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Negotiating Gig Pay

by Vid Warren

So, you got up and done enough open mics that you're confident enough to start earning from your passion and have met some promoters along the way. Somebody books you for a gig.

Here are some of the problems you may find:

1) Your lack of experience shows; this is your first paid gig. You are a little nervous and probably don't sound like you've negotiated before.

2) You have no idea what to charge because you don't know the standard fees for gigs (of this particular/any nature).

3) They want you to do the flyer and you have no idea how to make it.

4) You don't have the up-front cash for booking the venue but the promoter is asking for it.

5) You don't feel right taking money for something you don't feel you're good enough at or that you enjoy doing.

And here are some solutions to those problems:

1. Do your research

Ask people that have done plenty of paid gigs. If you don't know any, find some on the internet or through a friend. Loads of artists have nervous mannerisms anyway. As long as the words you actually say makes it sound like you've done this before they probably won't notice (I may post a glossary thread on phrases and trends). Don't tell them that it's your first gig because, if they're not trying to rip you off, it'll probably unnerve them (imagine if you found out that you were about to beatbox in a jam onstage with someone that has never been onstage before; you might still do it but you'd probably worry).

2. Ask for their budget, simple as.

Obviously you don't want this to be the first thing you ask them (as, hopefully, it's not the most important part to you). Ask them about the nature of the gig, what specifically they want from you (length, routine how many sets). This is all stuff you'll need to know anyway to tailor your set to each gig and it will make them feel more comfortable in knowing they've booked someone hardworking, that does appropriate research and cares about more than themselves. Once you have some details and have had a conversation, ask for their budget. If they ask what you'd charge first, ask for their budget (see how it works as an innocuous question wherever you put it?). If you ask their budget, and they ask 'how much are you charging?' Ask 'how much have you got?' (Casually).

Knowing whether the offer they make is fair also comes under doing your research. Generally, in Bristol UK as an example, You'd be expecting about £50 for a standard gig with a capacity of around 150 a door charge of £3-5 and a half-hour set of your own material as a support act (plus expenses and food/drinks). More often, you will get a percentage of the door/bar to encourage you to take responsibility for some of the promotion. It is fairly common for the promoter to take 25% and split the rest amongst the bands/artists with something like 50% for the headliner/main act, 30% for the first support and 20% for the second support.

3. Promotion

This is not too uncommon, though, it is usually the promoters job. If you can do it great, charge more because they're expecting overtime. If you are not so sure, don't bite off more than you can chew; you'll look a pranny. You can either admit that it's not your field or just say that you're too busy (but make sure that you clarify that you still have time to promote the night by sending out flyers when someone else does them). Don't be pushed around. Making flyers isn't your job. Recommend a mate if you know one. Recommend me! It'd be better to actually learn to make flyers though.

4. Pay to Play?

If you're putting on a gig, you have to have the money upfront or nobody will let you hire out their venue. However, we are talking about a promoter booking you. Stay away from: 'PAY TO PLAY'. This is basically a scam where the promoter asks for cash as 'insurance' for booking the venue (in case nobody turns up). They are taking no risk but that doesn't mean that they won't take a chunk of your money (and that's before you've made anything). If you make a loss, they don't. You may be thinking 'why should the promoter take a risk but not the artist?' the answer is that you as an artist have a skill and potentially a fanbase. The merit of this has earned you a one off employment by a promoter. The promoter should have skills in promotion and should deserve the chunk of your money because s/he is skilled enough at promoting along with having done good enough research to pick bands with potential to make a profit at a gig through attracting punters.
If you've already paid a promoter before they've done their job, do you think they'll bother doing any promotion. They might put one poster up in the venue your gigging. Tell them to **** off.

5. Good enough?

If you don't feel you're good enough then you probably aren't ready (that doesn't mean 'getting to a point where you don't need to get any better). Practice and performance (at open-mics etc.) are the only way to overcome this. However, if you don't feel right about making money off something you enjoy, consider that just because it's your passion, doesn't mean you won't work really hard at it or that you haven't done so already. You're providing a service and, if you don't make as much money as you can get, someone else will. If they're holding the purse strings, then you won't be ripping them off (unless you do no work) so 'as much as they're willing to give' is the fairest rate.

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