When Others Will Play For Free

And the market is flooded with cheap talent…

I hear grumbles, rants, and complaints all the time about all those “hobbyist” entertainers who bring the whole market down by doing free and cheap gigs.

And while I’ve touched on the topic here and there, I haven’t really tackled it head on.

So here goes…

what to do when musicians don't charge enough for their services

I’m going to lay out five strategies to deal with this situation below, but first, a very important…

Reality Check!


  • There will ALWAYS be performers willing to play for free (or for low pay) – their motivations are not financial
  • Nothing we say, do, or bitch about is going to change that one bit – they’re operating from THEIR reality, not ours
  • There will ALWAYS be venues that won’t (or can’t) pay us what we’re worth, especially when there’s an abundance of cheaper talent available

Please spend a minute letting all of the above sink in.

It’s critical to moving beyond this trap.

And while you and I might be able to make really strong arguments about why entertainers shouldn’t perform for peanuts, that is never going to change the reality that they still will.

All the time.

So, the only real question is – – what are we going to do about it?

We’re not going to change them, so how do we continue to get paid well in this climate?

Here’s how I’ve done it…

5 Strategies to Get Paid Well (When Others Aren’t)

#1. Ask What You’re Worth and Don’t Look Back

(Stick to it!)

Know your value, and don’t play for less than that.


If that rules you out of a bunch of low-paying gigs, then so be it.

You will never get off the “cheap and free” gig circuit until you do this.

(And you might be surprised to get a few of those gigs anyways, but at your price.)

#2. Look For New Markets

They are out there!

If there’s a glut of cheap labor working the club, coffeehouse, or you-name-it circuit in your town, there are other places to do what you do and get paid better.

There really are.

Arts centers, libraries, community concert series, museums, schools – these types of “under the radar” gigs are often supported by grant funding or other community resources, and can pay significantly better than “for profit” establishments can.

#3. Become an Expert on Something (Anything!)

The second you can truly differentiate yourself from what those other acts are doing, and back that up with testimonials from people who’ve hired you, your rates make a lot more sense to the buyer.

They still might not be able to afford you, but they’ll be motivated to try.

I’ve been hired at my current rates ($500-700 + travel expenses) in places that typically only pay a fraction of that, precisely because I have something unique to offer.

Yes, they might typically pay $100-150 for a guy with a guitar who sings songs.

And I, too, am a guy with a guitar who sings songs.

But my material is accompanied by deeply-research stories about the music, and I bring lots of experience as a performer who can really engage audiences.

Figure out what your assets are – what sets you apart – and make that the center of your pitch.

(If nothing jumps out at you, create something! This is your “tilt” that will help justify your rates.)

The more you sound like everyone else on paper, the more your value will be lumped into that same category.

#4. Become a Go-To Resource

Becoming an ally to the people who hire you is a great strategy for standing out and earning more than everyone else.

When someone can’t afford my rates, I typically send them a free resource guide I created on how to find grant funding to hire performers.

They’re grateful, they see that I am professional and dedicated to my field, and helpful to others.

BONUS – This also sends a strong message that other venues just like them are able to hire higher caliber performers by accessing these same grant sources.

#5. Play The Long Game

This is key.

Don’t expect to start quoting your rates with new vigor and seeing immediate results – – you probably won’t.

(Especially if you’ve been working too long for too little in order to match the current market.)

It’s going to take some time to adjust your marketing materials to reflect the fact that you are not in the “dime a dozen” category.

And for the market to adjust.

And for you to identify and start reaching out for higher paying opportunities.

But the time to start is now!

What’s Been Your Experience With Low Paying Gigs?

I’d love to hear about it. The “Comments” section is just below.

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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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86 Responses to When Others Will Play For Free

  1. Dave,

    I found your page whilst looking for information on why some musicians will undercut to get gigs. I’m a singer/songwriter from Australia. This phenomenon is nothing new as you well know but it’s reared its ugly head again in the post-Covid era. The rationale being offered is that we (the venues) have done it tough and have limited budgets for entertainment blah blah. That may be true but try getting a plumber or electrician to work for less than they did this time last year. I usually charge $100 AU per hour for a solo, $150 per hour for a duo and $250 per hour for a band plus travel and accommodation if it’s more than half an hour from home. Duos are now doing 3 hour gigs for $250 and bands are doing 3 hour gigs for $500. I won’t lower my prices and as a result I’m not being offered gigs but the venues don’t seem to have any trouble filling the spots with desperate artists. On the plus side I did score a New Year’s Eve gig about an hour from home at $800 for a duo. They are also providing a room and meals.

    Thanks for your advice.

    • I hear you Peter, and between the very real COVID-related devastation to venue budgets and the burning desire of many musicians to get back at it, I could see this being the case for a while. If only New Year’s Eve happened every weekend! Best of luck navigating these new waters.

      • Thanks Dave. Just to clarify what I meant by desperate artists – they fall into two broad categories. Ones who have a day job and don’t need the money and just want to play again for the sake of playing and full time musos who will take whatever is offered to them to get back into it. The sad thing is that some of them are quite talented but are selling themselves short and setting a precedent. Peter.

