Do You Work Too Cheap?

There are lots of reasons to do low paying gigs, and believe me, I’ve done my share of them over the years.

Maybe you have too.

We might do a performance for little (or no) money because it gives us the opportunity to get in front of a new and really important audience.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what a gig pays because we just want to do it.

1Or maybe it’s a benefit for a really great cause.

Maybe you can afford to work for low rates on a regular basis.

Nothing against any of that. I have no problem with anybody who’s happy performing and could care less about the pay – – I really don’t.

To each his own.

For Those Who Need More

But if you’re feeling stuck doing work-a-day gigs that aren’t really leading anywhere, and you need to be earning more, it might make sense to take a slightly longer view.

In my experience, taking low-paying opportunities on a regular basis does at least five things to undermine your ability to earn more in the future:

  1. it suggests to the booker and the marketplace-at-large that this is what your art, and you, are worth
  2. it reinforces in your own mind, however subtly, the value (or lack thereof) in what you do
  3. it can easily convince you over time that you can’t find gigs that pay (“there’s no good paying work out there…”)
  4. it colors your ability to ask for what you really need when someone who actually does have a budget comes along
  5. most importantly by a long shot, and far more damagingly than any of the above, doing the low paying gig takes time away from what you should be doing

I guess I should say that last one again a little louder:

“OK, So What Should I Be Doing?”

If you’re serious about making a great living doing this, consider saying “no” to low paying work, and each time you do that, use the time you would have spent at that $25/hour or $50/hour job to build your career instead, cultivating your network of better paying gigs and expanding your opportunities.

(Leaving home at 5pm and arriving back at 10pm is a five hour gig in my book. Your gig pay divided by the total number of hours you’re away from home is your true hourly wage.)

Take those three or five or twenty-four hours as “office time” to do some research on the gigs that actually pay well:

  • who are the artists that get those gigs?
  • what kind of things do they do? do they have a specialty?
  • how do they talk about themselves on their website?
  • who do they quote as satisfied customers? (POWER TIP: make sure those people know who you are)
  • where have they played?
  • who books those venues?

Beef up your contact list, your email database, even make a few calls.

Reach out to venues and organizations you have a good relationship with and ask for some quotes and testimonials you can use when you approach new people.

The goal is to create a network of great paying opportunities that you can fill your calendar with. Until you’re there, you might be getting in your own way taking these other gigs.

Chances are you should be earning 5-10x what that cheap performance paid, or more, but you have to put yourself in a position to be able to do that.

What Happens If I Turn Down a Gig

Will theyever call me again--minI know it’s hard to give up any income, believe me, but I have to say that turning down low paying work hasn’t hurt me one bit.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The second you turn that gig down, a bunch of good things happen:

  • your perceived value in the marketplace (important!) goes up
  • your motivation to figure out how to get better gigs increases
  • your potential booker may end up finding the resources (perhaps even with your help when you suggest specific grants from your research that they can apply for) to book you for what you deserve in the future – it’s happened this way many times for me
  • you’ve freed yourself up to find better opportunities

My advice?

If you really need to take that job in order to pay your rent, by all means, do it, and just decide that you’ll also spend an equal amount of time pursuing better things the next day.

Get used to quoting way higher than you’re comfortable with. Ask for what you actually need to make as a full-time artist. If the venue can’t pay you that, thank them for their interest and move on.

The ones that really want you will find a way to do it, and you know what?

They will be among your most satisfied and loyal advocates after you’ve worked for them.

That’s right, the ones that pay you the most are very often the ones who are the most delighted with what you did for them, and want you back again and again.

I’ve seen this over and over.

So, we’ll finish with a few questions:

Do you know about all of the grants out there that could potentially be paying for your services?

Are you dialed in to all of the performing arts series in your region that could be booking you?

Have you made alliances with statewide and regional touring organizations? Arts councils? Industry conferences? Showcases? Arts in Education presenters and agencies?  Schools that love to hire performers? Libraries?

Have you considered expanding your geography to expand your income and opportunities?

If you stay home and cultivate a huge network of these kinds of opportunities – building it every day – you’ll never miss those low paying gigs.

What Do You Think?

