Performing for Seniors: The Essential Guide for Musicians and Entertainers

I don’t perform for many senior facilities, but I know some very talented people who do.

And lots of subscribers have been asking me for advice on this topic.

So, here’s the first of two articles on the subject; this one a guest post from musician Allen Hopkins.

Gigs in nursing homes and retirement communities for musicians

Singing for Senior Centers: “Nuts and Bolts”

GUEST POST BY ALLEN HOPKINS

A 50-year veteran of performing folk music, I have for the past 17 years been playing professionally as a full-time avocation.

No, I don’t support my family through music –– though I do perform around 200 times per year.

Performing for seniors, in a variety of different locations and formats, makes up by far the largest proportion of my work; for example, out of 198 jobs I performed in 2016, 131 (66%) were “seniors’” jobs.

Working with seniors, and with the staff and leadership of seniors’ residences and organizations, has given me quite a bit of experience in this field.  This “nuts and bolts” manual is an attempt to share what expertise I have accumulated through trial and error.

Booking gigs in senior centersI won’t be attempting to discuss the therapeutic benefits of music, or the role of music, dance, theater, or other forms of entertainment in enhancing the quality of life for those considered “seniors.”  The assumption is that the performer has already considered these factors, and has decided that he/she wants to begin performing for seniors, on a regular basis. This decision may be based on the performer’s skills, repertoire, and performance preferences; it may also involve consideration of the local “market” for musical performance.

The Seniors’ “Gig Market”

Demographic changes indicate that the number of US residents over the age of 65 is growing fast, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of our population.

The “baby boomer” generation, broadly defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, have all reached at least the AARP-eligible age of 50; this group remains the largest age cohort in our current population, based on the 76 million births occurring in those years.

The current population of seniors in residences is an older cohort, mainly born in the pre-WWII years, with an age range of, say, 75-95 years.

For the performer, the market for his/her services is usually concentrated on residence facilities designed for seniors:

  • “assisted living” residences
  • nursing homes
  • retirement communities
  • long-term care medical facilities, etc.

A related market includes social clubs, churches or temples, and public or private recreational and social facilities such as senior centers, adult recreation programs, and affinity clubs with a high proportion of senior members.

Locating and identifying these potential performance venues is not difficult; Google is your friend, and most areas have directories of seniors’ facilities.

Many local governments have “Offices For the Aging” or similar programs, and these can provide listings of cultural and recreational opportunities for seniors which offer contacts for performers.

In addition, most of us have a general knowledge, and some personal experience, with seniors’ facilities; we may have friends or relatives who reside there, or have family members there.

Getting Booked in Seniors Centers

Once a performer has come up with potential venues for performance, the next task is to get his/her foot in the door.

What I did about a decade ago may be illustrative: I compiled a list of 25 or 30 residence facilities in the Rochester NY area. I was aided in this by having performed for several years for ArtsReach, a small non-profit agency that sent performers to “under-served populations”; these included nursing homes, prisons, veterans’ hospitals, group-home facilities for developmentally disabled, etc. This gave me a bit of a track record in performing for “special audiences.”

I called each of the residences on my list, and obtained the name of its recreation coordinator –– the person tasked with setting up entertainment for the residents.

I then sent a letter to each one, introducing myself, giving a brief resume that included places I was currently performing, and also mentioning some favorable references and comments I had received. I enclosed a business card. This approach got me several responses, and I was off and running.

Pay for Senior Gigs

(or should I volunteer?)

There is quite a bit of discussion and debate around this point. I almost invariably get paid for seniors’ performances –– not to say I won’t do “freebies,” but I’m well aware that every seniors’ residence, nursing home, recreation program, and social club budgets for “outside” entertainment.

Some feel, strongly, that volunteering services for seniors’ facilities is a mitzvah*, and that charging their limited budgets, when “I/we don’t need the money,” is exploitive.

*”meritorious or charitable act,” from the Hebrew

I, on the other hand, feel that performing as a professional entertainer –– including booking, preparation, reliable and punctual adherence to schedule, dependable performance quality (including special programs when requested), and overall value –– is worth a reasonable fee.

What each performer charges for a seniors’ performance, should be determined by his/her financial requirements, schedule preferences (a few higher-paid gigs, or lots of lower-priced ones?), and, primarily, by what the local market will bear.

My preference is for frequent activity at a reasonable price; I charge $55-75 for a simple 60-minute performance, more for additional travel or equipment requirements.

Among the musicians “working the seniors’ circuit” in Rochester NY, I am mid-to-low-priced, and am booked more frequently than most others I know.

Editor’s note – other musicians have told me they ask $100-125 for these gigs, and try to do a 2-4 gigs per day whenever possible.

Online Presence

I maintain a website (allenhopkins.org) with current schedules, descriptions of my programs, and other materials; it’s somewhat clunky, wordy and dated, but it does provide a destination for those searching online for folk music in our area.

In this digital era, most performers and potential performers have some sort of presence online, whether Facebook or whatever other network they prefer.

I would say that I don’t get many inquiries from seniors’ venues through this route, but I do find now that probably 75% of my booking activity is through email rather than by telephone, as in the past.

Overall, I would say that some type of online presence is a near-necessity.

The Importance of Word Of Mouth

Whatever strategy a performer uses to get started, expansion of his/her schedule will largely result from word-of-mouth referrals.

Performing successfully, and recurrently, at a single facility produces inquiries from other possible venues. Recreation personnel do network, and refer performers; other performers also refer people they know, for potential jobs that they’re unable to schedule themselves.

I have frequently been on either side of this process. The flip-side is, of course, that a problem with a single performance can also reverberate through the network; it’s happened, though not, thankfully, to me.

Follow-Up For Future Gigs

I produce a postcard schedule of my performances every 6-8 weeks, and send it to approximately 250 local and regional people, largely potential bookers.

I also prepare and send a weekly email newsletter, with some news as well as my performance calendar, to around twice that number of friends, news media, and current and potential bookers.

Booking gigs in senior centers(Recipients include not only seniors’ venues, but libraries, clubs, historical societies, local festivals –– anyone who’s booked me in the past, and prospects for the future.)

Since I enjoy writing, and select topics aside from strict self-promotion, the newsletter seems well received. The cost of the postcard mailing –– I do all the work of copying, sizing, addressing, stamping and mailing at home –– is about $100 per issue, and I almost always get more than that amount in bookings immediately after it’s received.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of undertaking these mailings, and I’ve found them very useful.

It’s Time to Do The Gig!

Having gone through all the steps to obtain seniors’ gigs, and having one or more bookings in hand, what can be expected?

Performance Length

I’d estimate that 90% of the gigs I play are for 60 minutes, though that may combine two half-hour gigs at two locations in the same facility.

What Time of Day, and Day of the Week?

The most frequent time for performances is the early afternoon on a weekday; of the 127 seniors’ jobs I played in 2015, 87 –– over two-thirds –– started between 1:30 and 3 p.m.

For this reason, it’s difficult for a performer to do a lot of seniors’ work and maintain a day job.

Performance Space

This can vary quite a bit, and will naturally influence the equipment a performer needs.

Small living rooms or lounges are often used for performances; another favorite space is a facility’s dining room.

Some seniors’ residences have larger auditoriums, to which the residents are brought for performances; this, of course, involves transporting a larger number of people, often with diminished mobility.

I do a few outdoor gigs every year, and also some off-site events for special occasions.

Audience Size and Composition

Again, this can be all over the lot; I find myself performing for as few as a half-dozen residents, and for as many as 100 or more.

Of course, audience size influences my preparation for the gig, and the term “seniors” can include a wide variety of audiences; it may mean a group aged in their 60’s, who drive themselves to a senior center for lunch. Or it may mean nursing home residents, average age 85, with severe physical and intellectual limitations, who could have trouble comprehending, much less appreciating, the program.

