirements; there'll always be another gig.
Let us know your experiences in negotiating pay in the comments.