Let’s make this a two-way conversation – – I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions 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 *


74 Responses to Do You Work Too Cheap?

  1. Firstly, your articles are always amazing and inspirational. A lot of great advice. Thanks!

    My husband and I have a duo. We’ve been playing since 2004. About 10 years ago, we went the route of private gigs because…well… they pay more. In truth, the bars we played gave us decent money, but not like private functions.

    We recently decided that we should look into playing a couple of public gigs, because we get asked so often where people can see us play. So, I started looking around. I contacted a few long lost bar owners, and I am shocked that they are now paying $50.00 less than they were 10 years ago. Why? Because more people are willing to play for less. I won’t do it. I’d rather stay home and watch Netflix.

    So, we will continue playing gigs that pay us well because we / they know our worth. We don’t play them as often, but we walk away knowing we didn’t sell out.

    Still, it’s frustrating.

  2. Dave, I want to say that in googling singing for seniors as a part-time job your articles are the only ones that seem to be available and that are helpful..

    As with many people, I was laid off my job which may have been a blessing in disguise. I wanted to start a business of singing for seniors for some time and now I have that opportunity.

    Do you advise giving a facility a 30-minute free concert initially and then negotiate payment after that if the facility wants to hire me or go in with a fee already set in place — and for singing at assisted living and nursing homes, is $50 per half hour and $100 per hour reasonable? What are your suggestions? Especially in getting started – I have already started my contact list with activities director’s names and phone numbers and email addresses.

    Any pointers would be appreciated. Thank you.

  3. Something my husband quickly learned early on to decline (he portrays President Lincoln) were gigs that the event organizers asked him to do for free, because he’d get such great publicity from it. On those few he did do for free, he never got any publicity, great or otherwise.

    The other weird thing that happens at such events is that the less he charges for his services, the more the client expects him to do, including organizational work to make the event happen. At one event, he was expected to recite a history of the town, but the client never mentioned that beforehand.

    As you point out here, if you the performer place no monetary value on your work, your client will place no value of any kind on your work.

  4. I really hate the idea of public funding for the arts. Or public funding for anything! That said,, gigs in my community are nearly always public arts projects. If I said no to these (which are disgracefully low paying- $50 for 4 hours) places to showcase what I do would be few and far between. This is a terrible town for music. There are good musicians out there who don’t need to play, regard it as a “hobby” and go around to retirement homes, etc., playing for “free” – feel-good jobs for them, undercutting pay for musicians who have to earn a living. Honestly, if other employment were not so freakishly hard to get in my town (and at my age) I would never play another gig. I have to take my delicate instrument out in all kinds of weather, spend a half hour setting up, tuning, doing a quick sound check, and then the gig itself. These are the “lucky” opportunities here. I play in restaurants and banquet facilities a lot. If the waiters got paid what I do per hour they’d walk off. I know I’m worth more, but the culture here is, “just put on the muzak and let it go”. Even so-called “upper-end”, high-priced restaurants have canned music. Customers have nothing better to compare them with so they get away with it; managers are too dense to understand that they could immediately up their rating if they provided a string quartet, a pianist or guitarist for background for weekends or even holidays. They stick to the stale pop of 1989 on the tapes they loop. Is there any way to keep playing? I love playing and the response from customers is really warm and enthusiastic – they love the live music, it’s just too rare here.

    • Hi Mag – I don’t know where you’re located or what you do exactly, but I think you would find plenty of musicians in every town in America (and likely elsewhere) who would say similar things. I live in Buffalo NY, of all places, and make a great living doing what I do. This blog (70+ articles so far) is written to help others escape some of the situations you mention and find more meaningful and lucrative ways to do their thing. I hope it’s helpful, and would encourage you to start at the beginning and spend some time here. There ARE ways to do it, at least here in the US.

  5. I take voluminous notes on all that you say and have tried to be very faithful in implementing what I can at this point. Thank you so very much for this information you have put out for us all.

  6. I am too old to be traveling around all over the state, but I would like to earn more money, get more bookings….ect,

  7. Hi Dave!

    The “other Dave” here. I feel this pits goes hand in hand with the one on playing for free or for “tips.” I have a friend who is a three time world champion on his instrument, the same one I play. Sadly, the average person who is not an aficionado of that instrument would not be able to tell the difference between us. There is a world of difference, believe me! So the people who book acts that play for free do not know the difference between a professional and one who hacks around in his cellar. Again, sad but true!

