Should I Take That Gig?

Negotiating is only fun for certain people, of which I am not one. But whenever I’m asked to perform, musically or otherwise, I need to decide if and under what circumstances I want to accept.

 I did write a bit about this in my infamous blog post about playing with Amanda Palmer, so here’s a bit more: when I negotiate various offers, my interior dialog/checklist goes something like this (read more in detail about each point after the cut):

  1. What are the reasons, if any, I want to do this gig?

  2. If primarily for pay, what amount is sufficient for my efforts?

  3. If primarily for a non-monetary reason, am I clear what the effort cost to me is and am I willing to donate the relative time/financial difference between that and what, if anything, I will be paid?

  4.  Is there something other than money I can request as compensation?

  5.  Am I clear what the finances of the event are, so that I can be clear I’m not the only event supplier donating my time? (e.g., if they are paying a caterer and venue rental, they don’t get a discount from me)

  6. Am I comfortable that the person who wants my participation knows what they are doing, has the authority to do it, and has realistic expectations for the event and me?

  7. If the request is from someone I know personally, will anything about the above (esp. 5 & 6) or about our relationship make it difficult for me to have a proper business relationship with them, so I should just say I’m not available?

  8. Am I prepared to turn down a “better” offer if one arrives after accepting this one?

Read more about each point: 

 

1. What are the reasons, if any, I want to do this gig?

Good reasons could be:

  • to play with other musicians I enjoy
  • to make money
  • to appear at a specific venue/in front of a specific audience you want to reach

Note that last point is NOT the same as “for the exposure” – e.g., if you want to be hired as a wedding band you might agree to play for free at an expo for wedding planners, but not for a random actual wedding.

2. If primarily for pay, what amount is sufficient for my efforts?

When calculating this, don’t short-change yourself by accepting the “it’s only for 30 minutes” or such reasoning. Also consider the time you will spend:

  • Acquiring specific requested music if not in your collection
  • Arranging specific requested music (e.g., a current pop tune for your instrumentation)
  • Practicing anything new to you/your group
  • Traveling to and from the venue
  • The cost (current IRS mileage rate is $0.56 a mile) of travel
  • Arriving early to set up and sound check
  • When can you leave (e.g., you finished playing but can’t drag your gear out through the party, or the wedding ceremony is still going on)
  • Other situations that will eat up time (e.g., you have to set up before a ceremony and play before the bride arrives and when she leaves, but she’s 30 minutes late to the church)

3. If primarily for a non-monetary reason, am I clear what the effort cost to me is and am I willing to donate the relative time/financial difference between that and what, if anything, I will be paid?

I.E., are you prepared to put in the same practice/arranging time, travel time & cost, and performance time knowing you will not be compensated for some/all of it? If you are thinking “well, I don’t need to put in as much effort if I’m not getting paid” then I suggest you don’t do it without proper pay – people watching you do a half-baked performance don’t think “oh, they aren’t getting paid” but rather “gee, they aren’t very good.”

4. Is there something other than money I can request as compensation?

Event planners who respect you as a trained professional will not balk at treating you like one. But they may still have limited resources for their event. It can be a win for both if there is something you want to accept as barter for your performance. Some ideas:

  • If the requester has a skill you can use (e.g., web design, press release writing, visual media design, etc.) agree on an amount of their time to work on your website, album cover, etc.
  • Do they know someone you want to meet?
  • Do they make awesome cupcakes and you want a batch for your next party or show?
  • Etc. – think creatively!

5. Am I clear what the finances of the event are, so that I can be clear I’m not the only event supplier donating my time? (e.g., if they are paying a caterer and venue rental, they don’t get a discount from me)

Don’t take “we didn’t budget for music” as a reason to play for free. If music was considered less important than flowers and party favors, let them give the guests kazoos!

6. Am I comfortable that the person who wants my participation knows what they are doing, has the authority to do it, and has realistic expectations for the event and me?

If the event planner is not a professional or does this kind of thing regularly, or is not working with people who are/do, there is a not-small chance that they don’t really have a clue about the effort it will take to plan and conduct the event. If you start hearing “I don’t know” / “don’t worry about that” / “I’m sure it will all be fine” consider backing away. Or at the very least insist on a signed contract and payment prior to the event (in cash or enough time to see that the check clears).

7. If the request is from someone I know personally, will anything about the above (esp. 5 & 6) or about our relationship make it difficult for me to have a proper business relationship with them, so I should just say I’m not available?

We all love our friends, but there is a reason doctors don’t want to answer medical questions at parties. Conducting business as business is the best protection for all involved, but too many people feel that friends should give special treatment to friends. That’s fine when it is freely offered, but can quickly lead you down that road paved with good intentions.

If your friend is resistant (or insulted) when you ask them to sign your standard performing contract (which you should have!), politely decline.

8. Am I prepared to turn down a “better” offer if one arrives after accepting this one?

While I’m not suggesting you should sit at home waiting for that big festival booker to call, do consider whether you have enough interest in doing this event for whatever compensation that you will not be tempted to ditch it. Yes, sometimes that big call WILL come – if it does you can (and should) try to find a substitute for the previously-booked gig. But if you cannot provide a sub, don’t be that person with the reputation of being unreliable – it reflects badly on all of us. If you think so lightly of the gig, just decline it up front.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *