4 Lessons on How Much to Charge for Your Performance

November 3, 2011{ 46 Comments }


This guest post was written by David Roth of the band Mighty Groove (Boston, MA).This post originally appeared on the GigMasters blog. Entertainment pricing: It’s a conversation that every performer needs to have, whether they work for tips or charge $10,000 a set. David’s got some good advice.

A lot of things come into play when setting a price. Your price says a lot about you. It says a lot about what you think you are worth. It says a lot about the service you intend to provide.

Let’s take a for instance, Band A quotes $1500 per event while Band B quotes $5500 per event, which one did you think will perform better? What about a DJ who charges $100 compared to a DJ that charges $850?

Lesson 1: You will only ever get what you think you are worth. 

If you think your band should only make $250 per show, then that is probably all you will ever make (and that is the case in a lot of original groups). On the other hand, if you think your band is worth $3000 per show, you will more likely to get that amount. Now I am not saying that all you need to do is believe in yourself, but I am saying that unless you actually believe you are worth what you are charging, you will never get it.

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Lesson 2: Research what your competitors are charging.

A lot of that information is available online (GigMasters lets you see the price range that your competitors have been quoting). Take your top 5 competitors and look at their last 5 quotes. What are they charging on average for weddings? For birthday parties? For gigs that involve travel?

You should be able to know what prices your prospects are getting for their quotes, otherwise you stand absolutely no chance. You might realize that you are charging too much or too little. If you are below your competitors, you can research if you can raise your price a little, especially if you will get just as many gigs. If you realize you are charging much more than your competitors, you may want to restructure your pricing so that it is more competitive.

Lesson 3: Know where you fit in and use it to your advantage.

Now that you know what your competitors are charging, where do you fit into the scheme? Are you priced lower or higher? How do you justify your pricing compared to the competitors? If you know your prices are higher than your competitors, then don’t shy away. It is your job to prove to your prospective clients that you are worth what you charge.

Lesson 4: Pricing shouldn’t be a Win or Lose situation.

You should figure out a price range that you are comfortable working within and find people who are willing to hire you for that price. You will always lose if you feel like you are trying to get the most money for your service and the clients are trying to get you as cheap as possible. If you are not comfortable taking a show for less than your minimum, pass it up. You devalue yourself, your brand, and service when you take shows for less than you are worth.

Dave Roth is a the founder of Mighty Groove in Boston, MA. Mighty Groove features vocalist John Stevens (American Idol Finalist) and Gretchen Bostrom. Dave Roth writes about topics related to music on his blog: www.mightygroove.com/blog

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  • Start high, then go low. I just took call for little gig, gave her a "regular" hour price, she said thanx and about to hang up. I got her to pay me 1/2 my first quote, but that 1/2 is still decent for hour gig and 2.5 times higher than my part time day gig pay (and easier, more fun, and more rewarding). Also, a way of "restructuring your price if too high (as mentioned above)": just have that be your regular price, but state/mention you can negotiate depending on the gig and client. blah blah blah

  • Great advice. Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed your 2nd tip especially.

  • What does that work out to, like… $2.97 an hour?

  • I'd like to know what other solo original artists are charging~ I ask for $150 if I have to bring a PA, but will play for less if they have sound.

    • How long are your sets? I've done 2-3 hour things (bringing my own PA) for anywhere from $125-400.

  • Hey Drew, thanks for commenting. On a side-note, we'll get that GigMasters.com info posted later this month!

  • Oftentimes, though, artists aren't in a position (either in terms of finances or recognition) to enlist the help of professional bookers, managers, etc. When that is the case, they have to take on some of those business responsibilities if they want their art to get out there. They HAVE to determine their art's "worth" based on where they're at in their career.

  • So true.

  • Yeah. But what is the best way to unite the creative community towards that common goal? How can you shift peoples' attitudes?

  • And how long are the sets/gigs?

  • A deposit!!! How much? How does that work? It sounds outrageous.

  • I've noticed, too, that the smaller towns do tend to pay more money and pay more attention. Makes sense, I guess. They have less options for live entertainment.

  • Cool. Thanks for offering your thoughts and experience.

  • Good advice for bands that play gigs within the church community. Thanks.

  • Good calls. The listening vs. background thing is good to know just to manage your own expectations, too.

  • Yes. Your point about making clear distinctions between pricing and the type of gig and the level that the band is at is an important one.

  • Ha. I would love to hear their response.

  • Let's hope so.

  • Completely different businesses.

  • Great listing of performance options. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks. I'll check those out.

  • I agree on some of those points. But where to begin?! It is strange when bands draw big crowds and you listen and think "hmmm. This band is terrible!" And then hear a great band play to an empty room. Where to begin!

  • Thanks for sharing. You rock on, too!

  • Always good to get the outside perspective, though I'd have to say that most bands playing original music in the US probably have a similar experience to you. They're lucky to get $250 for a set of original tunes.

  • Haha. Which is where?

