How Much Should I Charge? 3 Pricing Strategies for Performers

There are probably as many “pricing strategies for performers” as there are performers, right?

Ultimately, what we charge for a gig has everything to do with our own personal needs and goals, the market(s) we work in, and a whole range of other factors.

How Much to Charge for a gigToday’s Educate and Entertain post is going to assume that you have some flexibility in setting your own rates (I’m almost sure that you do), and we’ll take a look at three ways to go about doing that.

How Much To Charge For A Gig

2016-03-14_14-13-07-min#1. Take What You Can Get (Minus The Paranoia Factor)

This is the place where most of us start. I know I certainly did.

In fact, I spent years smelling the flowers and kicking the tires here until, ultimately, my responsibilities (read: kids, wife, house, mortgage) outgrew my ability to continue working at the “going” rate for local musicians.

This pricing method generally goes one of two ways:

SCENARIO A: WHEN THE VENUE TELLS YOU WHAT THEY PAY

Step 1 – you think back on what you’ve been paid for gigs in the past
Step 2 – look around at what other acts are being paid for similar gigs
Step 3 – consider what you are being offered
Step 4 – say “OK”

2016-03-14_14-17-01-minSCENARIO B: WHEN THE VENUE ASKS YOU WHAT YOU CHARGE

Step 1 – think back on what you’ve been paid for gigs in the past
Step 2 – look around at what other acts are being paid for similar gigs
Step 3 – dream about getting what you actually deserve
Step 4 – experience the paranoia factor™
Step 5 – quote a price that’s not much better than Scenario A, or perhaps even worse!

(The paranoia factor™ refers to that moment of trepidation just before stating your price when you become petrified of quoting too high and losing the gig.)

musician payFor performers with streamlined needs or other sources of income, the “Take What You Can Get” pricing scenario can work just fine.

For others, it’s good to move out of this category ASAP.

#2. Starting From What You Need

Holy paradigm shift!

What if, instead of taking what you can get, you start with a number, on paper, representing what you need to be making per week or per month, and figure out your rates from there?

Would this change the way you do things?

Would it force you into some different areas of work that pay better?

How much to charge for a gig It certainly did for me.

Once I realized that I needed to be making mid three figures to low four figures each day I travel and perform, my entire approach changed.

It became very clear to me that I couldn’t afford to be giving guitar lessons anymore, I couldn’t be spending 3-5 hours at a coffeehouse gig, and I needed to shift all (or most of ) my work into the areas where I can make that kind of money.

For me, that meant schools, libraries, grant-funded concerts, community gigs, artist residencies, workshops, and other opportunities I’ve discovered simply because I had to.

An Interesting Side Benefit

Naturally, this approach to pricing my programs has spilled over to the occasional gig I get asked to do from back when I was in the “Take What You Can Get” category.

The great thing is, although I still like doing many of those gigs, I don’t necessarily need to do them now.

So, if it’s something that sounds like fun, and I’m not already working 60 hours that week, then I’ll just do it. It’s certainly not always about the money.

Musician payBut if it’s one of those gigs that I could take or leave, then I’ll quote my (now) regular prices – the same fees I ask for in my other, more specialized work.

And usually, I don’t get the gig. That’s OK.

But! It seems like somewhere around 25-30%* of the time (*a non-scientific number), I get hired!

Yes, my quote is a lot higher than some others they may have gotten, but I get the gig anyways.

Why?

I can’t really say for sure, but I have a few theories:

  • perceived value – they figure I must be worth it (and I better be able to deliver on that expectation)
  • they had the money and nobody else asked for it
  • perhaps a decent reputation built up over time for delivering value

Whatever the case, I think this is pretty interesting, and could really inform all of us during our “paranoid” price-quoting moments.

As David Roth said in his pricing article for Gigmasters, “you will only ever get what you think you are worth.”

2There are several articles on this blog that go into more detail on the “Starting From What You Need” approach, including Do You Work Too Cheap?What Do You Do When You’re NOT Performing?, and this one on positioning yourself as exceptional rather than cheap.

#3. “The Decent Buck” (aka The Uber-Rational Approach)

how much to charge for my bandMy friend and colleague Chris Holder has been an independent performing artist for over 35 years.

Once upon a time, Chris was writing a newsletter for fellow teaching artists called “Artists With Class” with his colleague Michael Rutherford.

The publication, now sadly out of print, was filled with useful articles on grant funding, showcase opportunities, marketing, and general logistics related to gigging in schools.

Chris told me recently that, by far, the most copied, shared, mimeographed (it was 1993), and reprinted article they wrote was called “The Decent Buck.”

With his blessing, I’m summarizing one part of it here.

