Negotiating on Price: For Musicians and Artists

It’s nerve-racking, right?

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

But 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 to state your asking price. So you do, and 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 twice last month in situations where my asking price was higher than what they had to pay.

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 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 would 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 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, 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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12 Responses to Negotiating on Price: For Musicians and Artists

  1. Polka King

    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.

  2. Starsweeper

    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.

    • Dave Ruch

      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.

  3. Sol Salt

    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.


  4. Tom Hipps

    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.

  5. Andrew

    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!

    • Dave Ruch

      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.

    • Tom Hipps

      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.”

  6. Bill Ceddia

    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!

    • Dave Ruch

      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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