    • Coach Dave, Unfortunately the customers that frequent venues where the artists perform for free are not any more discriminating than the talent buyer. Have some pride in yourself and don’t give it away. I would much rather play music by myself in my own living room than perform in the demeaning situation so common at clubs, wineries, etc.

  8. I love this. Having spent my weekend doing 3 free shows out of 4, and the 4th wasn’t a high payer, I am exhausted and questioning, why, at 48, am I doing this???? gakk.. this post was written for me. I believe it happens because of your 2nd point. I don’t perceive what I do has having $$ value… I am working on that.. However, whenever I do a gig I work so hard and have so many compliments etc and am building a following… I need to acknowledge that there is INDEED value in what I bring to the table. Thank you for this great blog and advice Dave! xo LJ

  9. Consider promoting your own event/performance. You will then have “some skin in the game” and gain a better understanding of what is involved. Most bands don’t have a clue about the business. Maybe you could do better putting on a show on your own?

  10. I have recently been asked to donate all or part of my fee back to the organization hiring me because they are a 501 c children’s museum… a really good cause. While I agree that it is really a good cause, I also would be driving a considerable distance on a family holiday to do this particular event. I am a bit torn on how to handle this new client, as I don’t want to lose a future booking…

    • Hi Patricia – no “correct” way to handle this, of course. There are lots of intangibles. But I don’t agree with the logic that you could lose a future booking by turning down their request. When we approach a new dentist or car mechanic, we don’t first ask them to work for a reduced rate and then perhaps at some later time they will earn our business at their going rates. Same situation here. If you want to do it, and want them to see you in action, then you can justify it, but nothing says they won’t hire you in the future at your regular rates if you say “no, I’m sorry but that doesn’t work for me” now.

  11. Hello Dave. I was curious to know how this whole crazy 4-hour gig norm got started. Did some searching. Came across your sight and parked here for a while. Great info. Thank you! I was recently approached with an offer to play a “fundraiser”. They’re trying to raise $250K to pay for renovations. But apparently this local “icon” of a place is already controlled by the “old money” anyway. Why the need for a “fundraiser”? I’m sure there are several answers. Anyway, I turned down the offer: four hours of jazz cocktail piano (or similar). complimentary drinks ( I don’t), with a “pitch” that tips are usually good on this particular night…$50! Of course, someone somewhere will say “yes”. Be well!

  12. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your great content.
    I currently teach in a private school music to classes 1-8 and really am kind of burnt out.
    My passion is the piano.
    Id like to do more preforming—-especially in chamber music.
    Im finding it really hard to access a good violinist, singer….I prefer to be more of an accompanist.

    Do you by any chance have sample letters you send to these venues?

    Looking forward to your reply.
    Thanks, Dahlia

  13. How good are you REALLY??? I think that is the million dollar question and directly should determine how much we should get paid. But that is a very difficult question to answer. It’s like the old saying: “You’re never as good as they say you are and you’re never as bad as they say you are”. Unfortunately however, that doesn’t help very much in trying to determine how much we should get paid for gigs.

    Family and friends may say you’re terrific. Are they just being nice? Maybe, who knows! I pondered this question for a long time. I’ve been told from people listening to me play the piano (not family or friends) that I am “awesome” and many say “You don’t know how good you are.” Yes, of course it’s a wonderful compliment but how can I believe and trust those nice words in determining how much I should charge for a paying gig?

    Playing music is not like sports where if you hit lots of home runs, throw a football for 500 yards per game, or average 30 points per game in basketball will determine your worth. Music can be very subjective to the common listener, the age of the listener, and the genre of music you’re playing as well as many other variables. Some will love you, some will tell you not to quit your day job. My worst scenario is when someone asks me to play a song that’s outside of my comfort level. I either have to say I can’t play that or I try to play it at risk of making tons of mistakes. Playing the piano by ear as I do has it’s advantages and disadvantages. It’s great that I can take requests but I may not play a song exactly how it was written or worse how someone expects it to be played.

