How Much Should I Charge? 3 Pricing Strategies for Performers

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

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

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

How Much To Charge For A Gig

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

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

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

This pricing method generally goes one of two ways:


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


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

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

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

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

#2. Starting From What You Need

Holy paradigm shift!

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

Would this change the way you do things?

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

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

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

It became very clear to me that I couldn’t afford to be giving guitar lessons anymore at $30 a pop, I couldn’t be spending three to five hours at a coffeehouse gig, and I needed to shift all (or most of ) my work into the areas where I can make much better money.

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

An Interesting Side Benefit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gig pricing for musicians

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

Chris Holder’s Pricing Formula

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

    Chris Holder

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

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

Thanks Chris!

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

Wrapping Up

So Many More Ways to Slice It…

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

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

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

About The Blog

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

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

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

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