  2. The next town over (about 6 miles) needed someone to play guitar & sing Christmas songs @ their annual “Christmas Walk.” The gig for for 4 x 45 minute sets, outside in cold weather. I love playing Christmas music & the venue was close by …

    But 4 hours? Oh well, I thought to myself, I’ll give it a try. I emailed her back: “$400.”

    She emailed me back: “I know you’re talented & would be a good match for our little festival. We thinking more like $75.”

    I thought to myself … “That’s crazy. The gig is outside in the cold & will more than likely be snowing.”

    Emailed her: “$350.”

    She replied: “$100.”

    I answered: “Don’t think I can do that. We’ll try again next time.”

    She replied: “Thanks anyway.”

    And a few weeks later … Sure enough, some other poor sucker was sitting on a metal chair in 25 degree weather beating on his guitar & singing Christmas carols. But at least it wasn’t me. My next Christmas gig was indoors, for $300.

    • Kudos to you Steve for both standing your ground AND not playing in the cold lol. I did that once…it was only September in Cincinnati but it got down to 28 degrees and I had to play 3 hours…I literally was unable to play for the next 3 days…never again!

  3. Really great article, Dave. This issue exists everywhere, even when I had my Etsy shop. (I’m also a painter who made cool items using my images, like jewelry boxes.) It was clear that some competitors just didn’t do the math on their profits, as in their zeal to sell something at any price, they were literally just giving their wares away. It’s tough to compete with that when you’ll selling comparable goods.

    But you have to take a stand, as you say. In music, for a long time I did do the college circuit, and while I might have made $500 for just doing a lunchtime gig, I can say with full authority that there is nothing more disheartening than playing before a college lunch crowd…in their cafeteria. So I would mix it up, doing paid gigs like that for the money and then a “pass-the-hat” show at more boutique clubs, where the crowd was appreciative but who also didn’t expect to pay.

    The issue has come up yet again as I have an online art school and will be launching a year-long course. I’ve been mulling over price points, and you’ve inspired me to go for top dollar, mainly because I just can’t bear the weight of resentment anymore, where I feel like I’m working so hard for so little. I’ve had plenty of that to last a lifetime. Time to switch things up. Thank you!

  4. Greetings all!! Kindie/Kids musician here. It’s been a while since I posted so I thought I would share a story. In August of 2018, I decided to take a break from music/gigging. It got to the point where it wasn’t fun, people never wanted to pay anything near what I needed and for the most part, no one “got” what I was trying to do. I was fed up and literally wanted to burn all my equipment.

    A few months into my sabbatical I got a message from a contact at a local kids museum. She was literally one of the few people who DID get what I (my band) was trying to do and has always been good to us. She knew I was stepping back but wanted to know if we’d play at their Noon Year’s Eve event. At that time it would have been the 3rd or 4th year in a row. I naturally said yes, I wanted to keep up good relations. We played and it was great.

    I continued my break until August of 2019. I arrived back on the scene rested and hopeful…full of ideas! I started playing a few shows right out of the gate. then I found out my contact at the museum was leaving so I thought “well there goes our chances of playing there anymore.” I was wrong!! Their new person reached out and asked if we would return because NYE just wou;dn’t be the same without us.

    Ok so this where the cautionary tale begins and how this points to the whole know your worth theme of this post. when I started back I SWORE I would stick to my guns on my rate.so when I was asked to come back with my band I quoted a rate higher than years past. In the past I told them “pay what you can, you’ve always been good to us” in hopes of not onlymaking a little extra scratch but also contacts and future gigs. This year I decided “hey, this has got to be more worth it”. I always have to take at least half a day off work as well as the other guys. There’s a little travel involved and of course setup and break down. I gave her a quote that was less than what we’d normally rake in but still doable for us, considering our history with the museum. She didn’t like it so i cam down a bit…to keep the relationship and we usually enjoy playing anyways.

    Fast forward to the day of the show. The vibe was SO different this time. We did not get any sort of mentions or tags in promotions leading up to the event (like in the past). there was video taken at the event that we were excluded from (unlike in the past) we were not told how things were going to flow that day (unlike before). It was just different. But we play our show (less a drummer so I played guitar AND kick) we do our normal sets (like years past) The countdown happens everyone cheers, we had played 2 sets like normal and everyone leaves. Janitors are sweeping the floor at this point.

    We pack up and I track down our contact who now informs me that she doesn’t think we played long enough. that my rate was too much for our time we were there. (which total was about 2.5 hours) the rate I charged…for two band members…was less than I charge for a solo act of the same length. She did not see our value. I explained we did as weve always done. she basically said that was how so and so did it..things are different now. Yea they are.

    I was SO mad at myself. It ended up just being a waste. Playing wasn’t fun b/c of how different everything was. We weren’t treated with the same respect like in the past. Our worth was questioned and ultimately I had to undercut myself again and knock money off b/c it was made clear they weren’t going to pay the agreed amount.

    so after taking a day off work, already playing for less than originally quoted which was less than it should have been…we walked away with even less than expected. Never again. I should have stuck to my first number (i explained to her at that point why the number was what it was) and if they didn’t like it…then that would’ve been that. I didn’t hold myself to my worth and I suffered because of it…big time. Heck I was even trying to explain the day of why the fee was what it was. Travel, setup/breakdown/expenses/show time/practice time/song writing/etc. People don’t understand that they’re not just paying for what they see that day.