    So honestly, I don’t know how good I am, therefore don’t know how much to charge. The only way to tell I guess would be to have an accomplished musician, in my case a professional piano player listen to me for a true evaluation. I would love the opportunity to be evaluated. But until or if that ever happens, I guess I would charge a “middle of the road price” just in case I’m not as bad as I believe I am and not as good as I hope I am. So I guess I’m either over-paid or under-paid. I’ll never know.

    For me, getting paid any amount for a gig is a moot point because I am a volunteer piano player in a hospital where we’re instructed not to accept any gratuities. And right now, I can’t imagine taking money for what I do as a volunteer. All that matters to me is that I know I can put a smile on someone’s face who may be going through some tough times as they come and go from receiving treatments at the Cancer Center. But I still can’t help but wonder how good I really am as someone slips me a $5 bill even though there is a sign on the piano that says “Please No Gratuities”. Or when I bring someone to tears because I just played a favorite song of one of their loved ones as they receive Cancer treatment or may have just died.

    My dream job is to one day have a regular paying gig doing what I love, playing the piano for others. And although I don’t know how good I really am, it seems to be good enough for patients and hospital staff who tell me how much they enjoy listening and appreciate that at least for a few minutes can make them “forget about life for a while” as Billy Joel says. For now at least as I search for paying gigs, playing the piano at the hospital is priceless!

    • Hi John – thanks for this. You know, I don’t equate our value as artists solely with musical talent the way you seem to be, and I don’t think the public (or the buyers of our talent) do either. Case in point is all the acts with no-more-than-average musical ability who make a fortune because they offer something really entertaining, and on the reverse side, all the amazing unknown musicians who can’t get a paying gig to save their lives.

      To me, our value in the marketplace comes down to what it is that we provide for the person who’s buying our services, and for the end user of those services. Are we providing an exceptional experience (which is really what people are paying for), or is it just OK? How do people react to it? Do they want to do it again? Do they say really nice things afterwards? Do your buyers want to have you back again? How do you feel inside when you go see other people doing what you do – are they providing people with a way better experience, or one that’s not as good, or somewhere in the middle? Those are all clues we can use to judge our value in the marketplace.

  14. Hi Dave.
    Thanks for a great news letters and website.
    I’m a full time performing musician in Australia playing about 160 shows a year in bars ,clubs and private functions playing mainly covers with a few originals thrown in…I mainly play solo.
    It is very hard to make a living playing all originals in Australia …I tried;-] and the majority of club audiences want to hear songs they already know.[Covers]
    The shows pay usually a minimum of $100 per hour of performance and I’m happy to travel up to 2 hours each way for a 4 hour show..

    I recently spent a month in the USA, a week in Nashville and the rest of the time in New York. And alot of the musicians I saw playing bars were playing for tips.. In New York the focus was on playing original material
    My questions are.
    In the US. Is there a market to play covers or is it mainly original music that the public likes to see?……And is there a circuit of venues I didn’t see that can attract higher pay than tips?

    Thanks for your time.
    Kind regards,

    • Hi Mark – thanks for the good words. I don’t know the “originals” OR the “covers” market that well here in the US, as I’m really not involved in either, but I think there would be plenty of US artists that would tell you that people here don’t want to hear original music either. Of course, that’s not a blanket statement, but i hear it time and time again that club audiences in America just want to hear music they’re already familiar with. So I think there’s a big market for covers here, and not everybody plays for tips. That’s a Nashville thing for sure.

  15. If you want to be paid like a professional musician, you have to have a professional level show. Are you really that good? Maybe instead of playing the $50/man gig, your band should be practicing and working on the show so that you are in the running for $200/.man venues? Many talent buyers don’t know the music business are not discriminating about the quality of entertainment presented at their venue. As a result, for most bands it becomes a race to the bottom of the pay scale. If the girl clearing tables goes home with more money than you, you are either at the wrong venue or you suck. Seek out quality jobs but be sure that you can deliver a professional level show.

    • Absolutely, Andy. This article assumes that your show is high quality, but it never hurts to state that explicitly. And if it ain’t high quality, this is not going to be a sustainable strategy.

