Negotiating on Price: For Musicians and Artists

It’s nerve-racking, right?

You work so hard to get bookings, and it can be a real uphill battle sometimes.

And then, finally, someone calls or emails . . . and they want you.

Awesome! Then comes the question.

What do you charge?”

Or maybe they say “we pay XYZ amount.”

Either way, it’s time for you to state your asking price.

You sweat, you ponder, and eventually you come up with a fee.

And what do they say?

“Oh, I’m sorry, that’s a little more than we have.”

What Do You Do Then?

We’ve ALL been there, dozens or hundreds of times. It sucks.

You’d like to do the gig, and perhaps you could really use the money, so what do you do?

Of course, how you answer that question is going to differ from gig to gig depending on things like:

  • how much (or little) you want to do it
  • how the gig or relationship with the booker might benefit you in other ways
  • how soon your next car payment is due
  • etc…

Two Recent Price Quotes

Here’s how I handled things recently in two situations where my asking price was higher than what they had to offer.

In both cases, I stuck to my price.

Guess what happened…

price negotiations for musiciansThey both hired me!

Of course, this doesn’t always work out, but I wanted to give you some first-hand inspiration – and perhaps a bit of courage – to try this approach next time the situation is right.

Because sometimes . . .

You Can Stick To Your Price

and still get booked!

In both cases, the venues were hosting a series of performances (one for adults on a historical topic, the other for children at a library) and they had a maximum dollar amount per week to spend on artists.

Each one asked me to be part of their series, but unfortunately, my asking price was (in both cases) 30% higher than their budget.

I had a few important things going for me:

  • I had a great reputation at both places
  • I didn’t really need the gigs due to a busy calendar
  • I knew I was worth what I was asking, and could deliver on that

I simply told them that I completely understood their situation, and if it didn’t work out this time, I would keep my fingers crossed for the next time.

I also offered one of the venues (a library two hours from home) a performance for their original budget if they were able to find me a second library gig that same day at an identical rate.

(They couldn’t, but they appreciated that.)

Then, I went back to other things I was doing. If it wasn’t going to work, I was OK with that.

Low and behold, both venues came up with the additional money over the next few weeks and booked me.

Delivering on Your Price

Now, this is only going to work in some situations, but let’s say you decided to stick to your guns and you got hired.

Then what?

Well, you want to make damn sure that you are worth every penny they pay you and then some.

Overdeliver with an outstanding performance or workshop that people will talk about the next time they come in to the venue.

happy audienceDo something extra, like:

  • promote the event to make sure your crowd is the biggest one they have
  • hang around an extra fifteen minutes at the end to talk with everyone
  • get a journalist to show up
  • take an interest in the booker and the venue and follow up with relevant articles or items of interest

Then, guess what? Everyone leaves really happy, and you’re worth the same amount (or more) next time.

What Has Your Experience Been?

Have you been in this situation and stuck to your guns? What happened when you did?

Or are you afraid you’ll lose the gig or turn the venue off?

There’s a “Comments” section just below. I’d love to hear from you.

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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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42 Responses to Negotiating on Price: For Musicians and Artists

  1. We are an acoustic folk trio and a festival wants us for a friday night show and workshops on saturday in the summer.
    Right now, airfare is about $500 each to go there.

    It is nervewracking. Any ideas?

    • Hi Steve – I don’t know where you’re located but perhaps your local/regional/statewide arts council has funding to offset some of your travel expenses if you can make the case that this festival represents an opportunity for career growth for your band

  2. Wow, very cool. As a jazz musician since age 16, I can relate…booked and played in so many local spots, it is very challenging.

    • I ask if we’ll be fed and watered, and if I have to provide my own sound/lights. If they feed/water me, and/or I get a bar tab, we do it for less. If we have to bring our own sound and light gear, we ask for a little more.

  3. I just had an inquiry to play a guys birthday party in the middle of Germany as a solo act. He saw me playing as a side man on tour there over fifteen years ago, the last time I wad there. I headline everything here in the states, but was always a side man in Europe for other acts. I have no idea what to negotiate towards over the pond for a private event, especially in today’s ever changing environs. Any ideas for a reference point?

