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I am a musician myself, mainly playing piano and marimba. Up till now, I did not do much performing, mostly playing by myself or in front of family and close friends, as well as playing in an orchestra. However, more recently, I have been asked to perform on a few public events.

However, I have no idea how much money to ask for a performance.
Of course, this seems like a subjective question at first glance, but I am sure that some of the professional musicians out there have some knowledge on what is considered to be a 'fair' price, both for the performer as for the person creating running the event, and what circumstances have an influence on this price (one I can think of, for instance, is travel expenses but there must be much more).

So the question:

How much money is considered a reasonable price for a musical performance? What kind of circumstances have an influence on this price?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are a lot of factors to consider. For straight freelance work, the rate tends to be fairly standardized for your surrounding area. For example, in the capital region of New York, the rate is $75 per hour, whereas in the mid-hudson valley, it is $50 per hour. This may be completely different wherever you are. So this kind of rate would apply, say, if you were subbing with a professional orchestra or playing as an outside freelancer in a high school musical production.

Sometimes, though, a venue or organization may have a flat rate already in mind that you can't negotiate with. This would probably be the case if you had a band and you were playing in small club venues.

Some gigs may only reimburse travel expenses, or will pay an "honorarium", which is essentially more of a "thank you" monetary contribution than it is a professional fee. These kinds of gigs are usually for a good cause or something that you have a personal interest in doing, so you would make that decision yourself based on your own outlook.

And of course, some gigs don't pay at all. You might do it just because you like the music or because it supports a good cause, and you can treat your performance as public service or charity/volunteer work. Of course, the one intangible thing you get from ANY gig is EXPOSURE, which is incredibly important for any freelancer to get their name out there, practice the craft of performance, and MAKE CONNECTIONS that may lead to more (paying!) work in the future.

So, 90% of the time, if someone asks you to perform, they will include the fee you will be paid. If they are asking you what your rate is, it is best to either make a judgement based on your current situation or ask your teacher or other local professional what the going rate for the area is.

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If someone with relevant experience wants to edit the first paragraph to include something about musicians unions, please feel free (I don't have the necessary experience). –  NReilingh Jun 7 '13 at 14:00
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I'd also like to briefly add that rates can also depend on experience / reputation. One additional suggestion would be to ask what you would normally get from a student for an hour-long private lesson. Many musicians charge about $35/half-hour. You want to charge enough so they take you seriously, but you also want them to remember that you're affordable (so you'll get more gigs!) Word of mouth is power. Tangentially, payment for orchestral subbing largely depends on the region and the orchestra's reputation. –  jjmusicnotes Jun 7 '13 at 19:22

The answer is strongly dependent on your locale. Standard of living as well as demand for your particular style/genre of music will have quite an effect. You might start by finding out what the local union rates are. If you're on good terms with the event coordinators, ask them what they paid all the other performers, or last year's performers, etc.

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To follow up on @NReilingh's answer, being part of a union can help secure pre-negotiated rates - which can then be used as a minimum for many venues. For casual gigs, the prices are in the same ballpark as he stated, but others may be very different.

As an example, the Musician's Union in the UK has pre-negotiated rates for:

  • Accompanists
  • Casual stage
  • National Gig
  • Opera and Ballet
  • Organists
  • Residency

and many other categories. And these rates vary by size of venue, length of gig, rehearsals, additional performances, overtime etc.

This membership also helps protect you from a promoter deciding not to pay you the full amount after a gig, etc. but at the end of the day, it is down to you to agree terms that you are happy with. In your area try speaking to other bands - they may share information.

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