I often hear musicians talk about the amount of money certain gigs pay. People chat about the tip jar having to be passed around because club owners pay so little. They might get paid a few dollars here and there for the gig, but hey, at least they get a meal out of it. They complain about how hard it is to make a living and how tough it is. While some of those things may be true, it’s not always the reality for musicians. There is money to be made in the music business. The tip jar isn’t required if you get paid well. There is a lot of money out there. As a freelance musician, you just have to know where to find it and how to negotiate for the most money you can make.
I love the art of negotiation. I think it’s fun. I love going into a car dealership and hassling with the salesperson. It’s like a game to me. I tend to do it almost wherever I go to see how far I can push people in any business. I was in the market for a car a few years ago and went to a couple of dealers just to see how things have changed since my last purchase. I wasn’t necessarily in a position of power because I needed a car, and they had the goods. The way I looked at it was like this; I was willing to walk away if I didn’t find what I wanted. In fact, that is what happened in the end. I walked away from the dealers and I found a car from a private seller and purchased a used car with cash.
When dealing with musicians, business owners or any kind of production where they need your services, always keep in mind that if they are reaching out to employ you, they want what you have to offer. While you may not have much leverage, you still have power. You must realize that there is a way for the both of you to win in this game. You just have to know what some of the rules are.
1) People want to make a profit:
Whatever someone is intending to pay you, you must understand they are making money from your services in one way or another. They are trying to pay you as little as they can so that their profit margin can be as wide as possible. Don’t feel bad asking for as much as you can because there is more often than not, wiggle room to play with. The person offering you a gig has a budget and they are trying to keep their expenses low. With this knowledge, you can go into any deal making process with less of a personal connection because it is all about money in the long run. Once you take any personal feelings out of the equation, you can get down to the business of increasing your profits while they are trying to do the same. In the end hopefully you find a way to help each other achieve similar goals without anyone feeling abused and/or taken advantage of. Look for a win-win scenario.
2) Get to know the general rates for your service in your area:
For many years, I was paid a certain rate for club dates (weddings/corporate events) as a drummer in the tri-state area. I thought I was getting paid a lot of money for a four hour gig on a Saturday night until I found out people were making $100 to $150 more than me. I then started to get hired for bands paying those amounts and realized there is even MORE money than what I was now getting paid when I asked around. I even found out that other bands had backline. When I discovered the going rate, I raised my own price and the bands that recently hired me agreed to my new fee without any hesitation. Think about what I said above. Why would someone pay you the higher rate when you don’t ask for more? They are trying to make as much money as they can. Why can’t you?
3) Negotiation is risky.
I was in a negotiation recently where I was going to have a production rent my drum set instead of them purchasing a brand new kit. We went back and forth over a few emails and they decided to buy a new kit instead of renting mine. I lost out on a whole lot of money but in the end had the chance to play on a top of the line drum set, brand new cymbals and sturdy hardware. It was GREAT. The downside is that I missed out on all of that money. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you have to be willing to say no or you might forever be taken advantage of. In this case it was still a win-win. A brand new kit? I’d rather play on the new kit than my 20 year old one. The same situation occurred on other gigs. I’ve asked for certain amounts and was turned down. Well, that is one of the downsides of any negotiation. But you must understand what your self worth is. If you value yourself and your services, you should demand a price that makes you comfortable and be willing to walk away when your conditions are not met. You also have to be able to deal with being told “NO” and not getting hired, or getting the money you requested.
Think about this; when you go into buy a product from the Apple store, is there any negotiation? No. You are paying for the reputation of the company and the generally great products they have to offer. You can go to Best Buy and get a Windows product and buy something else too. That is your choice. You get what you pay for most of the time. The same applies to your services as a musician. If you present yourself as valuable and price yourself accordingly, you will be surprised at how many people will pay what you request.
Sometimes you lose, but the overwhelming majority of the time you win when you approach negotiation with this in mind. Don’t be afraid to be bold. You didn’t get into the music business to be poor, behind the curtain or undervalued. This is a business more than it is about music. Deal with the money so that you can feel freer to create the music and high art you were put on this earth to do.
Clayton Craddock is a stay-at-home father of two children in New York City. He has a B.B.A from Howard University’s School of Business and is also a 17 year veteran of the fast paced New York City music scene. He has played drums in a number of hit Broadway musicals including “tick…tick…BOOM, Memphis the Musical and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill with Audra McDonald. He has worked on other musicals; Footloose, Motown, The Color Purple, Bare, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Cats, and Avenue Q and is currently the drummer in a new Broadway bound musical titled Ain’t Too Proud.
Clayton has written for A Voice For Men, The Good Men Project and is writing a memoir about fatherhood.