  16. Dave,

    First off, I live at the corner of Ruch Lane and Spring Pond Circle, in York, Maine… so I’ve got that going for me, haha!!

    -What would you think about the success rate of promoting our gigs by buying a vendor booth space on a regional annual library conference exhibitor floor? (handing our flyers, etc.)…

    MY GIG:
    I am close to retiring, but still need to work. I am a Civil War Ancestor Researching who puts on a lively “Discover Your Civil War Kin” presentation and mini-workshop to local libararies and genealogy clubs.

    Our hats are ALL off to you for your richly detailed and fun website and success stories!
    Clay Feeter, York, Maine

    • Hi Clay – No way to predict how that would work out for you, really. Best thing to do would be to try it for a few years, assuming it’s not too expensive, and see how it goes. If there’s any way you can give a workshop, showcase, or demo during the conference, that would be even more beneficial. You might also be interested in the How to Get Gigs in Libraries article if you haven’t seen it already. Good luck!

  17. Man this is great stuff Dave. It’s so hard to turn down any gig when you really need money. But I know what you are saying is true. Trying to move into the higher paying gigs and there is really great stuff here to think about. Thanks man.

  18. Hi Dave….I’ve come across your website and find your great insight and advice into gigging extremely helpful. Since retiring from my “real job” a couple of years ago ( I’m 63), I am now looking to pursue my life long dream of being a gigging solo piano musician at a piano restaurant or for special occasions, weddings, or other events where a solo pianist is needed. I play the piano by ear and have a several hundred song repetoir. I can honestly and with most humbleness say I can play most songs I hear in most music categories. I discovered my talent at an early age while taking accordion lessons when I was a kid. I am truly blessed and quite honestly, very lucky. I have played many free gigs and a few paid ones in my life. I now want to take gigging more seriously, not because of money, but because I love to play the piano for an audience. However, I don’t have a clue as to what I should charge for a given event. For instance, I am very interested in playing at a local resturant that has a piano bar. How much should I charge per hour? How much should I charge for a reception or a wedding? I currently am a volunteer piano player in the atrium of a large hospital in my area and have been for a couple of years since retiring. I love the experience as it is both musically gratifying and rewarding but I now want to take it to the next level. Any help regarding this would be greatly appreciated​. I also just signed up for your newsletter which I could greatly use.

    Dave, thank you for any information and guidance you can provide.

    • Hi John – “Going rates” tend to differ by geography, and I don’t play restaurants or weddings so I’d have a hard time giving you any worthwhile suggestions in terms of what to charge. Certainly, you would be able to charge more for a wedding than at a restaurant, where margins are typically thin. Does the piano bar charge a separate cover charge? That’s going to factor in too,

      If I were you, I’d try to pick the brains of a few others who do this kind of work in your area, and/or just embark on some trial and error. If restaurants can’t afford your asking price, they will tell you what they can pay and you decide from there. For weddings, decide what you want/need to make and start quoting that price. You’ll know pretty quickly if it’s going to work or not.

      Maybe some others here can give you some pay ranges for these gigs.

      • To “John” from 11/20/2017, you might want to get a free listing on GigSalad, The Knot, Wedding Wire, and Gigmaster’s. Do some research among other local vendors on these websites (your friends can request generic quotes for you). If you have zero experience with weddings, don’t charge the top rate….consider the lower paying gigs your education, but remember to bring a photographer (to add to your website). And you do have a website, right?

        • Yes, you must have a website, period. Otherwise, you will not be taken seriously. A few more sites to check out are Gigsalad and Thumbtack. You might also check out performing for senior centers. Their budget is in the $100-200 range. Contact the activities director, which can take a bit of hustle.

  19. I found the information that you imparted was absolutely great and just to be honest I believe I can get $50,000 a day or per performance (or more ) for the works that I do because they’re all inclusive their powerful I would love to communicate with you personally

    • Glenn here:
      Big Dave, I can imagine the price that I set in my first installment can seem like fantasy, the audio visual arts that I use to Entertain, Educate, and leave a path of Excellence is probably worth 10 times more than what I suggest. Please don’t think me too eccentric, my universe is governed by a Higher Power in which I am obedient!!!

