10 Commandments of Negotiating with Musicians (Without Ripping/Pissing Them Off)

As a musician who’s been in charge of hiring/firing musicians in a band, and being the guy being hired and fired, I’ve gotten to see and test what does and doesn’t work from both sides of the fence. Here are 7 ways to negotiate with musicians that leaves everyone happy: 


1. Underbid, over deliver. I always try to promise far less than I can actually provide/pay/offer, so that musicians usually get more than they expect, and if something unexpected happens, they at least get what I originally promised. Over time you’ll build a reputation for being generous, which can help when you’re negotiating a per-show fee.


2. Offer perks. This can be anything from offering free rides at the venue, to buying an unexpected dinner before the show. A little extra goes a long way, and can often keep a musician coming back for less money than it would cost you to hire another guy to do the same thing.


3. Keep it stress-free. There’s not enough money in the world to make a musician work in a stressful environment. Keep stress in the band down, and you’ll keep your pay rate down, too. 


4. Don’t create situations where no one wins. If a show won’t benefit anyone, don’t do it. Playing just for the sake of playing doesn’t help anybody.


5. If you absolutely have to, offer a bad/good option. If you have to take a gig that doesn’t pay well, make sure the musicians you use get a more lucrative gig, too. 


6. Bundle. Put together several shows, and ask for a slightly reduced rate per night. Musicians are often happy to bring down the per-night rate if there are a lot of shows involved.


7. Pay fast. Cash the night of the event is best, but if you can’t manage that, at least give them a check to hold on to until you get paid. 


8. Help out. Setup beforehand, tear down afterward. Show the band that we support each other, and you’ll help musicians feel loyal to the group. 


9. Make concessions on non-essentials. Regardless of what we say to the entire band, not all musicians are equally valuable in a group. Or perhaps more accurately, certain band members will need to get paid differently than others, or have special perks. When/if you have to do that, make sure you keep it between you and the individual as much as possible. I often have every member in bands I’m managing getting paid a different rate, with a unique set of perks. It’s a bit more work, but keeps everybody happy and feeling like I care about them (which I do). 


10. It’s all about the relationship. When push comes to shove, building trust, respect, and loyalty is the most important factor in effectively negotiating a deal with any musician. Lose trust, and no amount of finagling will get a deal both musician and band leader will like.