    Sorry for the LONG post. I encourage you all…and I will encourage myself even more…stick to your guns. If I had I would have either held out and they would have met my original fee or I wouldn’t have played and homnestly not missed out on much money. I would have made more in that time per hour if I had just worked. It’s 2020. New year…new value!!!

  5. I’ve been gigging for decades and I do sound for venues sometimes and the most whacked out trend I’ve seen recently is not people playing for free, its bands or even solo acts miming their whole show, lead vocals included, when I ask them about this they seem to think its the most normal thing in the world to do, they say things like, ‘ we tried playing live but it didn’t sound good ‘ or ‘ well , the crowd expects the songs to be spot on’, and so on, some dont even make an effort to hide the fact that they’re miming and the sad thing is the crowd never cares, as long as the show is chest thumping loud and there is lots of snazzy lights, you’re golden

  6. I like reading your items. I swear that I am so tired of my congregation asking me to perform for them for free at social events. I have been saying no to that request for over 2 years. They are relentless. I keep telling them that I don’t perform on my free time. And they try the guilt trip, “How can you say you are willing to live and die for your brothers if you won’t sing us a song.” I compromise by taking a song from services and showing them how long to heard certain notes in the song and then encourage everyone to sing together as a group after I finish showing them certain aspects of the song. It calms them down somewhat, but they are getting on my nerves. They don’t look at what I do as a job. But, that’s exactly what is…my job. Sorry…venting.

  7. I really enjoy your articles. They are full of helpful tips and your attitude is perfect. Creative people need a boost to keep them going when hit by obstacles they can’t seem to overcome.

  8. Hey Dave-Just received the following email from a school PTA. Looking to see how you would handle something like this.

    “Thank you for reaching out! We have an advertising opportunity if you’re interested. We are holding a spring gala on May 11th and putting together a home birthday party package to auction off with face painting, cake decorations, and are still looking for entertainment. This is going to be one of our “big ticket” items and are wondering if you would like to donate your services and be part of this? If so, it is tax deductible and you will be listed in our program and your logo and a link to your website will be featured in our online auction platform and be seen by hundreds of bidders both at the event and bidders from home.”

  9. I have been performing for free for over 30 years now..nursing homes, hospitals, schools, churches, Non profits, relays for life etc. .I find so much enjoyment from playing guitar and singing. I have a singing partner of over 20 years who is very reluctant to sing for nothing. For the past year I have been playing once a month at a local pub between sets for another band who takes the money they make and donate to charity. I love doing this as this has boosted my confidence so immensely and I finally feel like I have some kind of talent. People seem to be surprised when our duo gets up and performs because we are 2 middle aged rockin women… And I get my fix every month.. This is strictly a hobby for me. However I have found that the more people who find out I am donating my time and talent the more people are looking for me. I sympathize with musicians who have been fortunate to have the gifted talent of music to make a career out of. I am 60 years old now and just want to have fun but a little bit of something would be awesome too! I find so much peace in music…

  10. I find that the market for quality entertainment is going way down from when I started my band 25 years ago. There are countless entertainment groups in the Detroit area, so the competition is unbelievable. As far as I know, there is only one superior band whose leader will not budge on their well-deserved rates. That group basically now does one gig a year, and they donate their service for that to the kids who are the future of jazz. The leader of this group will cut his big band down to meet the rates that people are willing to pay, and that does not happen often. I find this whole idea of competing for cheap jobs a big dilemma. I think the members of my band are willing to work at any price. I do not want to work for peanuts, as I do a multitude of jobs for the band, pay out a lot of money from my own pocket, and spend a lot of secretarial time just to promote for one cheap gig. I just don’t want to work cheaply any more. Unfortunately, very good bands that are my competition are playing for peanuts. So, I find myself trapped. It’s easier if you’re the sole entertainer, but it’s very difficult when there are many members of the group to satisfy. Most of the members in my group are also members of other bands. If I don’t keep them working, they’ll go with the groups who work even if it’s cheap pay. Lots of musicians around here will play for free just to be around perceived “cool” musicians. I personally cannot stand begging for a crust of bread. Is it better to receive a crust of bread or nothing at all? I remain perplexed and weary from the whole situation.

    • Hey Lynne – sounds like a tough situation for sure. Might be time to innovate. Have you thought about a smaller group? A themed show you can sell for better rates? New non-jazz venues?

      • My mind races thinking of different ways to go. Right now, I’m just resting from being overwhelmed trying to figure it all out. I’m getting older (68), and that sure doesn’t help with all the physical and mental challenges to run a band effectively. So, resting is the best thing I can come up with right now for me, instead of making decisions that are not thoroughly thought out. Thank you for all your wonderful suggestions, Dave!