  4. I’ve found that, when I really want to be sure of a packed venue, I change the name of my show to ‘FREE Beer”! Seriously, I appreciate the emails and always helpful articles. For me, a solo performer, I’ve had a few instances where I adjusted my price if the venue would guarantee three or more dates. A reasonable bargain for both sides makes it easier for them to fill their season, too. Cheers from chilly Wisconsin!

  5. Hi,

    I’m a guitar player of 45 years, not as a career but a part-timer. I play both lead & rhythm and usually don’t sing. I don’t have the resources to start my own rock band, so I have many times joined an established band. I know I’m definitely getting ripped off by these bands and it has jaded me. These are not touring bands, but local cover bands that I haven’t heard of, before or since working with them. Also, I carry my weight by hauling gear, set up and break down and online promo.

    So, I’m curious as to what is appropriate pay when joining an established rock band?
    Also, how can I tell if I’m being lied to. For example, one of the band members says the band got $500 when it actually got $1,000. Also, is there an appropriate way to split the pay, if not evenly? Thank you!

    • Good questions, John. Not really my line of work, so I couldn’t give you much help here but perhaps some other readers can.

    • I’m a guitarist for-hire for multiple bands around the Atlanta, GA area. I don’t expect that band pay is equally divided among players if I’m not part of the band. That may be true for equal bands members with a stake in the business but for someone like me who is basically a contractor, I just expect to get paid a certain amount for a show. That amount varies based on proximity and venue but averages aroun $150.

      How much the band actually gets paid is not my concern (nor my business). They have other expenses to deal with when running a band. For example, marketing, social media presence and maintenance, transportation costs, equipment costs etc. Sometimes, they will be ahead after getting paid and other times, they may fall behind. These are all things I don’t have to worry about as an outsider and are risks that they assume therefore, they get to reap any potential benefits as well. The band leader gets to call the shots when dealing with finances.

      If I wanted equal pay as a band outsider, then it’s only fair that I also pay for all other band expenses and the time-consuming work that involves.

  6. One of the things I like to do if I’m out of their price range is to recommend possible sources to supplement their budget. Many cities and states have arts fund grants available to venues. I can’t count the number of times groups have been able to meet my quote.

  7. Hi thx !
    But what about venues like stores and restaurants hit hard by the Covid pandemic
    I already know they’re on their last leg financially and this season we just want the opp to play out.
    I’ve been giving some cost breaks just to get the chance to perform when so many dates have been cancelled this year.
    Am hoping they will survive to see a better year and remember us and pay us more next season when they’re back on their feet.

  8. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your words off wisdom and encouragement, they’re greatly appreciated! Well, I’ve sang all my life since I was 5 years old when I discovered my musical Super-Hero Elvis!!!

    I’ve always wanted to be like Elvis and have sang several times over the years in public though never paid for it. I auditioned for The Voice in San Francisco Feb 2019, I sang in Discovery Bay’s Got Talent September 2018, getting ready for Oakley’s Got Talent May 2019. I take voice lessons everyday for one hour plus as I am getting ready for America’s Got Talent 2019 – 2020 season.

    I recently sang impromptu at a New Year’s party 2018 with a hired band who invited me to sing with them since the word got out that I sing. It went very well, I had fun and the funny thing is that when the band was playing nobody was dancing but when I got up and sang everybody got up to dance.

    It was very flattering and delightful to my heart that everyone really liked my performances. Out of that has come numerous requests for me to perform at private and public parties.

    While I’ve always wanted these kinds of opportunities I am unclear on how to formulate a price. Is it strictly by the hour, per song, how many total songs, the degree of difficulty in performing certain songs, by the amount of preparation involved, whether I or the venue provides the audio set up etc.

    I’ve been asked to perform at a Mother’s Day brunch 2019 for a city and they’re asking how much? They’re looking for 30-60 minutes of entertainment. How should I price it out? They’ve also checked out my YouTube channel: The Latin Elvis and liked what they saw and heard.


  9. Hi Dave!

    The weirdest thing is happening…. We are charging our clients more, and people are paying it! This shows me that my biggest price barrier was MYSELF and my own lack of confidence. I would state my price and then offer discounts before people even asked, or talk myself down to my lowest price in negotiations.. After reading your blog posts and watching your webinar, we had to run an experiment.., No Discounts! We stuck to it, even though it was painstaking at first, and what do you know? People don’t have any problem paying our new prices, and our confidence has risen. Thank you!