How a performer adjusts to provide the best program is a function of a) pre-event discussions with the sponsor, b) flexibility, and c) experience.

Equipment Considerations

As a folk musician, my programs consist of vocals with instrumental accompaniment.

To almost all my seniors’ gigs, I bring an acoustic guitar, five-string banjo, and taropatch (double-strung ukulele).

I also have a gig bag containing harmonicas, tuners, neck rack for harmonica/guitar playing, and miscellaneous other gear.

If I know I will be playing in a living room format to a small group, I usually leave it at that. Over half of seniors’ jobs, however, have sufficiently large performance spaces, or audience size, to make some amplification beneficial.

amplification for nursing home gigs

Fender Amp Can

For those larger gigs, I bring a small battery amplifier (Fender Amp Can), two inexpensive dynamic microphones (vocal and instrumental), a mic stand with a clip-on side boom, and related cabling.

Some facilities may have “house sound,” and I have used this on occasion, but as a rule I’m more comfortable with my own, familiar equipment.

I often also bring a folding stool, and stands to accommodate the three instruments.

I find the small (10 watts) amplifier provides adequate sound for almost all my gigs, and avoids the hassling with larger sound equipment that adds time and logistical complication.

When playing a larger auditorium, or large outdoor space, I will bring a “column” PA; I use the Fishman SA-220 SoloAmp, which is adequate for up to 300 audience size.

I will also often use condenser microphones, utilizing the phantom power the PA provides. The SoloAmp sets up easily, and provides all the sound I’ve ever needed.

Considering use of a sound system, remember that many seniors have some loss of hearing, and so amplification may be appropriate in situations where it normally wouldn’t be used.

And it’s crucial to try to enunciate lyrics clearly, perhaps speak a bit slower; I have been complimented by senior audiences, saying they could “understand the words” –– important to their involvement and enjoyment.

Songs for Senior Center Gigs

In determining what music to play, it helps to have more detailed information about the expected audience.

For example, those in their 80’s who grew up in the 1940’s, will enjoy folk and popular songs they remember from that period.

Younger audiences may appreciate 1950’s material, and even more recent popular songs.

I try to include older songs that are part of the American musical tradition, from Stephen Foster to George M. Cohan, and a few “chestnuts” that most of us learned as kids, such as You Are My Sunshine, I’ve Been Working On the Railroad, and Goodnight Irene.

I’m frequently asked for specific programs –– Irish songs for St. Patrick’s Day, patriotic songs for July 4 or Memorial Day –– and even more specifically, for historically-themed programs such as railroad songs, Erie Canal songs, etc.

And I try to vary my repertoire seasonally, going from Let It Snow and Winter Wonderland, to April Showers, Summertime, Autumn Leaves, and so forth.

While the core of my seniors’ repertoire has remained fairly unchanged for years, I’m always adding and subtracting at the margins.

I’ll include some repertoire suggestions as an appendix at the end of this article.

Managing The Performance

In my opinion, the more audience involvement, in the form of chorus singing, clapping, foot tapping etc. that I am able to arouse, the more successful I feel.

My objective is not just entertainment, it is participation, since music is said to reach parts of the brain that remain responsive even when other types of social interaction are impaired.

Looking into the audience, and seeing lips moving to the lyrics even when the “singing” is inaudible, tells me that listeners are getting something from the program.

Research indicates that active involvement enhances music’s neurological benefits, and that music can access memories that are not accessed in routine social interaction –– one reason that it’s often used therapeutically in seniors’ facilities.

Remember the Staff!

While I want to entertain audiences, I always remember that it’s the staff that I need to please; after all, they are the ones who will (or won’t) ask me to return.

Positive contacts prior to a gig, a written or verbal “Thank you” afterwards, and accommodation to the specific needs of a particular venue, go a long way toward building an ongoing relationship.

And, of course, reliability: showing up on time, prepared, and providing a predictable, professional program.

Over half the seniors’ performances I give every year are for a half-dozen places that book me multiple times: sometimes monthly ­­–– I’ve played a particular residence the first Tuesday of each month, for 12 years –– sometimes more frequently –– as of April, I’ve already performed at one nursing home ten times this year –– sometimes three or four times over 12 months.

One way a performer can ingratiate him/herself with staff is by readiness to fill in on short notice when another performer has to cancel; I have been awakened by a phone call asking if I can be at a gig in 45 minutes, and have taken the job, certainly earning Brownie points, and consideration for future gigs.

For further reading, see the article How NOT To Get Bookings

Payment Considerations

I find it important to keep good financial records, and to manage “accounts receivable.” I report all music income for tax purposes, as Schedule C personal income; I keep track of and report music-related expenses, mileage, etc.

I receive IRS 1099’s from the seniors’ facilities for whom I perform frequently, and on occasion issue them to other musicians who join me for jobs where I’m the primary “contractor.”

Others may choose to treat their music, dance, or other artistic activities less formally, especially if it’s not their primary vocation, but I would caution that many facilities will require an IRS W-4 form, and keep records of payments to “independent contractor” musicians.

Over the course of 15 years or so of playing professionally at seniors’ facilities, it has been necessary on several occasions to follow up and solve payment issues. Recreation staff members who do the scheduling, may not be painstaking in submitting payment requests to their financial offices, and you may realize after a month that no check has shown up in your mail.

Staff turnover, frequent at seniors’ facilities, leads to problems along the “learning curve.” To further complicate matters, many for-profit facilities are part of national chains, and your payment comes from “Corporate” in another state.

I keep spreadsheets of my gigs, including information about date, time, location, mileage, payment receipt, and a contact name and phone for follow-up if needed.

Do I Need Insurance to Perform in Senior Centers?

Recently, I was asked to submit proof of liability insurance, before being given bookings at certain facilities.

My basic homeowner’s liability doesn’t include “outside” performance for profit. Since up to now this has happened only once or twice, I haven’t acquired performer’s insurance, but it may become more of an issue.

The American Federation of Musicians, the musicians’ union, offers insurance to its members, and has formed Local 1000, specifically for folk and traveling musicians.

I have also been asked, as a condition of playing for a local government, to obtain a waiver of workers’ compensation insurance –– again, a one-time occurrence –– but this only involved obtaining and completing a form that exempted me from workers’ comp coverage.

Problems and Pitfalls With Senior Entertainment

Playing for seniors ain’t for everyone. There are inherent factors leading some to find it not to their liking.

A few that come to mind:

Songwriters beware

Since I’m not a writer myself, I’m extrapolating, but in my experience, seniors prefer material with which they’re familiar. Songwriters I know, who also do seniors’ work, usually don’t do original material for these gigs. There are some songwriters –– Alan Power comes to mind –– whose “day job” is working with seniors, and who have written songs on that subject; their songs may be well-received. For the rest of us, I would choose songs that people in the age group for whom I’m performing, presumably have heard before.

“They fell asleep!”

Yeah, that happens. Remember, many seniors’ jobs are scheduled in the early afternoon, right after lunch. As I cruise deeper into my 70’s, I appreciate more the afternoon nap, and a warm room, soft chair, full stomach and soothing music may lull some listeners to Dreamland. Can’t let it bother us.

Inappropriate behavior

One of the aspects of advanced age can be dementia, in mild or not-so-mild forms, and one of the aspects of dementia can be inability to read social cues, or adhere to behavioral norms. If this leads to aggressive acts, it can tax the performer’s resources to keep the program going and reach other audience members. Experience will help in handling this, as well good staff support –– which leads to the next topic…

Where’s the staff?

Staff members who provide routine care and supervision at residences, are underpaid and overworked, in many cases. Some may see the entertainment program as a “break” for themselves, and may leave the performance area inadequately supervised. If that gets coupled with inappropriate behavior, or with physical risks for some of the seniors, it becomes difficult to deal with. I’ve seen my share of falls, arguments, disruption etc. without adequate staff response.