  11. When I started performing live two years ago I took anything I could get. I busked at Farmers’ Markets and played my share of $75 and $100 gigs. I am a very unique artist in that I play a highly original form of blues from North Mississippi (Hill Country Blues) that no one else is doing in my neck of the woods. I also am a one-man band; I play drums with my feet and a cigar box guitar…no one else is doing this either. People love what I do because it’s different and as a result I was hired to play 114 gigs last year. Finally believing that I was indeed worth more, I set a new pricing standard and immediately turned down every offer for less than my new minimum which, in some cases, is 4 times as much as what I used to play for. I am happy to say that all 80 gigs I have on the books this year are at or above my new minimum. With that comes more income, more confidence, and more satisfaction. I am now considering if I am worth even more.

  12. I love this article, Dave! I tell my friends that want to play music for a living to know and believe what they’re worth. Charging more can also psych you up to provide better quality, it helps build your morale and eventually you will find your target market.
    One thing that helped me was to find the place where wealthy people go and play the stuff they want to hear! A local wine bar in a nice neighborhood had me play every Friday for a couple of years (a pretty low-paying gig but the consistency was key). The clientele there who wanted entertainment for their private events started hiring me and it has continued to build my career. Thanks for this resource and keep on playing for good pay!!!

  13. Being a jazz singer, I used to sit in a lot; not so much lately; and no gigs. It’s a tough, limited market!

    Thanks for your articles!

  14. Since I have been mostly a “hobby performer” I have playing many low-paying gigs. Everything from 2 hours @ Starbucks for $50 to free gigs a tiny libraries in SW Ohio.

    And even worse, I have been promised payment and never received a few times over the years.

    Nursing homes / retirements centers typically pay anywhere from $50 to $225. Some months I have mad $1,000 / $1200 playing these places.

    And all that is okay, I told myself over the years, as long as I enjoyed doing it. But now, I’m nearly 62, & dragging all that equipment around,, setting up, then tearing down & packing it back home, is just not any fun. Playing for folks is always great, but the rest of it is not.

    So I have cut back. Way back.

    I’ll still play for free at some of the tiny libraries (I’m friends with the librarians) & I play yearly benefits at a couple of churches, but to go a festival & play for a couple hours, or as background music to a party or a convention to make $75 / $100, well, it’s just not enjoyable anymore.

    I have some friends in this same market, that play the same places for the same money, & they evidently still enjoy doing it enough to keep doing it.

    There’s always a “payoff” to everything each of us does, or we wouldn’t do it. Sometimes the pure joy of playing for people is enough. Sometimes it’s not.

    Like Samuel Johnson said: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Guess that is probably true as far as playing music goes also.

    • Hey Steve…I’m originally from Cincy and would like to chat with you…may have some suggestions and have a couple questions for you…hopefully Dave won’t mind me asking this… you can email me thru my website … my name dot com or my email is my first initial and last name at aol. Hope you’re cool with that Dave 🙂

  15. I look forward to reading all the comments.
    Great article, Dave! So much more than an “article” (I’m sure we’ve all been tempted on the internet by click-bait once in a while–empty chatter most of it), it is a wonderful treatise. I agree with you, some musicians love music so much that they will play for the joy of it, or to serve their community–they have day jobs and don’t need the money. Nothing at all wrong with that, because it puts more music into our world, that we need. The world does not owe anyone a music career, but if we can make a living at music– how beautiful and awesome. One thing I do for requesters of free music, I say “I make a living at music, and do a few volunteer gigs a year. I’m sorry, I have already booked my volunteer concerts! Ask me another time, and if you like I can email you my programs and pricing in case you have money in your budget another time.”
    There are a few organization near and dear to my heart which I enjoy performing for no money, but sometimes ask for lunch, gas money, a year’s membership, or whatever I can think of at the time!
    Thank you Dave!

  16. It would be awesome if all the indie artists in this post do a tour and get paid nicely for it. Problem is finding the venues to book at that pays.

  17. Hi! I am planning a Fall Bazaar for our church. I thought it might be nice to have someone perform a few songs during the event. As you might guess, we don’t have money to pay as we are fundraising too but we provide coffee and snacks. Since we will be doing this on Dec 2 in the morning, from about 9 to 12 noon, some Christmas carols will be great. Do you know any performers willing to do this for our parishioners? Thanks.

  18. Great stuff- and also, kudos for using “they’re, their, and there” within 2 sentences of each other and getting each one right! I will absolutely read anything else you write on that basis alone! But great content as well, thanks for writing it!

  19. Most performers that really put in the time and work to have an entertaining professional quality show won’t play for free. They know the value of their performance and if the venue won’t pay it they walk away. Conversely, most people that will routinely play for free (excluding benefits, etc.) usually suck. As a promoter, I haven’t found many acts worthy of being on our stage that will play for free nor would I expect it. I am constantly bombarded by substandard bands that really don’t have a clue what it takes to have an act that will draw people through the gate. Sure, they’ll play for very little but you get what you pay for. When a good band, that I would otherwise hire, has a reputation for playing for free pizza at a club in my geographical market area, I definitely factor that into my decision to book and what pay to offer.