  10. Dave,

    You are so right! This is SUCH a great article. I find it so hard to stick to my guns while also providing the superior customer service that I pride myself on (and that I feel has made us more successful). Somehow, I feel that my clients can tell that I can just easily reduce the price to match their budget. Walking away or returning to work is SO hard, because I crave that feeling that I made them happy. Thanks for writing this. It’s a game-changer!

  11. Great post dave, I think it’s best to stuck to your guns! When I’m touring I accept lower offers but I always start with my asking price!

    I think it’s important to know your value in your market and sometime I have to lose gigs because of my asking price but i know I offer a very unique performance that I’m not comfortable accepting the same rate of pay as other musicians for the same gig.

    Store brand cream cheese is cheaper than Philadelphia cream cheese for a reason!

    Stick to your guns and do everyone in your town a favor!

    • Thanks for jumping in here Pentley, and I couldn’t agree more that offering something unique is the very best way to separate yourself price-wise from the pack.

  12. I am always surprised by the “play for less time for less money” approach. It takes every bit the same effort to set up and take down the rig, the day is less available for other events, the travel is the same. The playing is the fun part. If they want to guarantee and book a couple of more gigs for my musicians down the line, then we can negotiate, but reduce the playing time for less money? Always a no.

    • Interesting Stacey, thanks for sharing your view. I’ve gone both ways on it. My gigs are fairly short these days as it is, and I do love playing, so I don’t find myself negotiating on TIME very often, but I have done it a few times when a public event wanted my band but didn’t want to pay the full price. It gives you a bit of negotiating leverage when they can’t meet you all the way

  13. I lost a gig for sticking with my value and unfortunately I believe I will never work with his booking agent again, because if how it went down. I feel very sorry that it happened because it would’ve been a good connection for future work.
    But, unfortunately I was turned down.
    I want to stick to my guns but I’m a bit fearful at being passed over.

    • Hi Rebecca, Yes that’s always the dilemma isn’t it? I think we should always take the “good connection for future work factor” into consideration, as well as what our marketplace can bear and what our other opportunities are for better paying work.

      • Thanks….though I think you’re way ahead of me in the insight about “what our marketplace can bear “ department.
        I am dumbfounded by what the marketplace is and what it can actually bear. There seems to be huge disparities in this regard.
        And I feel slightly handicapped with regards to negotiating my value in MANY marketplaces….I need to study this better, deeper etc.

  14. I am to the point that I’d rather stick to what I think I’m worth and turn down a job rather than cut my price. First, though, I always try to educate the buyer about the value of what I offer and find other ways to accommodate their budget, such as play for a shorter period of time.

    Most buyers don’t think about how long it takes us to get to the performance and set up, etc. An hour job might take up five hours of my day. Without more information, they might not factor that into what they think the price should be.

    Love your blog, Dave! : )

  15. Great timing on this article, we had been approached recently by a local agent who sang our praises after seeing us perform and said he would be sending “plenty” of work our way. What he failed to mention was what he expected us to work for, nothing more than $250 for a 3 hour gig and most offers so far have been for less than that. Needless to say we have become proficient at saying “no thank you”

  16. Here in the US most all gig work is paid via a 1099 Misc tax form. So what you are paid is pre-tax and you are an independent contractor. So as a business person you are now entitled to write off expenses. By accounting for every bit of what you spend for the business you may find that items that you previously paid for out of pocket can become in part paid for with a discount by your income tax. I earn a very tidy sum from 150+ gigs a year and get to keep nearly all of it tax free.

  17. If you want to make $96,000/yr at a salary job, that would be $50/hr. This is the model I use to charge. (Of course, you can change that number to whatever you want to make per year).

    Multiply that number by how many people are in your show- and there is your number that makes it even worthwhile to leave your home.
    Factor in set up, tear down, performance and drive time.

    I believe this is a good starting point. If you are ok with Minimum wage, then go there.