The rut

I find myself reprising the same 25-plus-or-minus songs for years. Seniors’ audiences as a rule don’t mind repetition.  In many cases, they don’t remember, from one visit to the next, what was played the last time.  It’s up to the performer to keep him/herself fresh, find new material, keep interested and motivated enough to deliver a good show each time out.

Playing For Seniors Can Be Very Satisfying!

I find playing for senior audiences extremely gratifying overall.

Seniors often express their gratitude to performers, compliment them fulsomely. Staff and family members also show their appreciation.

The performer is providing a real service, and contributing to the health of the audience, as well as entertaining.

There’s little pressure to be “show biz” or to crank up the volume or the stage persona. Competent, professional performance is welcome, and performers feel that they’re doing a good thing.

Over the course of years, establishing good ongoing relationships with various senior facilities, developing and maintaining a strong, flexible program of music (or dance, theater, storytelling, whatever) that’s suited to the needs and preferences of seniors, honing the craft until it becomes second nature –– it’s a place where art, service, holistic therapy, and intergenerational care intersect.

Can’t do better than that.

This article was originally written for a 2017 presentation at the New England Folk Festival Association (NEFFA) by Allen Hopkins and Jan Maier.

Appendix

Illustrative Examples of Repertoire

Guitar (*Harmonica)

You Are My Sunshine*
Hey, Good Lookin’*
Don’t Fence Me In*
Tennessee Waltz*
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot*
He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands*
King Of the Road
Dream
(Everly Brothers)
In My Merry Oldsmobile
Goodnight Irene
The Unicorn
Oh My Darling Clementine
Those Were the Days*
Summertime*
So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You*

Ukulele (*Harmonica)

Side By Side
Que Sera Sera
Dream a Little Dream of Me
It Had To Be You
Five Foot Two
My Blue Heaven
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Sentimental Journey*
I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now
Shine On, Harvest Moon
Autumn Leaves*
Once In a While
Let It Snow
Winter Wonderland
Once In Love With Amy

Banjo

Oh Susannah
Camptown Races
Old Folks At Home
Country Roads
Place In the Choir
I’ve Been Working On the Railroad
Medley: You’re a Grand Old Flag/Yankee Doodle Dandy/God Bless America
She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain
This Land Is Your Land

Example of a St. Patrick’s Day program

Guitar (*harmonica)

Molly Malone
Toora Loora Loora*
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling*
Gypsy Rover
My Wild Irish Rose*
Wild Rover
Black Velvet Band

Banjo (*kazoo)

Murshin Durkin
Rambles of Spring
Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone
Whiskey In the Jar
MacNamara’s Band*
Jug of Punch

Concertina

Danny Boy
Si Beag Si Mor
South Wind/Girl I Left Behind Me

Example of a holiday (Christmas/Chanukah) program

Guitar (*harmonica)

Deck the Halls*
Little Drummer Boy
Children, Go Where I Send Thee
Scarlet Ribbons
Hot Buttered Rum
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Dreydl Song*

Banjo

Jingle Bells
Twelve Days of Christmas
Jolly Old St. Nicholas

Ukulele

Frosty the Snowman
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Concertina

Rock of Ages (Ma’oz Tzur)
What Child Is This
Carol Medley

Kalimba (“thumb piano”)

Silent Night    


About The Author

How to get gigs in senior centers and retirement homes - for musiciansAllen Hopkins has played folk music in the Rochester NY area for nearly 50 years, including bluegrass, blues, Celtic, klezmer, old-time, and contemporary “folk.” He plays a variety of stringed and free-reed instruments, has an oversized accumulation of guitars, banjos, mandolins, concertinas etc., and teaches at the Hochstein School of Music and elsewhere.

He is a co-founder of Rochester’s Golden Link Folk Singing Society, organizer of the Flint Hill Folk program at Genesee Country Village and co-producer of its annual Fiddlers’ Fair, and helps administer two local concert series, Tunes By the Tracks and Rochester Folkus.

Allen has served on staff of Folk Music Week and Traditional Music & Dance Week at Pinewoods Camp in MA, as well as staffing many folk weekends and local festivals, including 23 consecutive years at the New England Folk Festival (NEFFA).  He specializes in folk and popular music programs for seniors, playing over 150 gigs annually.

About The Blog

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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83 Responses to Performing for Seniors: The Essential Guide for Musicians and Entertainers

  1. Annie Pike

    Thank you for this great article. You answered many of my questions right within the contents and have given me encouragement to pursue more gigs. I am a tenor banjo player in Northwest NJ and my husband and I have a jazz band called Sycamore Banjo Band. Sometimes we play as a group with three other 4 string banjo players, or as a trio with a fantastic clarinet player where we can perform more traditional jazz tunes. My husband Johnny Peppers is the bass player, he plays upright banjo bass (which he built) soprano sax, and all other reed instruments.
    We are hosting in March of 2020 our 3rd, banjo bash, a collection of musicians of 4,5,6 string banjo players, mandolins, etc. Several musicians from your area attend. This topic would be great for a workshop and we would love for you to perform. Email me if you would like any more information. Again, thank you for the blog.

  2. Mick Pulliam

    Allen,

    Great advice. I hope you can give advice from the opposite side of things.

    I live in a Senior community located in Fairfax County Virginia.

    I once knew several guys who did shows for Seniors but all of them have left the area or passed away.

    How can I find people willing to give a show in my area?

    I would be paying out of my own pocket so $50 to $75 would be as high as I could go. On the other side, we wouldn’t need the best professionals. I figure that someone who lives close by could pay his expenses with what I could afford to pay.

    If it works out I think the management would be willing to pay a little more. (I haven’t asked brought up money yet but they would like to have me bring in someone.)

    This may sound funny to you, but here in Northern Virginia, we don’t seem to have anyone like you working for Seniors.

    I hope you can help. (Or send me to someone who can.)

    Thanks

    • Allen Hopkins

      Mick – Thanx for reading and posting. I got started playing for seniors through a short-lived local Rochester agency, ArtsReach, that was funded by the NY Council on the Arts to send artists and performers to “underserved audiences,” which meant seniors’ facilities, hospitals, group homes, prisons etc. I made some contacts working for ArtsReach, and continued after the agency folded.

      How to find musicians? You can start as basically as putting up a notice in a music store, publishing a “classified” in a local paper, or finding a place where musicians gather to jam or interact, and just making a request there. There’s a county “Neighborhood & Community Services” web page that has entries for a “Creative Aging Festival – Music,” so the county office might be worth contacting; link is https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/neighborhood-community-services/creativeagingfestival/music .

      My experience is that if you get the word out, you won’t be able to beat off prospective performers with a stick, especially if you’ll accept part-timers and semi-pros, as you indicate. The pay rates you quote won’t attract full-time pros, probably, but there are plenty of people like me who don’t live on their music revenue, but are glad to get chances to play for a few bucks, before appreciative audiences.

      Good luck!

  3. Dan Seibel

    Hello Allen! Great article! I didn’t have time to read all the comments, so please forgive me if you already covered this. Have you had to deal with performance rights and royalty issues for performing copyrighted songs? I know that if I were to play cover songs in a venue that makes money, that venue would be required to secure licensing from the performance rights organizations. Are senior living centers held to the same regulation? Thanks!

    • Allen Hopkins

      First, thanx to all who sent complimentary comments. Please accept this “blanket” expression of appreciation.

      With regard to performance of copyrighted or licensed material: there are exceptions to the overall ASCAP/BMI licensing requirements, this BMI article is a useful summary.

      However, the licensing requirements apply to the presenter, not the performer. And some senior facilities are not-for-profit and/or religiously sponsored, others are profit-making. I haven’t done intensive research as to where the boundaries are with regard to seniors’ performances; I leave that up to the facility’s staff to inform themselves of their responsibilities, and then tell me what I can and cannot do.