  20. Hi Dave,

    Good stuff here, thanks for publishing! I am a professional bagpiper looking to market my lecture-performances to public and private schools. I play the Great Highland bagpipes and Scottish smallpipes, occasionally including a mini lecture on the history of the instrument and attire with Q&A when hired to appear at community organizations. A one hour event costs $200, which is almost invariably the industry standard throughout the U.S.. Are there any red tape compliance hurdles for music vendors marketing their services to public schools? Do you have to be approved, get background check and register in a database of state public vendors, or get permission to mail brochures to schools?

    I have been a gigging bagpiper for eight years but am tired of waiting for income “turkeys” to fall from the sky, and GigMasters and GigSalad are eating up more and more of the leads by paying millions for top page SEO, causing me to fight off low-bidding talentless hack competitors. I offer a fine professional grade product and deserve much better, so it’s high time I start making my own event opportunities.

    Finally, how realistic is it for a solo piper (as opposed to a whole pipeband) with loads of popular sing-a-long tunes to rent a space, sell $5-$10 tickets and make $500=$1000/per concert? I don’t know where to start, but the pipes have a very special, almost hypnotic mass appeal.



    • Hi Jim – sounds like a great program. My first thought is that you might be underselling it at $200, but I don’t know exactly where you live and what the market is like. We recently had a two hour webinar on gigging in schools, covering all the logistics and marketing associated with getting these gigs. The replay video is available for purchase RIGHT HERE, but there’s also lots of free content on the blog that might be helpful for you.

      It seems to me you would have several other potential markets for this program, including historical societies, museums, libraries, and arts centers, all of which pay better than your average gig and are really fun to do.

      Sorry I can’t really advise you on your last question, as it depends on too many factors that I’m not privy to.

      If you haven’t already, feel free to subscribe to the blog – I send out an article along these lines every Monday, and also offer coaching, webinars, etc. You can subscribe RIGHT HERE.

      • Dave,

        Thank you for your reply and helpful ideas. I live in Estero, Southwest Florida. School systems might be poorly funded in this state, from what I’m learning since moving here a couple of years ago. The private gig market in ritzy gated communities is pretty good in snowbird season, slow in summer. If a piping performance is $200 for an hour, what should I charge for a lecture/performance of roughly the same length. I’ll check out your links and articles, didn’t realize the amount of good stuff you have in these pages.



  21. I’m a guitarist who has done a wide range of performance styles … classical, jazz, blues, rock. … This approach you have is interesting. I’m looking forward to the news letter. My main gig is teaching private guitar lessons but I’d love to know more about this. Oh yeah. I also love The Grateful Dead. I saw you were doing some music based on their influences. They have such sincere roots. Love that band.

  22. Dave, I have been kicking around the idea of making school presentations my career for a number of years now. I have put together my programs, made my business plans and gone over every aspect of what I want to do – I stumbled onto your blog and it has been a Godsend!! You unknowingly have become the mentor I so need! Thank you for sharing your experience and your knowledge in this field. I cannot wait to get into the game! Thank you, thank you THANK YOU!

    • Hey Danny – so glad you found this! There’s lots to explore here, with lots of valuable contributions from readers too in the comments section of each post. If you haven’t already, feel free to subscribe so you’ll get each post in your inbox as they come out.

  23. Hi Dave,

    thanks for the article and your thoughts on, and experience with, the issue of pay. I agree with you whole-heartedly; someone once told me that if I continue to take low paying gigs, those are the only gigs I’ll get. Embarrassingly, I have to admit that it is a fact. You may be able to surmise from this, that I am an aging musician.

    I am a bass player. I do need to turn down poorly paying gigs, but I feel I cannot do so without first securing better paid gigs. As with some musicians, life is precarious; so, to close off an income stream, however small, seems like cutting the lifeline, only to fall into and be carried away, uncontrollably, by a rapid flowing river. My problem is, where do I begin to find bands that pay the rate I am looking for?

    You’ve made a few suggestions, but I feel those are aimed at individuals who are somewhat self-sufficient, that is, not needing other musicians in order to get work.

    Notwithstanding, a very informative article and the shove I needed to do what needs to be done.