      • It is a buyers market in the live music business. A lot of really good bands play at bargain prices. I often wonder why a promoter would put crap on his stage just because it’s cheap or free. Good bands are an investment, bad bands are just an expense. If a venue will put substandard talent on their stage because it’s cheap, it is probably nowhere you want to perform anyway. Remember, only bands that have proven drawing power can make big money.

        • Re: why some places hire bad bands–I’ve found many times that audiences in these kinds of places (which for me are the bars, sports bars, wine shops, any place where music is an afterthought) can’t tell a great band from a good band and sometimes even from a bad band. Especially if they’re related to somebody in that band. The expectation has been set very low for many, and to rise above it isn’t something that’s noticeable to this set of promoters and audiences.

    • Absolutely Andy, the cream rises to the top and should be rewarded accordingly. It’s great to have your perspective from this side of things.

  20. Musicians need to objectively evaluate that their craft is truly at a professional level. Is it the same caliber as what you would expect the work from a licensed plumber or electrician to be? If not, some improvement is needed. It may be that the musician does not have the inate talent to be a professional performer and should be playing music just for their own enjoyment. If a musician can entertain at a level where the audience is willing to pay for the experience, the pay should be at minimum what someone working in the trades is making for their time. Don’t give it away. It’s hard to become a $1000 call girl when you have the reputation of a $50 hooker 😉

  21. Thanks for this. I plan to share it with a guild I belong to and with other performers. This is a tough leap to make when you are desperately trying to build a fan base. It’s worth the risk.

    • Hi Karen – I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for this approach if your goal is to build a fan base. I think you could probably accomplish both goals simultaneously, but the quickest way to build a fan base would obviously be to play as many shows as possible, regardless of the pay. This article is speaking more to the professional or semi professional performer who relies on gigging for some or all of their income. Sometimes, both of those things are true (you want to build a fan base AND you need to be making decent money performing), but not always.

      • You are worth your drawing power. Work as hard to put butts in seats as you do your music. Unless you are a famous performer whose name on the bill alone will pull in a crowd, getting people to your shows is key to repeat bookings and new bookings. I have run a “for profit” bluegrass music festival for going on 25 years. When I book a band it is more than hiring a band to provide a couple of sets of quality music. I make it clear that I will promote the band and I expect the band to promote my event. It isn’t hard for a promoter to check social media and website to see which bands promote their performances at your show. When that isn’t happening, the bands don’t get the job again. When it does happen, I am able to rebook them for a higher fee. Of course, little of this holds true in the artificial “not for profit’ grant funded market where everyone gets paid no matter the turnout for the event.

        • Andy,

          While this is excellent advice you gave and very much true it’s not all entirely true. There are some musicians such as myself (when I play Solo) Where I am usually hired as background music for an event and the draw has no dependence on me whatsoever such as private parties and corporate events. I am there mainly to provide a service…pretty much the same as the caterer who is hired based on the service they perform not the people they draw. I realize this situation is more the exception than the rule but it does exist for many musicians. So, even though I do agree with what you said and you are correct and bands definitely need to do their share to promote themselves, I just wanted to chime in on a different scenario 😉

  22. Dave, once again a great post! Yes, unfortunately there will always be musicians willing to play for free (keep in mind those of you who do…as soon as you play for “free” you are really paying to play…gas, travel, parking etc). I live in Nashville where the new 18 yr old that just came to town will play for free and yes, I have lost gigs because of it but I TOTALLY agree with your 1st point and although I do sometimes negotiate I have no problem turning down a gig if it’s below my worth and wish more musicians did the same. The 1st rule in business is…once you give away something for free you won’t get the same person to pay for it.

    I recently turned down a music library deal for one of my tracks (don’t worry, I’ve signed many) because they wanted an Exclusive deal (common), 100% of the Publishing (standard) but, also wanted 50% of my Writers Share (WTF???) If anyone wants to read the full scoop on it and why it’s OK to say “NO,” I’ll copy my blog post on it below. Be strong fellow pickers! 🙂

    100% of Zero

    Often as a musician (or in any field where fees are negotiated) there is a saying something to the effect of 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. However, I recently realized that is not always the case.

    First, a brief overview of songwriting income and how it’s split. In the songwriting world much of the income from a song is split between the people who wrote it and publishers. In a nutshell version, half of the song’s income goes to the writer(s) and half to the publisher(s) so if you wrote a song with another person and neither of you had signed away the publishing you would both get half of the writer’s share and half of the publisher’s share, essentially 50/50. Now let’s say you both wrote the song yet your co-writer had signed a publishing deal then his publishing portion is split between him and his publisher. Breakdown = you get 50% (your writer share and your publisher share), he gets 25% (his writer share) and his publisher gets 25% (his publishing share. Get the idea? This is a very general example but should get the idea across. Obviously there are many ways this can be divvied up but this should give you an idea of how that works. The writer should ALWAYS retain his portion of the writer’s share. Since a publisher helps to get a song placed (among other many duties) it can be very beneficial to give up your publishing share to a publisher as it can mean much more revenue and other successes down the road. Hence, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

    In the Film/TV music world a music library basically acts as the publisher so the same standard applies. If I sign a song that I wrote by myself to a music library they typically become the publisher and therefore get the publisher’s share and I get my writer’s share. Often when a song is placed there is also an upfront payment (sync fee) which is typically split 50/50 also. One thing about music libraries unlike conventional music publishers is that often the deals can be “non-exclusive” which means I can have the same song signed to multiple libraries. Some deals are “exclusive” which means I can only have it signed to that one library. There are goods/bads to both but that is all beyond the scope of this blog for now but just know both types of deals exist in the Film/TV music world.