      I help run a small concert series, Tunes By the Tracks, in the public library of the village of Clifton Springs (look it up!). We ere recently approached by a public access cable TV channel asking if they could record and broadcast some of our shows. They specified that all material performed, had to be either public domain, or original compositions — no “covers.” So they were carefully skirting the ASCAP/BMI requirements. I’d think that a local public library would qualify as non-profit, but geez, I’m no lawyer. So far, with ten years of shows sponsored, we’ve not had any trouble.

      So: most seniors’ performers fly well under the radar; doubt ASCAP or BMI is going to start sending observers to nursing homes and senior centers. But in the end, any exposure is born by the presenter, not the performer.

  4. Ester Rounds

    Where are songs for Seniors on the Piano? I play for Nursing Homes and Assisted Living on volunteer basis. Your article was great. Thank you.

  5. John Paul

    Thank you for the article. It seems to me if you are a professional you should be compensated for your abilities. We are not only entertainers. We go to 22 facilities, there is a lot that goes into each performance. Yes this is part of our lively hood .
    In the past we had been paid the day of performance. Now that the community nursing facilities are being bought out by large companies who pay the bills are making entertainers wait up to 30 to 60+ days for a check $100. To $250 a gig. This is very unfair. The bills have to be put on hold t wait for a check. So make sure you present a contract $ no more than 14 days to get a check. Unless you are at this place every week and get paid regularaly. If your scheduled to appear a month a head than the check should be there for you. I notice the contract the facility’s have for payment states they must be paid first of the month, if payment is late you have 7 days to pay in full, or a late fee will be added.

  6. Allegra

    What a wonderfully informative and well-written article. Thank you for posting!

  7. John L Rotante

    Your article was spot on. As a professional musician (pianist), I’ve been teaching and playing Wedding cocktail parties for years. Now in my late 60’s (and retired from corporate), along with two parents who lived in Assisted Living facilities in New York City, I began entertaining there and developed an expanded repertoire to incorporate the ‘standards’ from the 30’s to the 60’s. It works so well that I have over 300 songs that I keep honing all the time. I’ve been following your suggestions for Senior entertainment for five years now, and it gets better and more fulfilling every week. I keep a schedule that also incorporates piano lessons and have a recital once a year combining a show where the residents are included along with the students. As you said, some homes don’t have pianos and others have baby grands. I usually charge $100 for a 60 minute show.
    And it keeps me on top of my game professionally. Thanks again for your advice.

  8. Jim King

    What a useful, informative article! I could have – maybe should have – written it myself. My career and current situation seem to parallel this author. Pretty much everything in here is spot on for me, too. The biggest take-away for me will be adding more ‘sing-a-long’ numbers. This is something I have been ignoring even though I sorta’ knew it to be true. I would add only that there are few audiences for respectful and grateful than seniors. Thanks for a great read.

  9. B Barth

    A reminder about repertory, as suggested by the above suggestions for Irish or Christmas programs, is that there is timeless music which was created long before the residents were born. We have had positive reception of Playford dances, various international folk musics, and even Renaissance/Baroque excerpts.

  10. Philippe Marleau

    I want to start by saying this is a great site. I do play in Seniors homes and have been playing for free for many years but the paying gigs are starting come on with a vengeance. I do have some very nice equipment and I was tired of packing it around for coffee and cookies. So I starting booking gigs out of town. Last year I did 165 gigs of which 18 were paid. This year it will be about 200 gigs with 80 being paid. Still need the high frequency of gigs to keep me sharp. I found the easiest way to get gigs is to walk in and open up the guitar case and ask politely if I can play a song or 2. More times than not the recreation director wanders in just after the second song and wants to hire me for a gig. I know this is a ballsy maneuver but it works so well.
    I did the phone call with a youtube link attached to an email and this worked well enough to get things rolling after 50 phone calls and emails. But the show up and start playing in the lobby works probably 4 out of 5 times. You may want to do a video with your phone and put it on youtube it would be the next best thing. One last thing about entertaining in Seniors homes. Do a lot of hellos and how are you doings. Dont just hide your face in your music binder or tablet. The interaction is just as important as your music. .Hope this helps. Philippe Marleau

  11. David Robbecke

    I play and sing for Seniors in the Tacoma, Washington area. I’ve been doing this for about ten years now. It is a supplement to my pension. Increasingly, I find places that call, but have no intention of paying. After I’ve hauled my gear, set up, performed, etc. This is outrageous to me. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done MANY volunteer gigs. It puts us in a bind. If I were to go on YELP, or the BBB sites, I get branded as a whiner or troublemaker. And it’s the high end places that do this! Making me chase down a lousy fee is a pain. I have thought about going public, or wear a placard outside the facility. A few of us musicians meet for breakfast once a month. It happens to us all. It’s the same ones. Usually the big chain facilities……….Brookedale, a national chain, make it so confusing. Sending back invoices, that you have to send to some office back east, for one reason or another is maddening. I haven’t booked with them in two years. I’ve wondered if someone doesn’t siphon these payments off. Do we have any recourse at all?

    • Allen Hopkin

      Concur with your views on Brookdale, a national chain that bought several nursing homes and assisted living facilities in our area — and then sold some of them off. They require submission of invoices by e-mail to a central office, after also requiring a fair amount of documentation, and then don’t issue checks, but make wire transfers to your bank account. This means that you have to transmit your account info to them, which I wouldn’t do via e-mail; I sent it “snail mail” so it couldn’t be hacked. A lot of “tsores” (Yiddish for “trouble”) to earn a couple hundred dollars last year!

      On your other point, I don’t do any hauling or set-up — don’t show up at all — until I have a clear arrangement with the facility that I’m getting paid, and how much. E-mail for sure, so I have a record if there’s a problem. Of course, if I choose to to a “freebie” for whatever reason, that’s a different story. I would counsel against writing scathing reviews on-line, though. Just apply the “fool me once, shame on you” rule. Get a name, e-mail address, phone number of the contact person in the recreation/activities office, and have an explicit arrangement beforehand. No surprises.

  12. William Golden

    Great article
    Thanks

  13. Linda

    Thanks so much for a very informative article about making music for seniors..

    I am an amateur piano player who has visited nursing homes intermittently for over 15 years, The audience always enjoys the music – no matter how many wrong notes are played. Many years ago I was the keyboardist with 2 guitarists and 2 sax players – what fun that was!!!! Our first gig included a song where I had to use the keyboard Transpose function for one song (was it “When Your’e Smiling”.????…) It always sounded good when we practiced but for some reason the Transpose wasn’t right as we played the song. It was torture on the ears!! I remember speeding up the tempo, and not playing it a second time. And I remember the residents in the wheelchairs smiling and applauding. God bless em!

    At present, I play solo. My song repertoire is old songs (Tin Pan Alley, 20’s 30’s Big Band). Unfortunately, if I dared to sing, it would be a form of torture. How do I go about finding somebody to sing those old songs while I play them? I think playing solo is great as background music, but a singer is so special…

    Thanks again for this excellent webpage.

    • Nancy List

      What part of the country are you in?

      • Linda

        I’m up in New England, specifically Lowell Massachusetts.

        Friends suggested that I touch base with church singing groups, and that sounds like a very good idea. My only reservation is “style”. I’m partial to performing in cabaret style with lots of interaction with the seniors (via singer primarily).

        For a singer, is that “transition” from church to cabaret easily done? I suspect it’s totally dependent on the individual…..

        Linda

        • Nancy

          Well, if you’re really lucky, you might find a church singer who can make that transition, but it’s rare, in my opinion.
          I’m in Tennessee or I’d love to perform with you! My husband and I just started doing this and we have 5 dates booked already! So excited!