    • “A rapid flowing river” – well said Dennis, it’s so true. I’m not sure where you’re located, but are you paid by the band you work with, or paid by the venue that hires the band? If the latter, it may just be a matter of branching out towards gigs that pay better, as suggested in the article.

      • Dave,

        I’m in London, England. I work with bands that operate through on agency. The agency is operating as a sole trader and I have to say, the agent has done very well for himself over the years. I suspect, owing to the his business practice of pay a subsistence rate.

        You are right, I need to branch out, but I also need to be decisive and say no to the cheap gigs I’m being offered.

    • Hi Dennis. As part of a husband-wife songwriting duo who for time played with a bass player, I can offer this advice: if you want to be paid a certain rate, you may want to consider offering to help with some of the not-so-fun band management tasks.

      We routinely paid our bass player more than we paid ourselves, because we truly valued his time and contributions to our music; this practice, of course, was not sustainable for us.. When we decided to leap into the full-time waters of independent music, we approached him to see what aspects he might be willing to help with (for example, helping out with social media or promotion), so we could get more and better paying gigs . He was very honest about his lack of desire to do that kind of thing and so we had to make the decision to go back to being a duo. We needed all hands on deck, so to speak.

      Pitching in may not be your ideal scenario, but there is an extraordinary amount of work that goes into being that “self-sufficient” musician and building a band’s brand and career; perhaps helping from the ground up would go a long way towards securing the rate you deserve. Of course, this only makes sense if you are truly invested in the band and their music, but if you do find someone with whom you click, I’m sure they would welcome any offers to help move things forward!

      Best of luck to you! (And p.s. we’re all aging musicians, some of us farther along than others. Here’s to keeping going regardless!)

  24. Dear Dave, as a long-time manager, may I suggest that negotiation plays a big role here. There is no reason an artist can’t do a quick budget of what it will cost for him/her to play a performance with a low fee. You’ll be surprised how the presenters will adjust their offers, or come back to you with an adjusted offer. If you can’t do a quick budget on the spot..let them know they will hear back from you to see if you can do the engagement. You’ll gain their respect since you are doing business rather than being undecided.

    Naturally, there are what we call ‘investment engagements’ and the presenter is requested to make it a ‘confidential – not to be repeated’ fee. Also why not invoice the presenter the full amount of a fee and take the part that isn’t received in a tax receipt, if the presenter is a charitable organization.

    I hope this is helpful. Ann

    Ann Summers Dossena
    International Resource Centre for Performing Arts
    Toronto, Canada
    416 362 1422
    Watch for news on the “Savvy Musician” workshop November 13 in Toronto with Dave Cutler.

    • Hi Ann – thanks for jumping in here. I love the idea of asking for a donation receipt for tax purposes when we play for a not-for-profit at less than our standard rate. And yes, negotiation and communication are key.

  25. I would like to ask you a question: could this also happen in the States? Do successful business-people have the appreciation for an unknown but good artist and engage him spontaniously or is this kind of taboo? I know the market here very well but I don’t have any glue of the marketstructures in the musicbusiness in the USA. So I would be very happy, if some you would share some thoughts or if you, Dave, would write an article about it 🙂

    In Germany we now have a generation of people between 40 and 65, who are used to buy LPs, CDs and go to concerts. They now often have enough money to do this in a generous way and they have a lot of appreceation for people, who are good at something, popular or not.
    This makes the business for an artist in his 50s like me much easier and I don’t want to think like it will be in 20 years, when these generous people will have disappered by and by and the next generation is in its “best age”….

    • Hi Peter – I’m not totally clear on what you mean by “engage him spontaneously” – do you mean hiring the musician, or just support their music through purchase of concert tickets, CDs, etc? There is definitely a feeling among certain genres of performers here that their “core audience” is aging out (traditional folk music, classic rock, etc),

  26. Hi Dave,

    very good view on the opportunities of the business and the work I have to do as an artist beside my abilities on my instrument and my performance. Personal networking seems to be one of the most important ways to get other jobs.
    In Germany we have different networking-event series you also might know. One of the most popular is the “Unternehmerfrühstück” – business breakfast may come close to the meaning. A group of businessmen meet for breakfast, everyone has a 5 min promotion time. After that the networking starts. As a musician I am often exotic and I make the offer to give the event an musical frame – one piece at the beginning, one inbetween, one at the official end and a 30 min-set at the end of the whole event. The last event was a low-budget or better promotional gig for me and as result I played two short-dated well-paid jobs in my area, even the managers were not thinking of, unless they heard me play.

