I Turned Down A Gig, Then This Happened…

I’m very comfortable saying “thank you, but I can’t” to low-paying gig offers.

In fact, I was saying that 100% of the time before COVID (unless I had another compelling reason to accept the offer).

And now that things are opening back up, I’m saying it again!

It’s still working for me…

dave ruch advice for musicians and artistsNow, I should say that what follows is probably only applicable if you have already established yourself in your marketplace – – you have a great reputation for giving memorable performances, and plenty of references to back that up.

But if that’s you, please read on for some major encouragement.

Turning Down Gigs: The Fear!

As discussed in the article Do You Work Too Cheap?, turning down low-paying work can come with its own price tag.

Doubt . . . worry . . . anxiety . . . and one more empty space on the calendar.

IDK, maybe I should’ve taken the gig…

What if they never call me again?

If that’s all they have, I guess I’m OK with it…

Shit, I have rent to pay on Monday!

But if you’re an established artist with a great reputation, I have a bold suggestion for you:

Get used to sticking to your guns.

You’ll get your desired price more (though certainly not all) of the time, and you won’t miss the gigs you leave behind.

How I Said “No,” Then Got Paid Well

OK, so here’s a scenario from just before COVID…

I had a library respond to one of my marketing emails, asking if I could give a summertime performance.

Their budget was $200.

For reasons I won’t get into here, I love this library and this community, and I’ve actually donated a few performances there in the past when I could afford to.

But I wasn’t in a position to do that when they emailed, so I had to thank them for their interest and explain that my performance fee with travel expenses is several times their budget.

(It would be $1,050 for a special trip, or $500-700 if I’m in the area with other work.)


I told them that if I end up with bookings in the region around the same time, perhaps we could make something work for less than my usual rates.

I left it at that, and figured I’d get back in touch with them if/when I got more work in the area.

She Took The Ball and Ran!

Next thing I knew, this librarian had sent out a mass email to all librarians in a three-county radius, mentioning that I might be available for a series of performances this summer.

She also mentioned that she HIGHLY recommends me.

(This is where experience and reputation come in – this library has told me many times that I am their “favorite” performer.)

What Happened From There…

A few more libraries reached out to me expressing interest in a booking, but then I got an email from the Outreach Coordinator of the entire library system.

(The library system provides services to all of the libraries in that three-county radius.)

She wanted to write a grant to have me come and perform at several of their libraries over the summer.

She’d never seen me or heard me (that I know of), but she was going on the recommendation of one of their own.

“How much would that cost?,” she asked.

Long story short:

  • I quoted her my price per performance for a few different scenarios
  • the grant was written and submitted
  • the grant was successfully awarded
  • six performances were booked over three separate dates (two shows per day) for a total of $3,600.

What If I Had Said “Um, Sure, OK…$200 is Fine?”

Going back to the first contact, I surely could have just accepted that $200 gig at the first library.

And that would have been the end of the story.

But I didn’t.

And by not, people got creative and made the gig (and five others) possible.

For Established Artists: Is This Repeatable?

Now, this is obviously a special circumstance that we can’t expect to replicate every time.

But it’s not unique, either.

Once bookers are talking about you to other bookers, and their audiences are asking them when you’ll be returning, it’s time to set firm rates and stick to them.

Regardless of how full or empty your calendar might look.

Countless times over the last 25 years, I have turned down low-paying offers only to be booked by the same people at a later date at my regular rates.

Take what’s initially offered and you’ll simply never know whether that was possible.

What’s Been Your Experience Turning Down Gigs?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this. The “Comments” section is just 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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