Musician Issues: 7 Negotiating Techniques Musicians Need To Use To Get Paid Tuesday, February 4, 2014 by Ari Herstand

by  Ari Herstand

So Bruno Mars was paid $0 for his Super Bowl performance. Some are up in arms about that. I’m not.

Every gig I get offered I put on a career building (exposure) vs. compensation scale.

If the gig has high career building potential (ala playing the Super Bowl in front of 100 million people), I’ll accept much less pay. If I’m background music at a private event, I’ll need a huge payment. Those gigs are soul sucking.

Most gigs fall somewhere in the middle.

Musicians get offers to play private events all the time. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, corporate parties, mall music, proposals (“so just hide in the closet until I bring her into the room”), and the like. It’s safe to say that most of these gigs will not bring you instant fame or shoot you to the top of the iTunes charts (like Bruno Mars’ album the day after the Super Bowl).

Too many musicians accept free gigs because they are promised great exposure or high merch sales. If you want to actually make a living playing music you’re going to have to learn some negotiating techniques (before you get an agent or manager to do this for you).

Here are 7 negotiating techniques that will hopefully help you get the most coin for the gig.

1) Never Accept The Asking Price

When a buyer pitches you a rate for a gig always negotiate this. Never settle for the asking price. This goes for when promoters and other bands offer you a guarantee for a club show as well. You don’t need to go all Ari Gold on their ass, but if they pitch you $100, ask for $300. You’ll most likely settle at $200.

2) Have A Normal Rate

More times than not, a buyer will ask you what your rate is. It’s good to always have a rate (and set length) you fall back on. You can set your “normal” rate at, say, $1,000 per show up to 2 hours (for private events) – with a “normal” set length of 70 minutes. I’ve done 70 minute gigs for way more than my “normal” rate and for way less, but, by default, I ask for my “normal” rate + expenses. Remember everything that has to be factored into this price: (local) travel, rehearsal, equipment, years of practice honing the craft, writing the songs, recording the album, creating the website, building your reputation, on and on. And above all, you’re better than anyone else they will ask who is cheaper! Sure, the buyer could get his brother to play, but he only showers once a week, gets drunk before he begins and is kind of racist.

Also, the further out you lock in a gig the higher your price should be. If you reserve a date, that means you have to turn down other (potentially higher paying or better exposure) gigs.

3) Price Points

Set different price points depending on time like:

0-2 hours = $1,000
2-3 hours = $1,500
3-4 hours = $2,000

The reason I say 0-2 hours and not set a specific set length is because once I’m setup it’s no difference to me if I play 15 minutes or 90 minutes. And they will think you’re charging based on performance time. They’ll try to get extra services out of you. “So since you’re only playing for 45 minutes but you’re charging for 90 minutes, can you give my son a guitar lesson for 45 minutes?” I kid you not this happened to me. I learned – after I gave her son a guitar lesson.

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