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Playing for more than your supper: Part 2

Posted by Paul Orridge on 18th Nov 2017

Playing for more than your supper: Part 2

In part one of this article, we looked at how difficult it can be to earn a reasonable fee as a musician and how much the Musician’s Union suggest musicians charge for their services. In this the second part, we are going to provide you with a few tips on how ensure you get adequately rewarded for performing.

One of the first things to consider is that musicians are often not very businesslike and find it difficult to negotiate. However, assuming that you don’t have a manager or agent, there is often someone in a band who is better suited to this role. In such cases, this person should represent the band when there is any negotiating to be done.

As part of the service industry we can learn a lot from others in that sector with regard to charging for our services.

Putting bums on seats

If you wish to make any money playing music the first thing you need to do is to adopt a business like attitude and keep in mind that you are providing a service in a potentially competitive market place. Those people who are going to book you to play in their pub or club are not typically concerned about the finer points of your musical artistry but more by the number of people you can get through the door.

Your band may be full of virtuosos but if they can’t pull in a crowd they are of little use to the proprietor of a venue, whose ultimate concern is how much money they have in the till at the end of the night.

There are a variety of factors which make a band popular but arguably the most influential is the material they play. Over the years I have spoken to many fine musicians who struggle to get gigs and cannot command a decent fee. The common issue in each case was their choice of material. Invariably they were playing material that was not well known or popular. On the other hand, I have known other musicians who were not so accomplished but played popular material and were inundated with gigs.

Consequently, it is essential that you know the worth of your band if you are to maximise your earning potential. If you can put more ‘bums on seats’, this should be reflected in your fee.

How much does it cost you to play?

A musician has been described as a person who puts £5000 of equipment into a £500 car to earn £50. Although this definition is quite humorous, there is more than a hint of truth in it and it helps to highlight the need to consider your costs before setting your fees.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • the purchase and maintenance of equipment
  • developing and producing promotional material
  • clothing
  • travel expenses (petrol, upkeep of vehicles)
  • accommodation
  • rental fees
  • accountants fees
  • tax
  • national insurance

Pricing strategies

Once you have worked out your costs you can then begin to work on your pricing strategy, as pricing too high or too low can adversely affect the position of your service in the market place. If your prices are too low, your band will be less profitable and people may perceive you to be somehow inferior to other more expensive competitors. On the other hand, if you set your prices too high you will lose bookings regardless of how popular you are because there is a limit to what people are able and willing to pay.

In addition to your expenses, you need to consider

  • Economic factors: When the economy dips and finances are limited the price you charge will probably need to reflect this.
  • Clients’ expectations and willingness to pay: Potential clients may have conceived opinions as to how much a band is worth, so no matter how good your band is, it is only worth what someone is prepared to pay.
  • Competitors: The price your competitors charge can provide you with a good indication of current market price for the service you offer. However, it is important to ensure that you are comparing like with like. Is your band somehow different or superior to that of your competitors?