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.
So here goes…
I’m going to lay out five strategies to deal with this situation below, but first, a very important…
(DON’T SKIP OR SKIM THIS PART!)
- 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.
About The Blog
Since 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.