Since I am a composer who also performs as a musician, I am submitting this as a community service.
Musicians Get Paid?
It seems that word-of-mouth standards in the music business have disappeared during the past 15 years. The economic difficulties of 2007-2011 and the free and near-free digitization and distribution of music, have led to a cultural viewpoint that music is cheap... very cheap.
It’s not only my experience. The Tampa Bay Musicians Network, a closed Facebook site with over 1200 members, is a forum for the “good, bad and the ugly” here in the Tampa Bay area. Besides the good-spirited bantering of musicians, it is a forum for discussions about the realities of a profession that is often misunderstood. Musician’s scale has been a hot topic recently. Many older musicians complain that they actually made more money performing decades ago (compared to today), even without inflation adjustments.
So what are reasonable rates for musicians? Well, I like to think that musicians should be paid like other skilled, service personnel including hairdressers, specialized nurses, landscapers and masseuses. All of the musicians that I work with have college degrees and years of training. Most of them do not have health insurance or a pension. They are all talented, reliable and professional musicians, so how much should they be paid?
In a nutshell, professional musicians should make a little less than one-half the hourly rate for plumbers, electricians and similar skilled workers. Playing music can be fun, but it is also a tremendous amount of hard work with hidden time involved.
Gigs (the musician’s term derived from the Renaissance dance form known as a gigue) can generally be classified as “steady” or “intermittent”. Bars and restaurants tend to employ musicians at lower rates because the work is reoccurring and the atmosphere is often casual. Steady work for a musician is worth a discounted rate.
On the other hand, special events, conferences, conventions, weddings and festivals tend to be intermittent and often more demanding in scope. A musician can be 10 minutes late for a bar gig and the world doesn’t end. If that happens at a wedding service, then expect bridal Armageddon!
Making Music Is More Than Playing
Besides performing, there are other elements involved with establishing musician’s rates. All gigs require travel, set up and break down time. That can easily transform a 3-hour gig to 5-6 hours of work. Bandleaders also spend a tremendous amount of time planning, marketing, communicating, bookkeeping, organizing and paying musicians. They also tend to provide the sound system, which can be quite expensive and a fair amount of work, to transport.
The equipment for my six-piece Brazilian band includes keyboard, double bass, drum set, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, trombone, various hand percussion, two combo amps, 2 main speakers, 2 monitors, powered mixer, microphones and cables. The total value of that equipment exceeds $18,000.
I have to bite my tongue when event presenters call and ask for this group to travel 2 hours each way by car, perform for 3 hours and then they say that "they only have a budget of $300." That really stings when they work for a multi-million dollar organization, particularly an arts organization.
Rather than concocting an intricate wage system for dozens of musical situations, here is a simple base salary with additions and deductions.
Professional Musician’s Base Scale
(BTW - this scale has been in place since the early 1990s)
Performance - $80 first hour and $50 every hour after, per musician
Travel time - $30 per hour of driving time, per musician
Wait time - $30 per hour per musician (when the band is required to set up their equipment more than 30 minutes before the performance time)
Solo act – 20% more than performance scale
Leader of band – 50% more than performance scale
Wedding musicians – 25% more than performance scale
Required liability policy (if required) – additional 10% of total performance cost for group
Steady weekly bar or restaurant gig deduct 25%
Steady weekly church performance – deduct 25%
Series or cluster of guaranteed services - deduct 20%
Off night (Monday – Wednesday) – deduct 10%
Daytime performance – deduct 10%
If the engagement is longer than 3 hours, the client should provide complimentary meals for the band. If the client has food for their guests, that should be the same food for the band.
If you are an event presenter and are truly short of funds for live music, think outside the box. You may have a service or goods that can be bartered into the rate. With a little effort, you might even find an underwriter for your live music. Think twice about planning a big event if it is going to be limited to a “wine and cheese” budget. Seriously - if you are spending $5000 on catering or Porta-Potties, then the music budget should be at least 20% of that amount. Remember that you get what you pay for. If you want excellent music for your guests or clients, then it costs a little more.
Please don’t perform for “exposure” unless you are a student gaining experience. It rarely leads to a paying gig and it devalues your profession.