    Now the meat of it all. Recently I was offered a deal from a library ( we won’t mention any names but they CouldB and Entertainment company you might Google …oops, did that slip? 😉 ) that was an Exclusive deal (OK, I’ve done those before) they get the entire publisher share (again very standard) BUT also wanted HALF of MY writer’s share? Say what??? That’s 75% of the entire pie! I even had to email them to make sure that wasn’t a typo. Nope, that’s their “deal”. As Dr. Evil would say…”How about NOOOOOOO… you crazy Dutch bastard!”. OK, so I don’t know if he was Dutch (nothing wrong with that) but he definitely was the other. I literally had to wait 24 hours before responding to their offer to avoid telling them they could bleep bleep bleep themselves and just replied with a professional “No thank you”.

    I had mentioned this to other industry professionals and they also felt this company was out of their minds and I truly hope no song writers out there ever sign this kind of deal. No writer should EVER give up their writer’s share to someone who was NOT a writer of the song. This is a case where 100% of zero WAS better and here’s why. The exclusive deal meant I could not pursue other avenues with the song…now I can. I have also hung onto my integrity as well as my writer’s share and stuck up for my rights as a creator. Why would I give half of my writer’s share to a party that DID NOT write any of the song? Too often musicians give in to a bad deal out of desperation and fear of saying “No”. It’s OK to say no because sometimes 100% of Zero can be a better deal.

  23. Dave– the problem is that the public thinks it is perfectly OK for musicians to go unpaid,and yes,getting grants,etc.. you do nothing to solve that.Learn the facts?? Dave, are you oblivious to the mismanagement and utter wrongdoing that prevails in the biz today?? perhaps,and you can well afford to be ,as you are thriving in a totally separate corridor,where the music industry cannot touch you.your way will not work for everybody.i don’t know about waiting for someone to save me,,,,but i do know about speaking up!!thats where the PC comes in.you do not speak out against the unfairness and the wrongdoing,and that is why you do not know about the backlash and the blacklisting..and FYI–
    1-Payola is alive and well
    2- re-titleing was invented by music publishers, not musicians,and the harm done to the artists is mind-boggling
    (just 2 examples)

    • This all sounds like commercial music vs. indie approach. Whenever I read what Dave has to say I’ve never thought that he was offering advice on how to make it big in the industry. It’s more about honing your craft and how to attempt to make a living at it. Sure, chasing grants and all that might not be ideal for someone who wants to be on a major label or I may even go so far as someone who just trying to do this and make a living at it. I don’t feel Dave has ever said “follow these steps and you will be successful, 100%”.

      My belief is, with the inherently as indie musicians, we are speaking out against the biz. We are taking matters into our own hands and saying “ya know I’m not going to wait around for xyz to happen”. I think most of us on this forum are just trying to figure it all out and Dave’s writings are certainly not gospel and I think he would agree. He’s always said he’s just a resource.

    • Richard – with grant funded work, musicians get paid. I’m not understanding your point. I guess you’re saying that because the audience hasn’t paid an admission charge for some events, they THINK the musicians are playing for free? That has not been the case in my experience, and there’s usually an announcement in the beginning and/or the end where the presenter or the artist clearly states that funding has been provided by XYZ organization or entity. I’ve never gotten the impression that people assume I’m playing for free, and I also don’t get the impression that people are no longer going to support any events with an admission charge now that they’ve attended an event that was free for them. I DO get the sense that some percentage of the audience at these grant-funded events are people that are not “music fans” per se, and DON’T seek out musical entertainment at clubs and the like. I view it as a big positive to reach some of those folks with what I do, but you may disagree there.

      You’re right that I don’t speak out against the music “biz” because I have nothing to speak out against. As you say, my work really doesn’t intersect with the music “business” at all – I’ve purposely structured it that way – and the whole point of the 2 1/2 years worth of articles I’ve been writing is to help others who might want to follow a similar path. That’s why the blog is called “Educate and Entertain,” not “Success in the Music Industry.” I understand this approach is not for everyone, and your realities might be far different than mine, but you if anybody should know that’s where I’m coming from – you’ve been here since almost Day 1! And I really appreciate your contributions.

    • richardwise, you obviously didn’t read (or chose to ignore) Dave’s intro to this article. Enough people like yourself are grumbling and complaining… Dave is offering solutions. Yes, there is corruption and unfairness in every walk of life… it’d our choice whether to succumb to it or rise above it. I make a living playing music in lounges, supper clubs, private parties, assisted living communities, etc… I don’t play any schools or museums like Dave does, so your statement about him being in a different realm may be true, but a making a living performing music can also be made in more conventional ways. It isn’t a cakewalk, but I’m doing it.

