Do You Want to be Cheap or Extraordinary?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and answer the question “do you want to be cheap or extraordinary?” for you.

I’m guessing you’d prefer to be extraordinary, right?

Who wants to be thought of as cheap?

And yet, when it comes to pricing and positioning your performances in the marketplace, which way do you slant?

advice for musicians, storytellers, performing artistsThe Race to the Bottom

When we price our services low enough to be competitive with every other band, act, or performer out there, we’re playing a losing game.

It’s a race to the bottom.

Similarly, when we try to be all things to all people in terms of repertoire, types of gigs we’re willing to do, hours we’ll work, etc, we’re bound to wind up stuck in an unsatisfying career.

So, flexibility isn’t good?

Of course it is, to a point.

Sensitivity to the market isn’t important?

It definitely is. But here’s what I’m saying…

cheap or extraordinaryAll kinds of decisions, from pricing to gig logistics to you-name-it, become easier once you a) have a firm handle on what makes you exceptional, and b) can articulate that through your marketing and, most powerfully, through the words of others.

In my experience, the market will respond accordingly.

(Not ALL of the market, mind you – you will definitely lose some gigs. But are those really the gigs you want?)

Dave Ruch - advice for musiciansWays to Be Extraordinary

There are multiple ways to distinguish yourself from the pack, and some of them might be under your belt already.

#1. Material

Do you do something unique that sets you apart from other performers in terms of your repertoire, or would you say you’re more in the “dime a dozen” category?

If what you do is somewhat special and rare, then you’ve solved a significant piece of the puzzle right there.

If not, read on…

#2. Specialization/Focus

Who are your performances for? Do you specialize in working with a particular type of audience?

Are you that rare breed who can work magic with any audience put in front of you?

advice for performing artistsAre you really witty and engaging? Do you share fascinating or obscure tidbits between pieces? Have you done significant research into your sources and topics?

What is that common accolade you tend to get after a performance?

(You do ask for letters of recommendation afterwards, right?)

Any one of these can be a strong ace-in-the-hole, and the more you can play them up in your marketing, the better you’ll be able to position yourself as extraordinary.

#3. Customer Service

Sometimes, that defining difference – the thing that makes people willing to hire you again and again even when others are cheaper – is just being really easy to work with, dependable, and hassle-free.

Always on time!That’s worth a LOT.

#4. Pricing Chutzpah

Or, the perceived value of the expensive power tool/kitchen stove/blues musician

Nobody really wants the cheapest product out there – what we want is the best product we can afford.

Like it or not, your asking price says an awful lot about your quality.

You’re never going to earn more than you think you’re worth.

Marketing for musicians and performing artistsBack in the 90’s I was playing a fair amount of bluegrass music with various bands around Western New York. I remember a musician friend telling me of a recent performance he’d been hired to do with a bluegrass band out of Central New York. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It was a gig just like the ones we do, but at the end, the bandleader handed me $300! He must have charged them $2,000 or more for the group.” OK, so this launched me (who was lucky to be getting $75-100 per person for those gigs) into a little research project – who was this bandleader, and how was he able to charge so much more than us? Well, his band had been around a long time (although the “band” often consisted of him and whoever else was available to play on gig day), but really, the biggest difference I could find was this – he asked for it, and people paid it. They expected quality, he delivered, and everyone left happy.

#5. Sheer Talent

If you’re a head-and-shoulders leader in your field, performing at a higher standard than anyone else around, you probably don’t have to worry about any of the above.

But then again, if that describes you, you’re probably not reading this article!

2016-09-07_14-26-52-min(Still though, think about what you’re the absolute best at in your region, and make sure you capitalize on that.)

#6. Being Extraordinary

Uh, wait. That’s what this article is about, right?

Well, yes, but here’s the thing – once you’ve demonstrated your extraordinariness (a real word, I just found out…) through any combination of the five elements above, things can start to take care of themselves.

Word travels, the happy purchaser wants to have you back again at some point, and so it goes.

how to be extraordinary - dave ruch

People know you cost more – and they know you’re worth it.

Final Inspiration

Consider this: very often, clients who pay the least end up being the most demanding and difficult to work with AND the most ambivalent afterwards.

