The View from the Sacbut Section by Clark Gayton

Musings of a New York musician

Getting Paid – or Beer Does Not Equal Rent

Posted by sacbut on August 24, 2009

What to expect

What should you get for a big show at a large room? Well, there is a union scale, but not only is it different in different cities, you are rarely going to find any union reps to help, so YOU have to do the negotiating. Your price is whatever the market will bear, or whatever you think you’re worth. Either they’ll pay it or they won’t.

Most likely, you will be offered a fee. If you need the money, you’ll probably take it and say nothing. If you want to start making more than what you’re offered, you have to take stand at some point and not accept the offer, EVEN IF YOU NEED THE MONEY. Otherwise you’ll find yourself playing in a band you’re not happy with for years, making the same cash. You don’t want to be the “bitter” guy in the band!

If there is a video being made, ask the management (politely!) if there is any compensation for the re-use of the performance. If not, no need to lose your temper.  Have them sign a release stating that they can record, but it can’t be used for commercial purposes.

You can draw up a very simple agreement on the spot (date, gig, rate, number of hours, signatures, etc.). If they don’t want to sign it, then you probably will be beat down the road, but once again, you have to make the final decision. One that suits your needs at the time.

Beer does not equal rent

Don’t let anyone distract you from the fact that you are your own business.  When you forget that, people take advantage of the fact that most musicians want to be popular. It is not a bad thing. Being popular gets you more gigs, more money, more of just about everything. Because of that, any vibe or request that you send out that is considered “unpopular” may diminish your “likeability” and therefore your “bankability.” Clubs, producers, labels – the list is endless – know this about musicians. Therefore, although I have not yet filed the lawsuit, it stands to reason that they have conspired to make it “unpopular” for musicians to ask for to be paid money like any other worker on the planet.

Oh, they’ll offer all the beer you can drink, food from the kitchen, nuts from the bar – anything but hard cold cash. Is your work only worth the wholesale value of a six-pack of beer? A cheeseburger and fries?

Most musicians take it.

Not just green ones – established, respected, should have known better musicians. Because we’re suckers for this.

Some of us have heard it all “We’re taking a risk on letting you play here” and “We get famous people to play here all the time, and they don’t give me attitude like you do,” in an effort to intimidate you so that they don’t have to pay you or your band any money.

Here is a personal favorite: “You’ll get ‘exposure’ for you and your band”. Hmm.  Well, there is something to be said about too much “exposure”.  The way I see it, if a photo is over exposed, you can’t really make out who’s in the picture.

Folks who sense that you are trying to take the gig seriously, will tell you to consider it “advertising” and a “cost of doing business.” What you are advertising is that you are willing to work for free and the cost of the establishment doing business with you is less than that – because if the food isn’t eaten, or the alcohol isn’t consumed, it is a write off. Are you able to “write off” the six hour performance till 2 in the morning? No. Because you are not operating like a business. You are a volunteer.

I can guarantee you one thing – once you play for an establishment where you played for free, it is almost impossible to get them to agree to pay you in the future.

Here’s another pitfall.  These days, there is a booking method called “festival bookings” which means there are many acts performing that night. These kinds of gigs are set up by the club manager, not YOUR manager.

Under this method, the club counts the patrons that supposedly are there to see you and your band. Some are honest, but how do you  know how many came to see you unless you’re there the whole time counting yourself? It’s a shell game at best.

They tell you that only “six people came to see you, and here is your $30 bucks for you and your band.” Thanks for the beer.

If it’s a venue you want to play, by all means, do it. You just aren’t going to be paying bills with this gig.

When anyone asks you to accept something other than money for your performance, I want you to do something. Ask who is getting paid in the establishment. Are the dishwashers getting paid? Is the bartender? Are the owners?

If the answer is “no” to all of those questions, you should not play there.

I’m serious.

Either they are lying or you are playing at your cousin’s birthday party. Think about it, even at your cousin’s birthday party, someone is probably getting an allowance.

If you insist on getting paid, even if it is a nominal amount, you are doing a few things:

  • Establishing yourself as a professional musician – not pretending to be one
  • Creating a paying market for yourself
  • Asserting your value as a productive and creative contributor to the benefit of this planet and

You get to pay your rent.

Not bad.

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3 Responses to “Getting Paid – or Beer Does Not Equal Rent”

  1. the sush said

    Right on Clark…..

    Everyon likes to sing about rights……well start by standing up for your own!

    Hope we Visible soon.

    sush

  2. Mic. Robinson said

    it’s amazing how many of us haven’t taken into account these simple but ESSENTIAL ways of conducting biz. thanx for the article.
    Micah

  3. A.W.H. said

    Great read! Down in the Houston area, everything you just mentioned goes on for those up and coming musicians!

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