  24. Dave, i posted no negativity(is that a double negative?) about grants–what i say is that it leaves the problem intact,and goes around it. i would take a grant if i could get one,maybe i will some day.but there is still an elephant in the living room.in a way you are right that there is no point (i did not skim)in crying about free players,etc…,and also 3chord Dylans(including Bob)and dope-headbangers can go unpaid,for all i care.But say nothing?? hmmmm..
    i have said for years that there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a clearly adversarial tact in this area– there should be a “Save the Musicians” charity with a focus on consciousness-raising. if musicians started “working it” like those girls that don’t want their hynies grabbed at the office anymore– things could change.if you are pro- free music– i’m anti-you.(too vague??).dont be P.C. –learn the facts and make a new P.C.(or C.P.C.)
    rant over

    • Hey Richard – sorry if I misread your thoughts on grants. I don’t see them leaving the problem intact though, if the “problem” is performers who will work for low wages.

      As for a “Save the Musicians” campaign, I guess the point of the article is that we musicians can save ourselves. I’m not willing to wait around for anyone else to save me, are you?

      When you say “learn the facts and make a new PC,” you’ve totally lost me. I have been learning the facts and making my full-time living as a musician for over 25 years now, and have found ways to circumvent some of the “low pay” traps that are out there. That’s all I’m trying to offer up here.

      And as for free music, there will always be concerts and other events that are free and open to the public, where the funding to produce the event and pay the performers comes from other sources. I’m not against any of that.

  25. My experience with low paying gigs (most of them to date, LOL) leads me to believe that your acceptance of them leads to a corresponding low rate of respect for you as a musician/performer. ( for laughs check out “musician exterminator” on YouTube). This is how many people view musicians. Audiences at low paying gigs tend to be lower quality audiences (!) as well, paying much more attention to their beer than the performance. Why? Because they paid more for it! It’s the same as if you bought a pair of shoes for 29$, you simply aren’t going to value them as much as the pair you paid 290$ for. Thanks for the blog Dave, it’s helping me to make a much needed transition. BTW my first forays in music performance were made in prison, with my then church outreach group. Got a lot more respect there than when I went “professional”, but of course I had a captive audience.

    • Totally agree Bobby; low rate of respect for you, and often a low rate of “self worth” develops too (“there’s no good paying gigs anymore…”). And to your point about the $29 shoes vs. $290 shoes, this goes for the people who hire you too. Time after time, it is the venues that have paid you the most that are the most happy with your show, and want you back again. Go figure!

  26. This is a fantastic post, Dave. It’s good to know one’s value, make a special niche, and with professionalism, become the ‘go-to’ in my area. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

  27. Hi Dave,
    Excellent advise on strategies to get proper pay!!

    It can be tempting to take the odd low-paying gig when things are slow, but it really does set a precedent.

    I’m a full-time musician in Alberta, Canada, where the economy has been really struggling for the past three years (due to the oil business slump), and is very slowly coming out of it.

    Because of this scenario many venues have been opting for young, indie artists and university combos, all of whom are happy to get a few dollars and a free dinner.
    One strategy that I’ve used is to not lower my rate per hour, but offer a client the option for a two hour booking instead of the usual three hours. This often works and it maintains my rate standards.
    Thanks for your solid, real-world advise, Dave! I’m going to pursue new markets as you suggest!
    Cheers • Rick

  28. Your suggestions are spot on. There will alwys be groups will play for free or little more than gas money. This is especially true in the Big Band genre. While we employ a sliding scale, at the end of the dayI believe that all musicians have to ask themselves a simple question: If you don’t respect yourself, why should anyone else?
    While amateur groups trying to pass themselves off as professional groups hurt our genre, those groups along with other who do open rehearsals which are usually little more than guys’ nights out, actually end up sending some work our way. About 10-15% of our dates come from people who have gone out, heard and seen some of these other groups. Foks are often turned off by the lack of profesionalism – musically, appearance-wise, and amount of time between tunes.

    We are frequently asked to perform for free. While we will give a discount to grassroots nonprofits, we have found that when you do a freebie for one group, you end up making one friend and dozens of enemies. Nothing spreads faster than the word that you performed for free.

    About once or twice a year we get contacted by panic-striken event organizers who “booked” a group to perform for free at their event only to have the group cancel after they take a paying date. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

    • Great advice Joe, and if our clients get great service and a great show from us, they are getting what they paid for!