          I am classically trained but have also sung in rock ‘n roll, country, and even bluegrass bands. According to my husband, I’m extremely “versatile,” which is a little rare. Most classical singers don’t transition well to club-type music and vice versa. In and around Nashville, you’ll find LOTS of amazing singers, but most are strongest at their chosen genre. Then again, there are always exceptions. This place is saturated with singers and players. LOL

          We are working up 60’s and 70’s tunes, but have also started including songs from the 40s and 50s. Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, big band stuff, etc. and the folks in the communities we visit LOVE those oldies!

          Good luck to you! If we’re ever in Massachusetts we’ll look you up! 🙂

  14. Keith Phillips

    Great Article and I have read and appreciate all of the comments. I , too, have been singing and playing guitar for seniors for 15 years since I took early retirement. I , too, receive a great pension and so what I make from singing is in addition to that. I agree with all the points in the article and would only like to add a couple that I didn’t see there. First of all, as a musician,. you have to play what they ( the residents ) like, not what you like. But , I have noticed that the age of the residents is getting younger and I now find that I play 1940’s to 1980 material, including some Billy Joel, Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor etc. My influences were from the music of the 60’s in particular and I do find that if you tell a bit of a story about the song then they maintain interest. I also scan the audience continually, making eye contact, and I can usually predict who will come up to me afterwards and say that they really enjoyed the show. I have also been able to add in a couple or so of my own songs, if I tell the story around them. I operate as a small business in Canada and pay taxes on what I earn. I believe that as a musician, these seniors are the best audience that any performer could ask for and I feel very privileged that I am able to do what I do. I think that the other point that I would like to make is a challenge- Can you make them love you? I have found that this is the primary thing that works at seniors facilities. You have to come out of yourself as an entertainer and try to truly love who you are singing to and they will reward you by loving you as well. I have been playing at some places for 15 years now and we have a loving relationship , I believe, and this must be transmitted by the entertainer to the audience. You cannot merely perform and look up at the ceiling. You must involve them and I do this by adding new verses to songs sometimes that mean something to them or give them a laugh.
    All in all, I want to thank you for posting such an informative article. -Keith

  15. Nancy List

    I am SO GLAD I found this article! Thank you! I am 48 years old, live in TN and am a Praise & Worship leader at my church. I have also been performing as a hobby for more than 20 years. My husband has been performing for more than 45 years! We are in the process of beginning a ministry performing for seniors as I believe it is what God is calling me to do.
    Because I consider this a ministry and a calling, I don’t feel that I should charge the establishment, but it has been explained to me, by others as well as in your article, that most of these establishments do have a budget for entertainment. What’s the best way to approach that when setting up the booking? Do they bring it up or do you? I just feel a little guilty about telling them, “We charge $xx to come and play.” I wouldn’t even know how much to charge! Lol

    We would like to establish a regular schedule with each facility we play for so that the residents can become familiar with us, the day/time, and our music. Is that acceptable do you think, or do you find that they already have a set day/time for entertainment? We do not have full-time “day jobs” anymore and are seeking this, among other ventures, as our full time gig. So our schedule is pretty open.

    Thank you also for your knowledge about the tax side. I am not sure if this would be considered “self-employment”, which would incur the self-employment tax, or if we would consider it a ministry, which is a different animal altogether, according to my CPA. 🙂

    I have only just begun researching this and so far have not found anyone in TN who is doing this. So I hope to spread out a bit and share music with this wonderful age group that is so often forgotten about or neglected by society.

    I will bookmark your page, Dave, and continue to watch for other helpful articles. Thanks so much for sharing this one! I also plan to check out Allen’s page.
    Thank you SO much!

    • Allen Hopkins

      Don’t feel “guilty about telling them ‘we charge $xxx to come and play'”; while you’re doing it out of love and religious motivation, it’s also a business arrangement. You’re coming to provide a music service, and you should quote them what you think fair for your time and talents. I charge anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour to perform in seniors’ facilities, with lower pricing for nearby venues, and for multiple bookings. With the amount of performing experience that you quote, you are certainly capable of providing excellent entertainment. If you do make some money playing, definitely conform to the tax laws — that’s my advice. The other side of that is that you can claim your expenses, such as mileage to and from jobs, equipment you may need, and related supplies as business expenses.

  16. John L Rotante

    I am a professional pianist having developed a repertoire for cocktail music at wedding and other events. Over the last few years, as I move into semi retirement, I have been playing on Sundays at the two Senior Homes both my parents lived in. I am following your guidelines and for 2019, am setting up gigs throughout the NY Metro area at a pace I can be comfortable with. I usually put on a complimentary hour show after meeting the recreation director. It almost invariably goes well and I work on a regular schedule for the rest of the year. You article is spot on, and any information I was lacking, was right here and very helpful

    • Jeff Gaines

      John my experience has been similar hear in the San Diego & Riverside County areas of SoCal. I have been at it for about 11 1/2 years now in this area.

      It is true that the initial “complimentary” hour works. It is a win-win because it really is an ‘interview’ not only for pianist/singer (in my case) or performer, but it is an interview for the facility AND director of social activities. Sometime I find out it’s not a great facility or is managed poorly etc. and I am able to give my time and energy to more welcoming facilities.

      One key I have found is that the ones that will treat you well (personally, professionally etc.) will also pay consistently AND treat their RESIDENTS well. The ones that sort of ‘wash out’ I have found don’t even adequately appreciate the initial free hour of music and I have learned to locate the better ones.

      I find it pays to be giving/generous AND selective. I suppose it’s just good business sense.

      This really is a great piece by Dave Ruch.

  17. Pat

    As a Life Enrichment Director, who is always looking for entertainers I read your article with interest as well as the comments from entertainers, (wish they had put which state they were in I might have contacted them if they were in WI.

    From my perspective, I agree with most things that you have written and for those who entertain, I will explain a little from my side of the fence. I get a monthly budget for entertainment that has to also include music therapy for our memory care community. I try most weeks to bring in a one-hour music entertainer and spread it through my budget. If I have someone who is at my most upper end they have to be exceptional because it may mean that another week I won’t have money for someone to perform so I am likely to use them only once or twice a year. However, if it is someone that the residents enjoy I will still bring them in and that month balance out with some less favorite but more reasonable priced entertainers and of course during the course of the year I do have those more reasonably priced people in more often.

    However, I do find the music tastes of the residents is changing as was mentioned by some other people who wrote in the blog and I often joke if we are going to be doing reminisce with future Memory Care residents will we be burning incense and having a Woodstock in the garden.

    Also, I always have two activity staff in with a performer so that if someone needs assistance or is being disruptive the performer is never left alone.

    As for me being the person who employs you in the community that I work in, I leave that up to the residents. I tell each new performer when they come in if they get invited back again will be subject to the audience approval. I always listen in to a new performer because many advertise they have worked 30 or 40 years in senior living but sadly that is not always a recommendation if their voice is dying and I do need to know what I am paying for.

    Once the first performance is over I listen to resident remarks, see how many go speak to the entertainer and enthuse, ask around later and then I have a list marked like stop/go lights. If the performer is good they are highlighted in green, if the performer is so/so but reasonably priced I put them in yellow for when I am struggling but if the performer was a no-show or not up to expectations I hightlight them in red and they dont get invited again.

    Hope this might help those of you understand better where your activity director is coming from.

    • Dave Ruch

      This is really valuable perspective Pat, thanks for jumping in here.

    • John L Rotante

      Thanks so much for your insight from the Nursing Home side…PianoStylist

    • Allen Hopkins

      Thanx — very informative. Wish you were in Rochester; I’d enjoy working with you. I’m sensitive to the budgetary limitations of many seniors’ facilities, and I always try to give value for their money, and charge a reasonable rate that covers my expenses, and leaves a little left over. Of course, as stated, I’m not trying to make a living playing for seniors.

