I very much appreciate this brief article by trumpet player Jeff Purtle: Why Do Musicians Charge? [Edit: article no longer exists, but see the video in Mr. Purtle’s comment below.] Mr. Purtle makes the point that it costs a lot of money to be a musician. This is painfully true for woodwind doublers, who need not only a large number of high-quality instruments, but also reeds, maintenance and repairs, insurance, stands, cases, and more for each instrument, not to mention the cost of lessons or even college or conservatory study.
I think the overhead costs of being an instrumentalist are a really important and valid point. But I do think are some more reasons why musicians should expect to be compensated fairly for what they do:
- Time. An unskilled worker earns an hourly wage in return for their the time they spend on the clock. A skilled musician doesn’t just put in the two hours it takes to play a gig—he or she puts in decades of practice, preparation, and experience.
- Pressure. A musician in live performance doesn’t get to do his or her work behind a closed office door, and then present it to the boss when it’s perfect. Even in the recording studio, a musician who doesn’t deliver a perfect take on demand won’t get called back.
- Availability. I don’t get to spread my work out over a 40-hour week; the gigs happen on weekend evenings. If I’m committed to play at your event on a Friday or Saturday night, I may turn down several other gigs for you. You’re not just buying two hours out of my week—you’re bidding on the two most valuable hours I’ve got.
- Respect. I’m a professional. I enjoy what I do, but I also put a tremendous amount of time and effort into it. It’s not fair or realistic for a potential “employer” to offer things like networking opportunities or a “great experience” as a substitute for monetary compensation. I have rent to pay, too.
- Value. Live musicians bring something special. You can use prerecorded music if you want, just like you can serve imitation crab salad or use artificial flowers. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But if you are trying to put together something really nice, it’s going to cost more.
If, like me, you live in a place where the available gigs are not exactly union affairs, it’s up to you to negotiate your own contracts. Know what you’re worth in terms of dollars per service or per hour at respectable venues in your area, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Negotiate politely and professionally. When a mutually satisfactory conclusion can’t be reached, I’m often willing to recommend a student who would benefit from the networking or experience, and whose skill level would be fairly compensated for the offered amount.
Need a professional? Call me.