  29. Dave – Great blog entry. You hit the nail on the head with your opening Reality Check – Music is such a part of our humanity. It’s accessibility as well as its complexity are why we have such a broad range of people creating, listening, performing, and experiencing the joy of music in all forms. You are right to state that financial gain is not the motivation for many and so “the market” has to be defined by each professional performer. You offer a great set of strategies for your readers. I look forward to more of your entries. Back home from a great weekend in Philadelphia at KindieCOMM. All the best – Tim

  30. Oh very good point!! I think you have just cleared out a lot of frustration I’ve been experiencing for months. I am (maybe should say was) in the kids music/kindie scene. I think it’s hard enough to get communities, families, etc to see the value in kids music b/c at most events it’s a filler. Or people think of Barney and Kids Bop and they DO NOT want that at their event. So there’s a stigma there that doesn’t scream “pay me for this!!”. I have found it is NO problem to get people excited about my music AT a show but it’s hard to get them to pay for it. (either in ticket sales or CD/t-shirt/etc sales) So what’s the best option then? Like you mentioned grant money, or event sponsorship in my case, serve well to get the artist what they need to make the gig worth it but there’s still no responsibility on the attendee’s end to commit to your craft. All they see if FREE and do not know what happened behind the scenes to get that artist up on stage.

    So now they think that artist will play for free (not saying savvy people won’t pick up on what’s really happening) and falsely assume that artist is independently wealthy or doing music as a “hobby”. I am not saying sponsorships and grants aren’t a good road to travel but at some point people have to be willing to contribute to what’s happening….right?

    I guess I think if I were to go see a band I liked at a local club, I don’t expect to pay nothing to get in. Is kindie, or any other genre people are doing on here, any different?

    • Hey Nathan – thanks for jumping in here. See my comments on Richard’s and Andy’s posts. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  31. you said true things,Dave! all true.
    i have seen it this way–
    1- the areas that do not pay are not markets
    2- the places that do not set a proper stage for an artist and at least attempt to maximize the audience experience may claim to be venues,but are not.
    that said…i must say that exploiting grant money is more of temp/fix than a proper solution.it really takes the audience out of the equation.the audience still gets free music and is not made to think how this occurs. the cycle must be broken!!

    • I tried to reply to you Richard but it put it as a standalone comment. Anyways…would love to know what you think

    • As I have mentioned before, getting paid by grant money is like receiving a welfare check from the government. It isn’t for real. Having people pay their hard earned dollars to experience you performance is where it’s at.

      Event producers are the “talent gatekeepers” in the live music industry. Too many of them will present the music of their musician friends or those willing to play for free or cheap. This usually results in a substandard performance and a negative spiral in the venue’s attendance. Then they will say that there is no money to be made presenting live music. Raise the bar!

      • To each his own Andy. As I mentioned when we last discussed this, you are operating from a “for-profit event producer” mentality, which is only one of many ways in which the performing arts industry functions.

        And it sounds like you’ve been very successful with your festival and other activities. which is awesome. You have lots of good experience and advice to share. But your model is not applicable when we talk about, for instance, artists going into schools – should the kids be paying an admission charge? Or should the musicians not be getting paid in this case? How about a performance at a public library that is educational and entertaining? Sometimes, music IS free for the audience, and the venues hosting it are not profiting from it in any way either. Sometimes the performance fulfills an important part of the organizational mission of whomever is sponsoring the event. There are lots and lots of scenarios.

        • Good counter points here Dave. You’re right, when it comes to community events like libraries and schools…no the artist shouldn’t expect the kids to pay an entrance fee. I think, especially for me, this is where frustration lies with the genre. It’s SO multi-faceted and can be utilized at so many different venues that there doesn’t seem to be one set of rules to follow that get you want you want all the time. And I know that’s why you do these blogs. Like one of your key points was to continue to expand your markets. Not making money doing the school thing? Try a different approach. The artist has to be flexible and fluid.

          But I also know that many artists, like yourself, are doing this to bring home the bacon. I was/am more on the side-project spectrum and can’t devote as much time energy to the craft as I would like. So it’s understandable that some readers are thinking more on the “for profit” spectrum b/c heck…they want to make one! It’s also tough b/c the intensity any one of the artists experience from their fan base and venue base will vary from market to market, state to state…heck even town to town. My area…bone dry for kindie. I can get all the out of town gigs I want but those are often at the same budgets at anything I get in town.

          This today has been very insightful for me and has given me the opportunity to think about decisions I’ve been wavering on for a while…i’ve gained some great perspective.

        • I think there is a difference in being an educator putting on a grant funded music program as opposed to being an entertainer paid with tax money.

          Most corporations that sponsor free performances do it because it makes good business sense. They will reap the benefits of this down the road.

      • Not all grants are government grants. Foundations, community groups, local businesses and even corporations underwrite performances – especially those open to the public.They often work together.

        Unlike welfare, performances are earned!

        Your comments sound a bit elitist!

    • Interesting perspective Richard, thanks as always for commenting. You are not the first person to express some negativity towards using grant funding to make performances available to the public. I tend to feel differently, and have been able to get in front of lots of audiences that are NOT the usual “consumers” of live music through grant-funded projects. I see that as a plus. But your point is well taken in terms of the audience’s “stake” in the performance. I would note that with all grant-funded performances, it is incumbent on the venue AND the performer to make it very clear to the audience how the performance IS being paid for – it’s often with a tiny portion of their tax dollars.

  32. Sometimes I do free gigs in the hopes of increasing my exposure, selling CDs, and possibly getting offers for paying gigs. More often than not, none of that happens. Still , I feel I need to play out and I succumb to the temptation to do it for free. I like busking, no expectations, just performing. It’s a challenge.

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