  • Oscaroke

    Hi Big Thumper,
    You must live in Arizona…

  • Jimi Rezidu

    "Make great music, set your criteria, and stick to your guns — you're worth it" nuff said. You are very insightful and I for 1 value your knowledge too! Thank You
    I too have learned these lessons from being out their in the "market place"

    Jimi Rezidu from Club Crasherz http://www.facebook.com/clubcrasherz

  • Fleetwood1955

    Unfortunately most bands have to play in clubs which have a budget and that budget is never what a band is worth. To make matters worse there are other bands that will play for less and the clubs don't care. This is the reality in the real world where 99 percent of musicians are shamelessly exploited. Welcome to the music business.

  • Fleetwood1955

    I like that line, can I borrow it, I'll bring it back sometime.

  • Rob

    Of all the replies, I relate to this one the most. Although my style is different from Alex's, I run into a similar problem: I'm unique with no marketability. Thus, as someone mentioned above, I'm one of those fools that will play for free. I have my day job, I live 30 miles from the closest bar that has live music, and I run through my entire set at least twice a week as well as (at this time of year) relearning Xmas music.

    I'm a musician, not a performer, and I know that. I put on a concert, not a show, and I also realize that since I have no following, I'm not going to get bookings. What also needs to be mentioned in order to even this out is that I don't promote much. I don't know *how* to promote, and my goal is to learn, play, record, and then worry about playing live, not to spend time making posters, handing out leaflets, etc. Since I'm fully into middle age, my time is more valuable to me than it was 20 years ago, and I have to balance family/work/music so that none of them go out of kilter.

    This has been a very interesting thread.

  • jpetes

    just out of curiosity… how many of you touting that we "stand together as musicians" are members of the local musician's union? Isn't this entire topic why the union was created in the first place? Having said that, the only good I've ever seen the union do is provide a pension to the people that paid into it for years. But hey, we've got to start someplace, and musicians do have a union, just for this kind of thing.

  • Green Room

    I have worked as a venue manager/ talent buyer/ booking agent in the southwest for the past 4 years and I'm seeing a lot of good points here. It's amazing to see how much disparity there is among artists in different regions and different scenes. Because I was a working musician for 8 years before I started booking for venues, I will only work for bars and venues that are willing to pay their artists. My job is to work out the best deal for both sides, but ultimately to make money for the venue. I've got a bit of insite based on what happens in this region:

    1) The scene here is monopolized by "no cover" venues, that means that the burden of getting artists paid lies solely on the establishment which is far from ideal. This often leads to venues hiring less talented bands for less money (and so the cycle of decline begins). The cities that have striving local scenes (good and growing talent among original artists, good pay for musicians, and a pay off for the venue) are full of clubs that charge reasonable covers to hear music. The cover charges are agreed upon by the band and the club management and the money collected at the door goes straight to the band. The fans that turnout ultimately decide who they would rather go hear and support with their ears and their money. Thus, the hard working and most popular groups thrive.

    2) A bar venue will hire a band that draws well and plays mediocre music over an exceptionally talented group with no following anyday. Venues don't hire artists for their own enjoyment or love of a particular style of music, they host bands because they think it will get people in the doors. If you don't do your work promoting your events and reaching out to new fans, you may get booked once but don't expect to be invited back if you don't draw. If you are a fairly new band, garnishing a fan base has to come before the good money gigs come. If you are good enough to appeal to an excited fan base, the better venues will eventually take notice and start calling.

    3) If you live and play in a market where it is tough to get paid what you are worth, there are a few things you can try:

    a) See if the venue will give you a percentage of bar sales for the night, or a "bump" on top of their small guarantee if they sell particularly well. For example, a $150 bump for every $1000 in sales.
    b) If you have a reputation for drawing well but the venue still won't budge on their guarantee, see if they'd be willing to charge a small cover on nights you play. You may have to provide a door person to collect, but you might be surprised how many bars would take you up on your offer.
    c) Take a night at the low paying venue and pack the place! When they ask you back-request more money. Venues are much more willing to write a big check when they know what you're capable of.
    d) Have a good/marketable product and a way to sell merch. If you put on a good performance and have a well-packaged cd, you should be able to move some cds at most any show in just about any environment. There are a lot of touring groups making ALL of their money from merch sales, and it's a good way for local acts to supplement your income where the check from the gig falls short.

    Recession or no recession, if you are great at what you do, people will take notice and opportunities will arise so long as you're willing to put in the work. And yes, tip your bartenders especially well.

    Ben Williams
    Green Room, LLC
    Brightest Sol Music

    • Hey Ben, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience here.

  • Fred Spek

    Its a tiring subject really. There is money, so play well for any size audience, pass a hat and ask for a cut of bar sales (5-15% usually). Collect email addresses and make sure people know who you are. (What was that band called?)
    Door charge means some people won't come in. If you can entertain, then you may win fans of those barflies who are there anyway. Which brings me to another point. I prefer places that are run by people who are serious about being a Music Venue. Some are really restaurants and focus on that.