  27. I am a classical pianist and would like to get more work to play at dinner parties, wedding receptions etc. Ant suggestions?

    • Hi Adrian – there’s a subscriber and regular reader of this blog named Robert Van Horne who may be doing similar work. If you search him on Google, you will find his website – he might have some ideas for you.

      My focus has always been on “performance” gigs for seated, captive audiences (arts centers, schools, community events, museums, etc) as opposed to “incidental music” gigs – if you are interested in performance work as well, I offered some suggested to Robert in this post. Perhaps some of those would be useful for you as well.

      I wish you a lot of luck with it.

  28. Don’t forget to try museums, especially children’s museums, if that is your area of expertise. Art openings, or holidays, often have special activities, and your musical presentation or theme may be a perfect fit!

  29. Good food for thought, as I wrestle with trying to land wedding gigs in our metro area, where there are a significant number of string quartets charging far too little. In 2000, I could pay 3 side musicians $150 apiece and pay myself $200 or more for myself. Fast forward to 2015 and there are string quartets in my area charging $500 total, so after 5% booking fee, they are all getting $100, or even less if the Leader gets a bit more for all the work.
    It seems that the online booking systems (such as Gigmaster’s) encourage the success of the lowest bidder, and nearly anyone can sign up to be on Gigmaster’s (or other online booking sites) whether or not their product is at all professional.
    I truly wish that we could be making MORE than we were in 2000, but it seems very difficult when there are all these newbies doing it for less.
    It is very challenging to spend a lot of time trying to convince someone that our group at $750 is any better than the groups charging only $500. The customers can’t tell the difference, either that, or they feel the cheap group is “good enough.”

    • Midwest Violinist – it’s great to have you share your experience here, thanks. I know that this “race to the bottom” pricing scenario is something that lots of my musician friends have faced over the years, and before I became so specialized in what I do, it’s something I was dealing with too. When people think they’re comparing apples to apples, then price can become the only real differentiating factor. Have you thought about adding some kind of unique element to what you do so that it’s NOT apples to apples when a potential buyer considers you? I’m not sure exactly what that would mean in your case, as I don’t do wedding gigs myself, but if there were some kind of unique repertoire, or customer service angle, or something to set you apart, would that help? In terms of gigs outside of the wedding market, you might find some good value in the article Educate Your Audience and Write Your Ticket, where we talked about this very issue and how you can leave it all behind by adding an educational element to your performing.

  30. Thanks,Dave–i can see from your articles that i have been dealing with some wrong people.i can usually read an audience,and make the most of it,from that end,and that used to make a difference,and help a great deal overall.there are too many people playing for free must have found some better turf.either that or you are making this stuff up,(which i doubt).you will find me studying your M.O. with extreme prejudice.

  31. I really like your blog! Great info and advice. As far as working too cheap I can’t remember the last time I got paid for a gig! I’ve gotten some great t-shirts and beverages though 🙂

    • Hey Anne – T-shirts and beverages are good things! Glad you’re enjoying the posts. 😉

      (I think you’re probably still working full time in a school, so your gigs are more-or-less just for fun, right?)

      Send me your schedule sometime…

  32. Great advice Dave. I think much of that can also be applied to other artists (painters, illustrators, graphic designers, etc) who struggle with putting a price on their talent and skills. I look forward to reading more next week!

  33. Thank You!

    I look forward to all you have to say, and all the knowledge of the business that you have. My band Black Rock Zydeco is transitioning into better gigs and the edutainment industry is very appealing for our Louisiana style music. I’ve spent the last 15 yrs studying the culture, music and what makes it special and addictive to me. I hope that with my background in education i can get better opportunities for our band..

    • Thanks Ron. Glad to hear you’re taking the plunge into educational performances. That sounds like a natural for you guys. I’ve got lots of posts coming along those lines.

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

Have questions or looking for booking information? Call Dave at 716-998-2001, or send him a message below.