Ep. 5: How To Set Your Rates As A Freelance Musician


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So you’re a musician who’s ready to start working and live your lifelong dream. Let’s skip the finding work part for now and cut to the phone call from your friend or stranger: “Hey, my restaurant manager thought it would be snazzy to have a saxophone and accordion serenade our guests for 5 hours next week and I immediately thought of you.” (No mention of compensation.)

Now what?

When it comes to setting your freelance rates there are many factors to consider. There is not a one-size-fits-all formula, but let’s go through a few ways you can feel comfortable and confident when you say those magic numbers.

Before we get started, that imaginary (definitely real) scenario mentioned above should generally be avoided at all costs. Most restaurants (there are outliers) can’t actually afford what they want or believe they can get away with lowball offers, partly because musicians accept them.

Determine the Market Rate:

The market rate or “going rate” is the typical price for goods or services in a free market. Economics 101: When demand for a service (musicians) goes up (i.e. wedding season, new years eve) then the price goes up and we work A LOT. Same concept in reverse when demand goes down (i.e. January, February and Summer) prices or in musicians cases work declines or disappears completely.

The market rate varies by location, experience, season and service (i.e. wedding, recording session, club, restaurant.) In Dallas, we have an incredibly robust wedding band market and prices are through the roof and many musicians in DFW make a living touring the world as sidemen/women with top acts, playing regular church gigs and teaching.

In order to determine the market rate you need to ask a wide range of musicians at every level of experience what they are charging for different scenarios. After surveying as many people as possible you then have to determine where you fit into the market rate.

Value Factors:

There are many factors to consider when deciding where you fit into the market rate. The more value provided the more income earned. Here are a few valuable qualities:

  • Years of Experience
  • Communication Skills
  • Punctuality
  • Organization and Correspondence Habits
  • Professionalism (Website, Contracts, Business Cards, Dress, Attitude, Equipment)

Extraneous Costs:

When you get into specific opportunities there are extraneous costs beyond the music to consider before quoting your rate. How much TOTAL TIME will you have to dedicate to the gig? This includes performance time, breaks, driving/travel, etc. It’s easy to set your rate based on the time performing the task at hand, but most of your time will be spent before and after.

What is the DISTANCE from your home to the gig? This affects how much time, travelling, mental and physical capacity spent in transit. If you drive to the gig then you must factor wear and tear on your vehicle or the cost of public TRANSPORTATION.

Are you required to wear or purchase specific CLOTHING items or costuming? How much PREPARATION is needed to meet and exceed the clients expectations?

Will there be REHEARSALS and how many? (Time, transportation, preparation, etc. should be included in rehearsal calculation) What is the ENERGY REQUIREMENT? Is the gig entertainment focused where you have to dance or is it background music where you can sit?

Are you CONTRACTING other musicians on the gig? This sounds easy, but it takes a lot of correspondence, time and coordination to contract. Remember people might bail on you last minute and everyone you hire is your responsibility and reflects upon YOU. What EQUIPMENT do you need to bring? This includes instruments, microphones, speakers, chairs, stands, lights, etc. You might need to hire help for set up and tear down as well.

What DAY OF THE WEEK or SEASON is it? I believe everyday of the year should be compensated equally because you are still performing the same work, but that isn't the world we live in. Weekends and Holidays should be charged at a premium. Remember our Economics 101 lesson.

Lastly don’t forget the YEARS it took for you to acquire the beautiful and unique skill of making music at a high level. You are incredibly valuable and should be compensated accordingly!

The Little Things:

Something to consider when ascending through the echelon of the music industry, at a certain point everything beyond the music down to the little things will determine whether you get (or keep) a gig. For example, are you dressed appropriately even down to the socks (that you think no one will notice) or did you say something inappropriate in the green room or to a client/guest?

This is where we go back to the value factors. How long does it take you to respond to an email? Are you 30 minutes early to the gig or 2 hours early? Do you introduce yourself and treat everyone in the room with the utmost respect? (Even the custodians. Sometimes they will help you more than anyone else right when you need it.)

Even at the highest levels, musicians are replaceable. So what separates you from every other musician having a go at the freelance life?


Thanks for listening and keep thriving!


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