  • This sounds good & Practical

  • CarrieR

    Good article, Jake. Here's a link I send to prospective clients who want to hire my band; it's from my drummer's website and it's a great way to educate the client about What You Can Expect to Pay to Hire a Professional Musician or Band and Why: http://www.kurtdeutscher.com/web/music/274
    It breaks the costs down for them so they understand that professional musicians are not free or cheap, and that they shouldn't be.

  • Pingback: Cover Band and/or Original Band: Do you have to choose between the two? | DIY Musician()

  • Anastasia

    We manage a group (our marquee artist) and a few others. We handle the gigs too. But we never let them play for free…ever. I tell "buyers" (CHARITIES IN PARTICULAR) that charity begins at home and that the flower people get paid, the hotel banquet costs etc. Even the valet parking people get to make money to eat and put gas in their cars. It's outrageous how people devalue musicians. I will never stop being shocked by this. I was totally shocked when i started this biz to learn how cheaply you can get bands. And someone mentioned the hours – drive time, load in, sound check, the gig itself, tear down, etc. What about rehearsals? They take time too. Sometimes it helps to remind the "buyers" about rehearsal time necessary to prepare for gigs.

    Do not work for free. You can negotiate a deal saying your "leader" will donate part of his fee but your musicians have to eat and put gas in their cars too. Then you can manage the distribution of the fee. This is your livlihood. Many times the buyer is being paid by the organiztiton as well – they are not working for free. You can say "just like you need to buy gas….etc etc.."… They get it then, when it is personal.

    We know we have to take less for club gigs because of the nature of the business but we never work for free. We do lots of shows and keep the bandmembers working steadily. It's not great money but it adds up. From the club gigs we get the corporate gigs usually – and the weddings, private parties. Our club reviews (including the owner's review) helps wtih the Festivals which pay much better. Corporate pays the best. We also get our fees paid because we are doing the work and the promotion to build audience following. So it all ties in. This is a business and it needs to be run like a business which is hard for some musicians to do.

    We always get the crowd going at the end of a show telling them thank you for supporting Live Music. DJs will have nothing to play some day except synthetic sounds if we do not keep live musicians working.

    Good luck to you all…

  • Jordan

    A major problem we're having here in Florida is the attack on business owners who are forced to pay huge sums of money to feature live music. Reps from ASCAP & BMI make consistent demands for fees so sharp that many places discontinue live music altogether. What's worse is some of these pressuring agents have tried to cut 'deals' with owners who can't meet the quota. As a result of these issues, some full time arists as well as fellow band-members often abandon their art for other forms of income. The only reason I continue to tolerate this mess is due to a pension from my years in publishing prior to 'doing what I love'. Of the few places that continue to feature live music – the bands income has diminished from above average to below standard.

  • You are correct about undercharging, it's not a smart thing to do. However there are a lot of 'holes' in this article, and we are full-time musicians, so we price gigs every day.

    Gig Masters does not really reflect realistic prices, you have to do 'Craigslist' research in your local area. Also, musicians that play full-time do not charge one set price. Gig pricing has many factors involved.

    The SmallTimeMusician.com 'Artist Spotlight' (interviews with authentic full-time musicians), details the entire gig pricing rational and process.

  • Yes, I agree. My band has started requiring $100 per man minimum. If a club really wants us (country 5 piece) but can only afford $300, they get an acoustic show with guitar and singer. We have started turning down gigs that other bands I have been in would have jumped on, and it has only gotten us more higher-paying top line gigs and more respect. Its all in how you are perceived. My day job is working for the state, and when we have vendors come in to demo something being bidded on, typically the guys who come in wearing fancy expensive suits and have a product that is twice the cost of their competitors get the bid, even though the guys in jeans have a better product that fits our needs exactly and would save us tons of money. Presentation, professionalism and manners. Period.

  • Lady

    No. Damn. Way. I have NEVER heard of a bar NOT screwing the band with this practice. There is no accountability–there's no way to know if you actually got ten percent. Every instance I've seen this used (whether with my own gigs or with someone else's, you always make out far worse than you should have. But then…I live in Chicago, land of the swindle:) I am glad that you found an honest bar owner–they are true gems, when you find them. But the last thing I want is for every coked out crook who owns a bar to start doing the "Percentage of the bar" thing.

  • Lady

    I wonder–and I swear, I mean no insult by this–if you and Alex wouldn't be more suited to open mics (I make my living off of music and I do open mics all of the time, so really–I mean no insult)? I feel like open mics are the place where you figure out what works, how to perform, and also where you can begin to build a following–and that's the point of them, so it's totally okay that they're not paying. When I'm working on a song and i don't have any idea whether it's going to go over, I take it to the open mic–I don't want to try it in front of an audience that isn't expecting something experimental. I think open mics are beautiful things–it's where money is no object and you can just experiment, and a lot of the time, really cool things happen there! It's art for art's sake. And it's the kind of stuff you can use to later get paying gigs. I just feel like, leave the nonpaying music for the open mics. That's what they're for!

  • Hope you have a great album release. Let us know how it goes.


  • Sweet! Glad to hear it.