The First Type of Gig: Public
Public gigs are where you and your band are hired to provide music and/or entertainment to the patrons of an establishment – usually in trade for expectations that the restaurant, winery, coffee shop or bar will see an increase in food and beverage sales as a result of your performing there. Never….Ever….. lose track of this important First Law of Performing (FLOP). However friendly and comfortable you might feel with those hiring you, it is a rare situation when this often unspoken arrangement is not in play. Some venue managers and owners are more up front about FLOP by asking at the time of booking “how many people you expect to bring” to support your gig while others might be more willing to take a chance on you.
The Second Type of Gig: Private
Private gigs are usually “one offs” like weddings, household holiday parties, and similar events. These gigs typically result from somebody seeing and hearing your talents on a public gig and liking you and/or your music enough to hire you directly. Be humble and honored when and if you are asked to perform at a private gig – the conditions, hours and pay are almost always better than those of public gigs, and it’s kind of flattering to know that somebody appreciates your talent.
Pay Rate for Public Gigs
First things first – once you have agreed on a pay rate for your act, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be in a position to negotiate yourself a raise. Unfortunately, however good and polished your talent might be, the raw fact of the matter is that there are countless other acts that are vying for the same performance space every weekend making it VERY difficult to charge anything more than the somewhat “standard” rate of $100 per musician unless you are consistently packing the venue (recall FLOP detailed above). Noting that this standard rate has been the norm for as many decades as this writer can recall, you might begin to understand why musicians never seem to get ahead on their bills. Furthermore, “back in the day,” most club owners tended to pay in cash, but now it is exceptional to be paid in any form other than a check accompanied with the annual tax form (1099-Misc) that reports your earnings as income.
Better band leaders will always have their checkbook on gigs so as to “front” the band with the agreed upon rate for the evening if financially feasible. After all, it’s YOUR gig so treat your bandmates well, and they will always want to work with you in the future (they might even show up on time and help lugging gear!).
Speaking of bandmates, it’s not a bad idea to let everybody know that drinks and food are “pay as you go.” Nobody wants to work a four-hour gig only to be presented with a food and beverage tab at 1:00am that might exceed your gross earnings for the evening. (This is referred to as “we just paid to play,” which often goes into the gig story book for future entertainment among band members).
Additionally, sometimes gig attendance will be less than desirable on a given evening (you can only count on friends and family to show up to gigs so many times!). Light attendance may be due to foul weather, major sporting events, proximity to major holidays, etc. Be forewarned that some owners may “short the band” as a result, in which case, you may want to consider falling on your “financial sword” and paying the band the agreed upon rate. If you do, your fame and support among local musicians will rise exponentially for being one of the “good” bandleaders……..however you chose to handle this delicate matter, it’s your call.
Pay Rate for Private Gigs
Private gigs are where the money is – if there is such a thing. Seeing as you will likely only play for your private patron’s event once, it is understandable that your fee will be higher than on a public gig. There is no standard for a private fee schedule, but it is well within reason to charge twice the public rate ( $200.00 each) for private work.
Of course, there are additional considerations which should factor into your pricing that might include travel costs, sheet music and prep for requested song selections, rental of additional sound and lighting equipment specific to the needs for one gig, etc).
Once pricing is agreed upon, you would be wise to draft a written agreement detailing any and all specifics that have been discussed. Noting that private gigs often get booked far in advance of the performance date, locking in the date for you and your bandmates presents an “opportunity cost” to you if the gig gets cancelled for some reason. It is therefore reasonable if not expected that a written agreement be created and signed by both parties. It is also reasonable to collect a (typically non refundable) deposit of 50% with the signed agreement so as to secure the date. If the worst were to happen, at least you can cover your “public gig” costs of $100.00 per musician and keep the band reasonably happy with the outcome.
One last thing with regards to the agreement – be sure to include wording regarding when the remaining 50% balance is due. While awkward, some bands require the balance before they begin playing but it is far more reasonable to expect payment either midway (during the first break) or right after the end of the gig. Hosts are notoriously and understandably busy seeing their guests off at the end of a party, so most don’t mind settling up with you midway however, they are less “lubricated” and therefore less likely to “tip” as compared to when the party is over at the end of the night.
Cash is King
That said, have fun on your gig(s) and be sure to wear your “business hat” before, during, and afterward