      Repertoire does have to change, to some extent, but I find that most audiences — usually ten to 15 years older than my age of 75 — still respond to songs they picked up in their younger years. If I include anything newer than 1970, it’s usually for a special occasion. As a strictly acoustic musician, I don’t do a lot of rock & roll, though a bit of Elvis or Everly Brothers may slip in. My background’s mostly folk music, and there’s a lot of that in what I still do. I await (eagerly?) the time when seniors’ programs include songs by Madonna or R.E.M. Familiarity — and participatory accessibility — I think will continue to be the most important elements.

    • Jim King

      Hi, Pat
      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am ‘Just a Guy With a Guitar’ and I play throughout Wisconsin. For me, playing nursing homes and Veterans Homes is an opportunity to play some songs I don’t normally get to play in other venues. Reaching out to seniors with stories, trivia, music and humor is among the most gratifying things Ido and I look forward to every performance.
      As was mentioned in another comment, the age and tastes of senior is changing. I often have WWII vets with guys from Nam and even Desert Storm. It keeps my on my toes, Choosing songs that appeal all can be a challenge.
      Here’s a thought to help find appropriate shows for your venue: Ask your ‘Green Light’ acts if they know of anyone else who is willing to play. We all have friends who ‘do what we do’ and we’re happy to share their contact information. We’ll also be careful not to recommend anyone that would be a bad fit or was unrelable or inappropriate because it could reflect badly on us and jeopardize our relationship with the venue.
      Best of luck to you and, thank you for what you do for your residents and us. Jim King, Waupaca, WI

  18. Ron Gulledge

    Live in Sacramento. 63 years old, trumpet and 1st tenor. Just getting into playing at nursing homes. Great blog.

  19. Jeff Gaines

    Thanks for this. Great little piece here. I am in my 12th year doing this kind of think in the San Diego and Riverside county areas of SoCal. Most of what you expressed here is familiar to me, but it was still good to read it and see the consistencies with my experience as well as a few fresh ideas.

  20. Stephen

    This is excellent! Thank you. It will be fun and interesting to see how the song list changes as us baby boomers become the key audience. Can you imagine? Margaritaville … Moon dance … and I’ll bet someone will yell out, “Play Free Bird!!!”. There’s one in every crowd. Oh the horror. Thank you again for this excellent video.

  21. Rachel

    What a useful guideline, thank you for your generosity to publish it.

  22. Karen

    Thank you for your useful advice. I was asked to play my flute at a local retirement home. I also play harp and can play guitar chords. I am only an amateur and work full time. I accompanied a choir of senior people for an hour in the evening. I have not done this before. However the staff asked how much I would like to charge. I did not expect this. I said I would do this session free and think about charging for future sessions. The sessions are very informal and they advised me I could turn up any time I wanted. Ideally I would prefer cash, but I think they would prefer to pay by direct debit. However should I declare any monies received if I only charge a nominal fee of £20 or £30 and/or only play occasionally? Many thanks.

  23. Janice

    Thank you for this very thoughtful piece on a gig at retirement communities. I teach a monthly US history class and am expanding to additional retirement facilities. I usually have about 60 people in my monthly class. People whose only exposure to history class was in school, with dates and dates and dates, are pleasantly surprised my focus is on people. Appreciate your advice for helping me bring a high quality program to stimulate the mind and spirit.
    Janice

  24. Hugo Buchanan

    Hi Allen, My name is Hugo Buchanan. Enjoyed your article about getting gigs in nursing homes, etc. I am retired, 85 yrs old. Most of the songs I play/sing are 50s & 60s country, folk, and pop, and nowadays about the only venu for this era is nursing homes, etc. I have been registered for quite some time with a booking agency (Gigmasters), but what few gig alerts I do get for nursing homes, I have been unsuccessful in scoring a gig. I somehow feel that the people that review my gig bid are millennia’s who could care less about the era of music I perform, and want to chose someone with a more up to date era of their liking. I am in the process of ordering some business cards, and thought I would try “in person” inquirery about getting a few gigs. Any suggestions? Hugo

    • Allen Hopkins

      Contact the seniors’ facilities directly. Call and get the name of the person who books entertainment, and send your information directly to that person’s attention. Offer to play a “freebie” as an audition, if you can do so. Follow up with a phone call.

      I assume a booking agent will get a percentage; that makes you more expensive to the place you want to play, or gives you less than you’d get without the agent. There are a few seniors’ places that regularly go through booking agencies, but they’re exceptions. Fees for this type of work are generally modest, not worth an agent’s time to work hard on them, in most cases. You’ll do better on your own, IMHO.

  25. Will McMillan

    Thank you, Allen, for writing this great article and thank you, Dave, for sharing it with us via your hugely helpful web site. I like Allen’s post card promo idea. These days sending a piece of snail mail may be more effective/welcomed than sending an email…It costs more in terms of time and money, but it may reap more benefits in the long run. I agree entirely about the value of word-of-mouth, and I am a huge fan of hand-written thank you notes after each engagement. I have had recreation directors tell me that my card is the FIRST TIME anyone they have booked has sent them anything like that… I am a singer and avid reader of biographies/autobiographies about/by songwriters and musicians. I work with a jazz pianist, and we put together hour-long programs of music featuring songs plus a few stories about how particular songs came to be written. So far we’ve created programs about Harold Arlen, The Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, and Harry Warren — as well as programs about Ethel Merman and Fred Astaire (for whom a tremendous number of great songs were written…) I share the sentiments of one person who wrote a comment about ASCAP/BMI (hopefully) not hitting retirement communities up for expensive licensing fees which might deter them from booking musical entertainment. I also agree that the most satisfying and successful gigs for me include LOTS of audience participation in the form of singing and humming. And hanging around afterwards to chat with residents and staff members can also be very emotionally rewarding (as well as a wise tactic to increase the likelihood of being asked back…)

    • Dave Ruch

      Howdy Will – I agree with everything you’ve said here! Snail mail is probably far more effective now than it was when everyone was doing it. Word of mouth is king in my experience too, and I get the same comments from venues when I send a thank-you note (which I do every single time). Best of luck with your shows! As has been said here many times in the past, Themed Shows Get Booked!

  26. Clare

    Great info, Allen and Dave! I’m just getting into performing at senior centers and this is very helpful — and very generous of you to share your repertoire!

  27. Sonorei

    Enjoyed every word. I will e mailAllen Hopkins within a day or two. Need a special advice Please read my message Thanks in advance! Sora

  28. Jay Isaacson

    Hi Dave, you mention that this is “the first of two articles on the subject” … so I’m just curious when we might see the second article!

    • Dave Ruch

      Great question Jay. I had two more contributors lined up, but one of them has not gotten back to me with answers to the questions I sent, so I don’t quite have enough for another article yet.

  29. Linda Bernstein

    Do you ever have to get licenses or permissions from ASCAP or other organizations to use copyrighted songs in your performance? I like to sing Broadway tunes and have been told one needs to get a license and/or permission to sing these protected songs.

    • Dave Ruch

      I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that, as I don’t do these gigs myself, but maybe someone else can chime in here…

    • Allen Hopkins

      It’s the responsibility of the presenting organization, not the performer, to obtain any required licenses. The facility where you perform is the one that needs to worry about ASCAP, BMI, or any other licensing group that requires payment for use of licensed material. Whether a nursing home or a seniors’ residence is properly licensed, is between that facility and ASCAP etc.

    • Allen Hopkins

      ASCAP/BMI membership is the responsibility of the sponsor — in this case the seniors’ facility — not the performer. The question of whether a performance in a nursing home, etc., qualifies as a “public performance,” is one that I’ll leave to the legal eagles. And, if it is so considered, it’s up to the venue to comply — or not — with ASCAP/BMI rules, pay a license fee, and so forth.

      As a practical matter, I doubt any of the licensing agencies would want the bad publicity of going after nursing homes and assisted living facilities; they tend to focus on venues that attract the general public to listen to music. If there’s any risk, it’s not to the performer, as far as I know.