Conversely, it is often the people who have paid me the most who are the best to work for and, miraculously, the most satisfied when all is said and done!

how to make money as an artist - Dave RuchFind that unique combination of what makes you exceptional, and be that.

Price yourself confidently (even when you don’t think you can get it), and operate from a position of uniqueness.

Good luck!

What Do You Think?

There’s a “Comments” section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.

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42 Responses to Do You Want to be Cheap or Extraordinary?

  1. Dave,

    I’m reading your article in an attempt to formulate an email response to yet another potential customer who doesn’t see the value in what I bring to the table. I’m a one-man blues band who plays a very unique style of blues that comes from the hill country of North Mississippi. I play drums with my feet, a cigar box guitar and finger-picked/slide electric guitar and I sing…all at the same time! I’m also a seasoned professional having played 122 gigs in 2019 with hundreds more in years prior.

    The challenge I have with this potential customer as well as many others is that they view me as a solo artist and only want to pay me as such. I sound like a 2-3 piece group. I explain that I do much more than a typical solo artist but they have difficulty getting past this mindset. It’s very frustrating having to fight for more money just because I don’t have any others in my act. When I do play with a full band, I get more money but the uniqueness of the show and crowd response isn’t the same.

    Do you have any advice from me beyond your article?


      • Dave,

        It is a brewery so not a traditional music venue. They normally pay their “solo” artists half of what I’m asking for and have come back asking me for an increased promotional commitment as well as the ability to bring people out. I normally respond stating that this isn’t a ticketed show at a music venue but rather a meeting place for your already built-in customer base. I’m just a part of their whole experience, not the main reason for coming. The hard part is that they will pay 3 piece bands the same or slightly more than what I’m asking. I just have a hard time getting past “we only pay one person so much”.

        • Gotcha. In a venue like that I think you would need to be able to bring something else to the table (i.e. a better turnout than their typical solo performer) in order for them to justify the increased fee.

  2. Good stuff man! I always love reading useful informational articles weather it’s yours or anyone’s whose making the effort! Keep rocking in the free world and doing what you do best!

  3. Dave, your article has helped me tremendously.
    Thank you for sharing. Thank God I found your website today, what a great Christma gift.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  4. Definitely all true! Just so hard to remember sometimes when people ask what your fees are as THE FIRST QUESTION!

  5. This is my favorite article you’ve written dave. I really enjoyed it. When starting out I always priced myself at the “going rate” accepting much less than I know I am worth for the kind of performance I provide. And the part about the cheap people wanting the most and demanding more than the people who pay your price is so true. You realise that you are giving them a discount but they hardly ever consider that.

    Not only does lowering your price or charging the going rate make you look like the standard performer/musician it makes the buyer think that everyone should charge this much or that they should be able to find the unique service you offer for that same price.

    I’ve learned it that the client who pays the price is always much more satisfied and readily to have you back and appreciates what you do more than the buyer who wanted my services at a fraction of the cost. Often times these people arent even around the day of the gig to shake my hand afterwards they get what they want at at the price they want and they dont even care.

    I’ve learned to turn down these gigs. And playing undercut in general. Because my time is much better spent searching for quality gigs anyway. Thanks dave!

  6. Your article really got me thinking. Thank you for challenging us to define who we are, what we do, and who we really want to do it for.

    • I love your advice and have learned much. In my case the band consists of three retirees who play for fun. We get good reviews and the audience and promoter always seem to like us. We can use the money, but don’t depend on what we make, I feel we could get more, but lost a steady gig when we minimally increased our asking price. How do you find out what a venue is willing to pay a similar band?

      • Hi David – unless you know another group that works at the same venue, it’s probably going to be trial and error. Obviously, the more people you can draw, the higher your value will be.

  7. Really valuable advice for us to be a valuable artists,no compromise and be a exceptional in the music gigs performance.Lets do this with confidence….

  8. Great advise that has taken me years to realize -. Its easy to say to yourself ” I just need the work or experience – and wala your undercutting yourself.

