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?
The 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…
All 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?)
Ways to Be Extraordinary
There are multiple ways to distinguish yourself from the pack, and some of them might be under your belt already.
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…
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?
Are 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.
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.
Back 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!
(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.
People know you cost more – and they know you’re worth it.
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!
Find 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.
What Do You Think?
There’s a “Comments” section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
About The Blog
Since 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.