  30. Jocelyn Michelle

    Wow!! I’m a singer/songwriter & blesses granddaughter 😉 I’ve very recently decided to do a special birthday show at my grandfather’s seniors condo. As a frequent performer in my late teen’s & early twenties I performed for all ages but have been away from the stage for over 10 years! I have only read your one article on performing for seniors but the information was invaluable!!! Also, the addition of your set list was a fantastic surprise!! Thank you for taking the time to share your obvious wealth of knowledge & valuable insight!! 😊😊 All the best to you!

    • Allen Hopkins

      Thanx for your comments. I’m very fortunate to have found and developed a “niche” playing music in my community (Rochester NY). So far this year I’ve booked about 165 gigs, with the usual ratio that two-thirds are for senior audiences. And I also notice that, at performances not specifically ID’ed as “seniors,” a significant proportion of the audience is AARP-eligible. Getting back from a small regional old-time festival last weekend, I find I have two seniors’ jobs tomorrow. I think you’ll find that the performer gets quite a bit of joy out of playing this type of gig, as well as providing joy to the audience.

  31. Louanges

    Is there any official education, training, or other qualification needed to call oneself an Elder Care Music Specialist? I have plenty of experience in playing for seniors, volunteer until the last three years. But I’ve played in senior living facilities, all levels of care, at Hospice upon the invitation of families (not as a Music Therapist) at the private homes of seniors, at memorial services, etc. My level of musicianship is high. Might I use this “title” without concern about potential liability? How might I be sure? Thank you.

    • Allen Hopkins

      In answer to your two inquiries: don’t call yourself a music therapist, since that is a formal discipline that requires licensing. “Elder Care Music Specialist” would be OK, since it’s basically a descriptor of your performance approach and repertoire. Might add a bit of gravitas to your resume, although there’s no formal definition of what an Elder Care Music Specialist is…

  32. Louanges

    Thank you so much for the informative article! I’ve been doing this type of work in senior living facilities for nearly three years now. Still a rookie! But now there are a few home health agencies who are interested in me doing private concerts for their clients. I am honored and interested, but they are referring to me as a music therapist. I don’t have that training. What might I call myself?

    • Ashira Malka

      What about ‘musical memory assistant?’ because music helps with memory … or memory-assisting musician, brain enlivener, healing helper (You can see I like alliteration.), therapeutic non-therapist, mind-melding musician (Okay, I’m sure you won’t actually like any of these, but they’re ideas!), music healer, mind-awakener, or musicoach?

      • Bill Vancil

        I have used “Keyboard player/singer, specializing in Songs and Stories for Seniors” – more of a description of what I do, rather than a formal-sounding yet ambiguous title.

  33. Tom Schlater

    Thank you, Allen, for writing this article, and thank you, Dave, for publishing it.

    Here is our (my wife & I) retirement home performance background:

    I played 1 – 5 retirement home gigs a month when I was in optometry college in Columbus, OH, back in the mid 1990s.

    In 2002 my mother-in-law moved into a retirement community in Virginia Beach, and she asked my wife to put on a show. (My wife sang, accompanied by her guitar playing, 6 – 7 nights a week for 6 years in folk clubs and hotels in the Philippines and Japan when she was in her late teens & early 20s.) Her mom’s invitation and the wonderful reception that she received, along with my enthusiastic encouragement, launched our (very part time) retirement home career. (I am the roadie, guitar noodler and comic spoof / diversion. Rose is The Star of The Show, and I refuse to take a cut of the paycheck) Our career “peaked”, in terms of quantity of gigs, in 2008, when we were putting on 6 – 10 shows a month. When the economy crashed, nearly every facility that had welcomed us enthusiastically from 3 – 12 times a year totally stopped funding entertainment. Meanwhile, our lives entered another phase as we became grandparents and I ramped up my optometry career, and we still do 1 – 3 shows a month. Our main show is oldies from 1900 – 1960. We also have shows of all Irish, all hispanic, all patriotic, and all Christmas music. Our performances are nearly always for 1 hour. Rose’s fee is usually $100, sometimes a little more or a little less.

    I can echo and agree with almost EVERYTHING that Allen said. I would add:

    – The comment that spoke to me the loudest, BY FAR, was that putting on 200 shows a year is not adequate to support a family. Sad reality, but true.

    – Rose has a bag full of various dollar store variety shakers and bangers, mostly maracas. About halfway through our show she passes them out while I play a solo rendition of “Guantanamera”, then she picks up her guitar and belts out a rollicking rendition of “La Bamba”. Most of the rest of our show is pretty upbeat, and many of the seniors enjoy participating and being our rhythm section. We also have seniors who get up and dance through many of our selections. There are people singing along with EVERY song that we do in our standard “oldies” program. The point being that any way you can get the audience to participate is great!

    – The observation about insurance was interesting. Someone made a similar observation recently on the Delcamp classical guitar forum. What I keep waiting for is ASACAP / BMI to come in and demand licensing fees, which will shut down the 90 % of the remaining business, just like it did to live music in bars and restaurants back in the latter half of the 20th century.

    – Allen’s observation about lack of staff members on hand at many performances is true, and an alarming safety violation.

    – As Allen and other commenters have mentioned, seniors are usually the most appreciative audience.

    • Tom Schlater

      In regards to ethical perspective on performing for free vs performing for pay, my opinion is that since most of these facilities are owned and run by VERY PROFITABLE companies that charge the seniors and or their families VERY HIGH fees, I have no reservations about charging for professional quality entertainment.

    • Dave Ruch

      “seniors are usually the most appreciative audience.”

      Seniors and kids, Tom! Thanks for your comments.

  34. Aspen Black

    I have done some performing for seniors over the years. I agree that the market is tougher when pay is involved. Most everyone in my area plays senior facilities for free, so asking for pay is generally met with a look of “Why should we? We get all sorts of musicians for free and we’re pleased to continue in that manner.” That said, I have been paid well for senior programs that have been booked through humanities outreaches or arts councils in other areas of the country. As for the covers vs originals, of course people like to hear the songs they know. That is a general rule for bars and restaurants, too. That said, songwriters should not feel defeated. I have been very successful with playing a set of mostly originals at several of my paid senior gigs. If you set up the song with a story, especially one they can interact with (and you let them talk with you – don’t shut them out!) they get into the songs and often engage in further conversation afterwards based on your lyrics. Often I’ll be told that one, or more, of my lyrics brought back a memory, of course of which they share the story of after the show. I get similar interaction after my concerts for the general public. For seniors, though, this connection is invaluable. So many of these people are lonely, cut-off from life as we know it, living in their minds, affected by memory loss, and a myriad of other ailments. Some, are active and healthy. But, people need to talk and if my songs get them talking, thinking, remembering, reliving, I’ve done my job. I’ve had them laugh and cry in equal measure, yet say it was wonderful to do so (either, or both). Once, a resident asked if he could sit in with me on guitar. It turns out that he played some decent leads (and, yes, I chose familiar songs for him to join in on). Afterwards, the nurses came up to me and were beside themselves. They said he’s been there six months and reclusive. They couldn’t believe that he was so engaged and talkative! Another time, I was in a memory care unit, and a lady of 75, or so, came up to me, between the introduction to my song and the first chord and said “Where can I go to pee-pee and poo-poo? I need to know where I can go!” She was quite distressed and absolutely serious. Luckily, I saw the bathroom door not far across the room behind her and pointed the way. She went. Then she returned, farther down in the show and urgently asked “Where can I sit down?” I directed her to the chair in front of me and she tapped her hand on her thigh in rhythm for the rest of the show. You never know what you’ll get and you just have to roll with it. Music may be our medium, but interacting with people is our job.

    • Dave Ruch

      So many things to love about your post Aspen! And thanks for the encouragement for those who write their own music.