  9. Really excellent advice that usually takes years to realize , if you are undercutting yourself – alas -like myself .

  10. Any advice for creative pricing? In winter months, business profits drop off in Montana and venue owners cut their budgets. (instead of trying to draw more people in and to stay with music!)

    I have been wondering about charging percentage of till, but not sure how that could work (ie, would that be on their honor system? would it include take-outs from the restaurant, etc…)

    Would love suggestions!

    • Hi Charla – I don’t play many restaurants/bars, but maybe some other readers will have some suggestions for you.

  11. Well put. People like to think they got the best, and if they’re not paying more, they could think less of what they’re getting, whether or not that opinion is justified. I suppose picking up treasures at yard sales might be an exception.
    As a Music Educator, I long ago stopped teaching “family members” for free. It became blatantly obvious to me that when people get something for nothing, they automatically assume that is exactly what it is worth.

  12. Great article. The most important thing I’ve found in marketing your band, music, writing, etc. is KNOW YOUR WORTH then don’t back down. Second is perception. Don’t approach a venue, apologizing for bothering them, or ” I really would appreciate a chance.”
    Perception is everything. If your product is good, ACT LIKE IT. Walk in like you own the joint, or with confidence in your product. Owners, promoters, and event coordinators are particularly talented at picking up a vibe from people, if your timid about your show, you can’t expect anything less from someone, who’s job it is, is to read people.
    ENDEVOR WITH EFFORT. Think of how much time, energy, resources, and thought went into the production of your last cd. Now compare that with how much time, energy, resources, and thought went into your promo kit….

  13. Great article I needed to read as well. I am struggling with a couple of things…one of which is teaching at a place where the owner does not promote his business! He could have such a vibrant business but ???? And I’ve seen my student clientele plummet. grrrr I am trying to get myself out of there and into my own establishment but you know, having enough money to pay rent and trying to figure if I can generate enough business on my own. I would probably still teach for the other studio but it wouldn’t be my primary place. If I could get past my “stuck-ness” I could make this happen! Any ideas?

    • Hi Evelyn – why not start teaching privately out of your home or elsewhere? You do all the marketing and you keep all the income. It shouldn’t be too hard to maintain your studio teaching at the one place while you quietly cultivate your private business, right?

  14. Again, I am so very thankful for knowing you, Dave and having you send weekly tips for marketing musicians. Asking for a “cheap” salary is not right. Think of all the time, practice and money spent on learning an instrument to get where we are as musicians, today. It’s not good for one’s soul or confidence level. The music we provide to audiences is a wonderful gift to them. We degrade ourselves when we perform for almost nothing. Thank you, Dave. You give us musicians an ethical code to live by.

  15. I’ve been saying this for years. I listen to others go on about their price wars and think, I made more per gig in the 80’s.
    I teach now privately and must say that is a good example of ask for more you get more respect and thank you’s.

  16. Hey there Dave. I read your posts each week and I wanted to just take a minute to thank you for sharing, and for all of your insight. I have been performing shows beginning in 1995 and remember back then when I was also working at a local library, that you stopped into the children’s dept to give me some hints on becoming full time. I don’t recall exactly what we talked about,, but I do remember it being useful information. (I am, by the way full time in my field.

    Janice Spagnola

    • Hi Janice – congrats on your career and what a nice surprise to hear from you. I can;t say that I recall that conversation either, but I’m sure it was great!

  17. I worked in and as a professional photographer for a long time. A guy I worked for was really busy so put his prices up to deter some from hiring him. Almost doubled his price. The phone rang off the hook and he found himself with more work than before. Better paying work which he could cherry pick. Of course this was back in the ’80’s when money was not in short supply! But the point is – you’re right!

  18. As always, your article was sharp, informative & very user friendly.
    One thing my pardner, James Hinkle, turned me on to many years ago. When someone is trying to book you for a private party, wedding, corporate function, etc, they almost always ask what that’ll cost. To avoid quoting too low a bid, James said to always ask them what they’re entertainment budget was. Puts the ball in they’re court and gives you an idea where to start. There’s nothing worse than having someone tell they would have paid you double what you’ve just agreed on. I know I’ve wore out a knee kicking myself in the butt, until I got hipped to this.
    Thanks again for what you’re doing, Dave.

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