It’s my hope that I can get Chris to collaborate on a complete updating of this article (now almost 25 years old) with current-day monetary figures in place of 20th-century numbers, and we’ll reprint it in it’s entirety in a future post.

gig pricing for musicians For now, I’m just going to give a basic outline of the formula he provides at the end of the piece.

This is smart food for thought in terms of making sure we’re charging enough for our work, and sobering for those of us who don’t normally take all of these elements into account. (I know I don’t!)

Chris Holder’s Pricing Formula

  1. What do you want your gross income to be for the year?
    Chris Holder - How Much to Charge for a Performance

    Chris Holder

  2. Add a third more on to that for expenses
  3. Add in your health and disability insurance along with some sick and vacation days
  4. Add in the amount you’d like to contribute to your IRA or other retirement plan
  5. Add 5% of the number you started with for “profit to be reinvested in your business/art”
  6. Add in 20% or so for Federal and State Income Taxes
  7. Now, divide your figure  – which might now be almost double what you started with – by the number of days you’d like to (or can) work in a year, remembering to set aside plenty of “non earning” office days to keep this all going

That’s how much you need to be making each day you perform.

Thanks Chris!

2Check out the “Fees” page on Chris’s website to see where he’s ended up with his pricing, at least for now: Chris Holder’s Fees for Service page

Wrapping Up

So Many More Ways to Slice It…

I hope this has given you some valuable new ways to look at your pricing, but let’s face it: we’re all freelancers. None of this is set in stone.

I imagine that every performer reading this article will have their own way of pricing things.

I’d love to hear how you do it. Leave me a note in the Comments section below.


About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.

Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.

The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.

Please Post Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

29 Responses to How Much Should I Charge? 3 Pricing Strategies for Performers

  1. Justyna Kosmulska

    Good one! I never thought about it this way… Like, take a Year and divide… and yes, re-investment in what you do is a necessity. Upgrading the instrument, Or even just a new capo do make a difference

  2. Brian

    Thank you for this advice Dave. I’ve always struggled with the “Paranoia Factor” and it’s really kept me from seeking out gigs as I never knew what to ask and that fear of am I going to ask to much really kept me from seeking out gigs in the first place. This has really given me a great baseline to work from. Great article, great advice. Thanks!!

  3. Jeremy Aaron

    Nice idea Dave! I think this applies to any career really. I am currently trying this with some gigs to see how it works, Thanks for the help.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Jeremy – I hope you’ll check back in here and share your experiences once you’ve been in touch with some venues.

  4. Stuart Fuchs

    Great article Dave…and helps to further clarify the different scenarios when negotiating price. Even if turned down for holding to your quote, it seems like delivering value over time can certainly lead a future invitation at your quote.

  5. Doug Philbrook

    Thanks for this post, great info/advice. My musical partner and I are quickly approaching retirement age and want to get our now part-time music career up to the next level. All this info will help

  6. Jerrye

    Dave Ruch…you are terrific!!! Love your ideas.

  7. Peter

    Thanks Dave, that is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing this. Kind regards, Peter

  8. Gary

    Thanks Dave – have read a couple of your posts now and even after 46 years in “the biz” I can see I’ve missed a fair bit of stuff. Been too busy with my snout in the QY700 writing midi files obviously. Will stay tuned and look forward to your posts. Cheers.

  9. Jerrye Albert

    This is chock full of ideas. Thanks very much. I am going to study your suggestions over and over again until I have them down pat and used. I used to b e a classical pianist but now have switched to voice and guitar…folk music, which I love. Thanks very much for sharing your successful strategies.

  10. "E"

    Great article Dave, it definitely shed some light and offered a bit of relief on what I should generally be charging as an independent artist.

  11. J.D.SAGE Troubadour

    Thanks and best wishes in your teaching and musical endeavors.Cheers.J.D.

  12. Randy Litz (RandyO’)

    I wonder how much difference there is between what a full time musician needs to make as opposed to a part timer like me who doesn’t actually depend on music money for support but only wants to make a few extra dollars giggling from time to time.

  13. Tim Heming

    Great article 🙂

  14. Nancy

    great article, thank you!

  15. Ariella

    I have little kids and took a break from working after my second was born for around a year and a half. Then I wanted to get back to it but I too couldn’t afford to work for the going rate so I started thinking about what I could do to add value, and started doing weddings with so where I do the ceremony and then do some crazy dancing and fiddling during the dancing, and I charge 6x the going rate, nobody charged like I do, but I still get hired, because I’m unique 🙂

  16. Robert Van Horne

    Thanks, Dave! Pricing is a very important subject. I’m glad you provided some very useful and clear ideas on what musicians and entertainers are worth for their performances. I know you’ve opened my eyes about pricing. Thanks again.

Get Dave's News, Discounts, and More
Join Dave's Mailing List
Quick Contact

Have questions or looking for booking information? Call Dave at 716-884-6855, or send him a message below.

*Required