Responding to free or low-paying gigs

Here are some sample scripts for phone calls or emails about “gigs” that pay nothing, or not enough. (Some inspiration came from Jessica Hische’s online tool for responding to graphic design inquiries.)

A friend wants you to provide music for a wedding, party, etc.

Sounds like a fun event! Thanks for thinking of me. There are a couple of ways we can handle this:

I can treat you like a regular client, with a real but affordable budget. Usually I charge [$XXX] so I can afford the time and expense of putting together a really great [party band/wind quintet/jazz quartet/etc.]. I charge extra for special song requests so I can work out [sheet music/rehearsal time/etc.]. Let me know and I’ll fill you in on the usual details about how and when to make payment. Since you’re [my bestie/my brother-in-law/etc.] you’ll get my top-of-the-line professional treatment plus [some extra love/a 10% discount].

Or, if it works better for you, I could just pick out one song I think you will really like, and it will just be me with my [flute/saxophone/etc.]. I can play it to help make a moment that is extra special, and then I can hang out with you and the gang for the rest of the night. You can just [feed me dinner/give me some free tax advice/call it a wedding gift] and we’ll consider it even.

A non-profit or other good cause wants you to donate musical services for a fundraising event:

Thanks for reaching out. I really respect your cause and what you are trying to accomplish.

Since I do this for a living, I’m sure you understand I have to be careful about giving away my time for free. Do you have a budget for the event that is paying for the [food/waitstaff/venue rental/prizes]? If so, maybe we can come up with an affordable option, like [a duo with me and this great cellist I know]. As a policy I really can’t give away my time when other professionals are being compensated. If everyone involved is 100% donating their services, then I can play for free occasionally for the causes that are most important to me personally, [and I would be happy to help for an hour/but I’ve really already done all the charity work that I can afford lately].

A business or person wants to hire you and can seemingly afford to do so, but has underestimated the cost of your services:

I appreciate the offer and would be interested in figuring out a way that we can make this happen. At this point it sounds like you are working with more of a [DJ/somebody’s-iPhone-plus-a-Bluetooth-speaker] budget, and if so then I might be able to recommend somebody.

But if I’m understanding you right, you’re looking for that really classy, upscale touch that live music provides. To give you that kind of service, I have to charge [$XXX] to hire the best people for the band, taking into account it will be an hour’s drive for everybody, plus there’s the time to set up and tear down all our gear. Don’t get me started on the gear—it cost as much as my car! I’m sure you get where I’m coming from.

Listen, I provide the very best for my clients, like I know you do for yours. My band just played for [the mayor’s/your competitor’s/etc.] holiday party—they like us so much they have us back every year. What do you say to giving us a try?

Musical skill is a real and valuable thing—don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth!


One response to “Responding to free or low-paying gigs”

  1. Hi Bret, great article. I was wondering how much of this still applies when taking on gigs as a student. Thanks

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