Calculating gig fees

"Calculating savings" by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY

It took a while in my freelancing career to get a handle on how to respond when people ask what I charge for my services as a performer.

I live in a remote, rural area (where my university day job is located) and there isn’t a musicians’ union presence, so I’m on my own in these negotiations. When a gig call comes in, I have to make the decision whether the offered compensation is enough, or be able to name a fair price on the spot. I’ve developed sort of a mental formula for this calculation, which I have converted into an online spreadsheet with sample numbers so you can see my process:

Gig fee calculator

If you have a Google account the link should prompt you to create a copy of the spreadsheet that you can play around with. Try changing some of the numbers and see how it works.

Basically, I’m thinking in terms of:

  • A base rate, which is the minimum I charge for even the smallest gig.
  • Additional fees if I’m expected to double on multiple instruments. (I’ve written previously about my rationale for that.)
  • Additional fees to cover my travel time and expenses.

This gives me a way to think through what I am charging in a consistent way, and a nice clear breakdown if someone asks why I’m charging what I’m charging, or wants some kind of itemized invoice. If I feel put on the spot, or I just want a little more time to think it through, I have had good success getting the details, then telling the caller I’ll get back to them within a certain time frame. (Maybe five minutes, or an hour, or the next day.)

Depending on the type of gig, what works for you, and what’s common in your area, you might need to adapt my system to include things like preparation/practice time, bringing and setting up PA or other equipment, downtime between sound check and downbeat, and expenses for things like special wardrobe. And of course you should adjust the base rate and other options to suit your financial needs, your clout in the local gig scene, and what’s common/appropriate in your location.

You should also think through what to do when the gig offer doesn’t meet your pay requirements. Turning down low-paying gigs contributes to an attitude that musicians should be treated as professionals and compensated fairly. But often weekend warriors or younger musicians trying to break into the local gig scene are willing to be a little more flexible. (The rights and wrongs of that are a larger topic than I will address here. Do what is best for you and your career.)

Think carefully about what your time and skills are worth, and expect to be paid in a way that is fair to both you and your employers.

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