Musicians often make big mistakes when negotiating how much money to charge for a performance. Here are my five most effective tricks for getting the maximum money out of a show, while still being honest and keeping the customer satisfied:
1. Ask what the budget is. Often it will be much higher than you expect, and you’ll end up getting more money than if you gave them an estimate first.
2. Upsell. Borrow a trick from retail and offer add-ons for a small fee. For instance, I offer to provide a small sound system and keyboard for corporate events that don’t have one for a small extra fee. This makes a big difference on your bottom line, and can keep your client from having to contact multiple vendors.
3. Bundle shows. I often will bundle several events for a vendor, giving a small financial incentive for hiring me for more time.
4. Sound confident when you offer a quote. I prefer to give a quote via email, but if I have to quote a price over the phone, I’ll put the person on hold for a moment, write down the amount I want, and read that price to them. Something about that process makes me more confident when I say it, and seeing the price in front of me makes it seem more reasonable (like most musicians, I often feel guilty charging a fair price for my work).
5. Don’t be guilted or intimidated. Some businesses can be ruthless negotiators (COUGH *country clubs* COUGH), and they’ll often intentionally or unintentionally attempt to guilt you or talk you down on your price. While it’s fine to compromise a bit, remember to stand firm at a fair market price for your work.
If they go too low, say something like “as much as I’d like to do it for that price, I’ve got many other companies that want the best and will hire me at XXX price on that date. I’d be happy to refer you to someone else who’s less experienced but might fit your price range, if you prefer.”
You win either way in this scenario: they’ll either stick with you, or you’ll be able to help out a less experienced musician land a show with a venue that isn’t willing to pay what you think is fair.
Note: this mostly applies to working with corporations and individual clients. I wouldn’t recommend using these techniques when negotiating pay in a band or similar situations, since those sorts of gigs generally have a lot less room for negotiation, and if you try to negotiate, you’ll probably just make the person who’s hiring you angry.