      “Music may be our medium, but interacting with people is our job.”

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put any better. Cheers!

  35. Rochelle Christopher

    I charge $125 for my shows done near the Philadelphia area in retirement communities and in libraries. and $175 for shows that are farther away. And i charge double on weekends. Remember that my shows are NOT music–they are educational presentations. A retirement community also has to meet MY requirements before I will market to them. My requirements are that they not be subsidized, and that they have a website and a full-time activities professional. I rarely do homes where people have dementia. My shows are designed for independent living communities and assisted living communities only. I make that VERY clear when I first approach a retirement community. And i tell people that i won’t do the presentation if the audience doesn’t meet this requirement. I get paid no matter how the audience reacts. That is not a hard and fast rule, Sometimes the activities director WILL make a mistake and I work with them to correct it but that doesn’t mean I’ll waive my fee.
    At first I used to choke on the double for weekend cost but I don’t anymore. People have asked me why I charge double on weekends and I’m very up front about it–I don’t want to work on weekends. Also I notice that the closer I get to New York City, the more times I am questioned about what I charge, People are concerned that I’m not charging enough.

    The Council on Humanities in Delaware only pays a speaker $50 per show. I can’t work for that. The Humanities Council in New Jersey won’t take me on because I’m not affiliated with a college. The Pennsylvania Council on Humanities never seems to have openings for new speakers.

    I’ve been doing this for 6 years. I pretty much charge what i want and every time my rates go up, I’m aware that some people might drop out because they can’t afford it. In most cases, my reputation precedes me, and they pay what I ask. As much as i ask on weekends, people still pay.

    • Dave Ruch

      Excellent advice Rochelle!

    • Aurora

      We started off a few years ago at $100 cash only. Since we recently started accepting company checks we charge $125. We have a couple of places that offered to pay us $150 and told us to charge that amount because we were that good! 🙂

      We love performing songs from the Big Band era, Great American Songbook, 1950s & 1960s. We do themed shows and even dress up in costume. I produce all our shows and my husband does all the technical work.

      We’ve performed for active Seniors, assisted living, nursing homes and patients with dementia. We’ve enjoyed every minute of it! The only complaint we have is not getting paid sometimes when promised. It’s bad enough when you have to contact the Activities Director about it. It’s worse when she gives you attitude for having the nerve to politely ask about the status of your payment. Some can be extremely unprofessional. IMO they are the ones who booked you so they are the ones responsible for making sure you get paid in a timely fashion. Other than that, we Love performing for the elderly. It’s so rewarding and we Love singing the older songs. They don’t make music like that anymore!

  36. Bob Lusk

    My average gig for a nursing home in NY was always $150. Some more some less. Better pay in bigger cities. My experience moving to Florida is the average pay is $50. The reason I believe is that there are so many really good retired musicians down here willing to do it for free.

  37. Glenn Miller

    Sadly your very low fees actually cripple talent that
    Requires more money. Again , I suppose you found out that most health care professionals hire price, NOT talent or even what the audience prefers.
    Thanks for your opinion.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Glenn – I can’t speak for the author, but here’s my two cents – –

      Nobody owes us a great wage we can live on; it’s up to us to cultivate those opportunities. We also happen to live in a free market economy. There will ALWAYS be people willing to play for little or no money, and that is perfectly within their rights. And there will always be venues that will gravitate to booking those free and low-paid performers because of their various situations. Again, they have their own reasons for doing that and who are we to say they are wrong? It’s what works for them. I don’t do these senior center gigs precisely because I can’t make a living doing them, and I rely on performing to feed my family of four. If you can differentiate yourself enough from the free and “cheap” performers to command a higher fee, that should be your goal. But otherwise, it might be best to find alternate performance venues that will pay you what you need. This blog is full of articles on how to think about accomplishing that.

    • Allen Hopkins

      Well, I charge a rate that works for me, and for the venues that book me. While I consider myself a “full-time musician” — it’s my major activity — I am a retiree with civil service pension and Social Security, and don’t rely on my musical earnings to support my wife and myself. Among the musicians I know in my area, my fees are around the “going rate,” though some do charge more, and some less. And of course some do it on a volunteer basis, which is admirable as well. I think it’s a bit unrealistic to project that if all entertainers raised our fees, the nursing homes and seniors’ residences would simply increase their payments. I would expect, rather, that they would book fewer “outside” entertainment programs, and rely more on their paid recreation staff, who provide the bulk of programming now; we are the exceptions. Going rates will vary by area, definitely, and also by type of entertainment. I think discussions of what each seniors’ entertainer charges, are a bit beside the points I was trying to make in my article. I encourage all entertainers on the “seniors’ circuit” to charge whatever they think is fair! For myself, I’m glad to get a large number of jobs at an affordable hourly rate; YMMV -= “your mileage may vary,” as they say.

  38. howard gordon

    OH and I usually charge about $60-70 for a show

  39. howard gordon

    that was very insightful ( and interesting) whereas I am a puppeteer in Melbourne, florida
    I have been doing puppets for 40+ yrs for all kinds of venues and age groups. and I do a lot of senior places using recorded music ( that they know) and they love it . I do 1/2 hour or so ,because of attenetion span. but the hardest thing for me is when after calling for the activities director ,they don’t call back !!!! or there is NO budget . OR even worse : “oh we don’t do puppets here, they would not want that here” so I keep on going and performing , I love what I do well thank you.(I am on facebook under > OUR FATHER”S PUPPETS

  40. Stan Ransom

    Good article for performing for seniors. I have done a lot of performing at nursing homes and hospitals. They tell me to perform at 10-11 am, before lunch, when the seniors are awake. they conk out after 12:30pm and can’t stay awake. Maybe Allen’s seniors are able to stay awake! I am still performing at 90 years old (as of Jan. 24). Play music every day, volunteer 15 hours a week at the hospital library, and am in 4 or 5 organizations. Gotta Keep Playing!

  41. Amy Conley

    Thanks Dave and thank you Allen for the beautiful article. I also love singing for Seniors. It is fun and so meaningful.

  42. Tom Hipps

    Thank you for a comprehensive and helpful article. I’ve been entertaining at Senior Communities for over two years now. After a 17-year detour into the property management business, I’ve come back to being a full-time musician, and my experience managing rental communities gives me additional insight into the workings of that type of facility, and the daily routines of the people who hire me. Generally, I can fill most weekend evenings with bookings, but the weekday work at senior communities is crucial to my survival. It’s become a wonderful and integral niche. And, I find that my nightclub, wine bar, supper club and private party audiences rarely compare with the warm, appreciative response I receive at my senior gigs. If I may add one thing to your article: At the conclusion of each performance, I “work the room”… I meet-and-greet with as many as I can. Just a simple “thank you for coming today” makes them happy, and gives them a chance to tell me they enjoyed the show… I think most of us, when we enjoy a program, like to convey that to the artist, and make a personal connection, however brief. Usually, I shake hands, but once in awhile someone wants to give me a hug, and I’m receptive to that as well.

  43. Shane Thomas

    Thank you so much for this post Dave. I was wanting to start performing or seniors and this post gave me direction!

  44. Rochelle Christopher

    I can add to this since I don’t do musical performances but I DO perform in retirement communities.
    I help lifelong learners use history to connect the past with their everyday lives. Generally I do a powerpoint presentation and narration about some aspect of American history. I’ve been doing this for 6 years now. this last year, an activities director came to me and asked me to do a special show for August about Princess Diana. I did a special promotion to that chain and she wrote to everyone in the chain in the area and told them about the show. I couldn’t have asked for better publicity.
    I charge about $125 per show and mileage. My shows are an hour long. An activities director recently told me, ” I trust you. I know you’ll put on a good show.”
    Honestly that reputation and that kind of confidence in my work is priceless. It makes doing all the marketing and preparation worthwhile.

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