Are you a Solo Artist or Singer-Songwriter that’s experienced frustration when it comes to negotiating your fee with venues and booking agents?
A friend recently voiced their frustration saying, “it is bullshit to pay a solo artist less than a full band for the same amount of performance time…”
Because I understand what it’s like to be frustrated with the commerce side of music, instead of just saying, “Well, that’s just the way things work.” I decided to explain HOW venues approach compensation and give a couple of action steps because YOU DESERVE TO GET PAID FOR YOUR MUSIC!
Here was my reply…
“Here’s some insight that will help bring clarity to some of your frustration and this conversation, but first, some context…
After touring internationally with multiple artists and bands, after playing with small trios, subbing with orchestras, doing duo gigs just myself and an artist, playing in the pit for musicals, playing festivals opening for bands like the Foo Fighters, to even consulting for artists that were just going to perform solo. Busses, ships, planes, vans, cars, you name it… I’ve had the opportunity to see behind the scenes of a TON.
I understand your frustration because it sounds similar to how I felt when touring with an artist who would pay more to band members who were married than those who were single because “they needed it more.” We all played the same gig! We learned the same amount of songs. We should get paid the same!
It didn’t go over well.
Unfortunately, when it comes to how much you get paid as an artist by a venue, this is a completely different conversation unto itself. One where two factors are at play:
1. Ticket Sales.
2. Perceived value.
If your contract is a $ guarantee plus a percentage of the door. (“The Door” is the industry term for “ticket sales” and this agreement is most typical for artists outside of a major tour)
how much you make is dependent on how many fans you bring in the door and how high of a percentage you negotiate. Period!
Now… if you’re not talking about a show as “an artist” but just looking to play a cover gig, or background music, an opener, or a filler spot of some sort, you’re now in the same boat as a freelance musician and compensation is dependent on your Perceived Value by those booking.
The fact is, the perceived value of a full band is far greater than that of a single person in almost all scenarios, (unless you’re a bigger name like Ed Sheehan and able to hold the attention of a full arena. BONKERS! ) Therefore, people understand they need to pay more. Most artists agree with this and recognize the perceived value of having a band. It’s a completely different musical experience and those that want to create that experience, are willing to tour with a band even though it’s WAY MORE overhead. That’s why, when booking full band gigs, every artist’s fee or guarantee is higher than if they were to play solo.
It’s a misunderstanding of all of this that’s the reason why someone responded to you by saying, “Well… venues recognize the total number of hours of input and prep that a full band has to rehearse and that’s reflected into the price.”
This simply isn’t true.
A venue doesn’t give a single crap about compensating fairly the work that goes into your art. Their goal is simple, bring more money in the door than goes out.
When it comes to rehearsing…. (As I saw your replied frustration that you don’t get paid to prep) unfortunately, or actually, fortunately, that’s the way music works.
Nobody cares how many times we had to rehearse a tune to get it right! Even if a band/artist pays for rehearsals, they don’t pay for how long it took for you to learn the tunes on your own.
The good news is… Nobody cares how many times we had to rehearse a tune to get it right. ;-) That’s massively freeing depending on how you look at it. Especially for someone like me who’s not a prodigy. Haha
All that said, YOU DESERVE TO GET PAID FOR YOUR MUSIC!
Here are some tangible action steps for you, or any artist looking to make more money performing live, to consider :
- “Hourly VS Salary” — We need to stop looking at our music career as an hourly job and look at it as a salary. NEVER do the math with how much you’re getting paid for the time you practiced or learned the songs! Some gigs pay more, some pay less, but it all goes to our salary and we decide how much we want to kill it EVERY time we step on stage. How much do you need to make a year? How many shows are you willing to play? How much time are you willing to put in to get as good as you’d like? We don’t get paid for our averages, we get paid for our peaks. We don’t get paid for the mistakes we make in practicing behind closed doors so… get them out of the way! (“Originals” by Adam grant or “The Dip” by Seth Godin would be inspiring reading on this topic)
- Take an honest look at how much your time performing on stage is worth. (To you and in the eyes of those hiring you.) Figure out your fee, and stop negotiating. “Thanks for thinking of me! This is how much I charge… and I’d love to do it if your budget is able to make that happen.” (My buddy Dan Rodriguez is great at turning a “fee” statement into one that a venue takes as a challenge to rise up to and meet. I learned a ton about this with him)
- Or… negotiate but ask the venue to sweeten the deal. (Tip from a CIA negotiator I met) Say, “That’s below my usual required fee, but if you’re willing to… (insert request here)…. Then I’d be willing to meet you halfway and do it for that.”
- Finally… and most importantly… GET SERIOUS ABOUT MERCH! There are very few artists who make their main money from a door or guarantee nowadays. Most tours only happen because of merch sales. “But it’s a cover gig…” doesn’t matter, see my last point, if it’s under your fee, say you’ll do it if they’ll let you set up a table in the back or at least let you have CDs and business cards out. I once heard it said, “If given a choice to make 20,000/year just from “music and door sales” or “100,000/year from selling funny hats that people bought as merch online and at their shows, most artist’s ego would have them stuck at 20 grand.”
I’m with you, negotiating money is by far the lamest part of a career in music, but, it’s unfortunately… non-negotiable.
Hope this helps!
For The Curious…
Rob Morgan is an internationally touring bassist and music director who keeps a weather eye out for the curious. He can be found online at www.therobmorgan.com