    • Starsweeper – thanks for sharing that. It seems to me that it would work out IF you’re able to work 40 “billable hours” a week and still have enough time for office work and generating the gigs and sending posters and thank you letters and contracts and invoices and all the other stuff. But when it all shakes out, you won’t be making anywhere near $50/hour, of course. If the goal is $96K/year, you might want to build in more money per hour for gigs (including drive time, set up and tear down, etc. as you say) to give yourself some time and leverage to do all the other things we need to do as independent artists.

  18. Yes, Just today!!!!!!!
    Its crazy how such a coincidence it is that I saw your page today.
    The groom heard from a friend that I’m the up and coming band in our area, and he knew that I’m negotiable,
    So he pulled a fast one on me, and WhatsApp me this morning saying, I’d love you to play at my wedding, but my budget is not high, so I gave him my usual quote for a gig like that. Then he writes back, na – far to expensive, thanks anyways.
    So I asked him, what price was he looking at, so he said, I have a guy who will do it for £500 all in all, and another who will do it for £450.
    Firstly, thats impossible! One big fat Lie!!!!!!!!
    So I called my manager who cleverly advised me, and said ‘ Off course he’s aware that I want the gig, but he’s more desperate about me than I’m about his wedding’ So quote him a little cheaper, and explain that I love to do it but I can’t go lower than this amount.


    The moral of the story is, show him that you care, and show him that you want to help, but NEVER GET TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF!!! Never.


  19. I just did this today! (In truth, BEFORE I read your article:) I perform at senior housing communities (assisted living, memory care, etc.) during the week… a great niche I’ve found to provide income on “off” days. Generally, they pay less than a typical supper club or private party, but the shows are usually only 45 minutes to an hour and the smiles and cheer I bring to those people is a huge blessing. Anyway, I was booking a repeat performance at one of them today and was honest in the fact that though I made $___ the previous time I played there, most all other communities pay me $___. She ok’d the hike in pay. I think once she knew the going rate at most other properties was higher, she may have felt an obligation of sorts to match it (and I had already built enough trust so that she wouldn’t think I was fibbing). So I think that angle can work too. Even though they have budgets to watch like everyone else, they don’t want to be perceived as cheap.

  20. Great blog Dave.

    One method I use when delivering the quote to the prospect, is to say:

    “So the fee, inclusive of all expenses, including the 5 hour return journey (which is 225 miles) will be £xxxx.”

    Oh that I wish it was 4-figures by the way, but at least the client knows what efforts you are going to, in order to just physically get to the gig, before you’ve even played a note! This usually puts your hourly rate in to some perspective. If they’re not willing to pay after this, then perhaps it wasn’t meant to be anyway!

    • Andrew – thanks for jumping in here and sharing how you approach this. I always like to use an “all inclusive” number as well, rather than breaking down gig pay + travel expenses + lodging (if necessary) separately. I think presenting one total figure is just easier for people, but it’s always good to let them know what it is they’re paying for.

    • I do this too, Andrew… include details that remind them that there’s more to playing the show than just being there playing music. I usually also include something like, “I will provide my own Yamaha PA system so you won’t have to worry about any sound equipment issues. Just point me to an electrical outlet and I’ll take care of the rest.”

  21. Great post Dave! I go through this all the time. Here’s a few strategies I’ve successfully used over the years:

    1. Offer to come down in price and meet them halfway. Let’s say you quote the customer a price of $400. They mention they can only afford $200. Come back with a counter offer of $300.
    2. Offer a shorter performance to accommodate a reduction in fee. Using the example above, they bulk at your price quote of $400 for a 1 hour performance. Find out what their budget is or what they can afford and then tell them what you can do for that amount. Let’s say they only have $200 to spend. You then offer them a 30 minute performance for that amount. With this approach, you are willing to work for a reduced fee without giving them the full-course meal! You’re not going to settle for $200 and still give them a full 1 hour performance. Anyone who provides strolling type entertainment can adopt this approach. If a customer bulks at your 4 hour rate, suggest they go with 3 or 2 hours instead. This strategy works quite well with the bullshitters. A lot of clients tell you they can’t afford your price, low budget, price too high, etc. in order to intimidate you. Don’t fall for it!

    • Bill – always great to have your input here. I have used both of those approaches as well, and you’re right, they work!

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