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Music business, booking events, teaching students, and making ends meet.

A Wedding Game Changer

As a gigging musician – especially while in or just out of school – a huge chunk of events you play will be wedding ceremonies. This is good news – tons of people get married every day, the events are usually straightforward, and it’s an easy opportunity to wow guests and make connections.

Now here is where a game changer comes into play. I recently stumbled across www.theweddingreport.com and found a wealth of information about weddings in my area. There is an abbreviated free version and you can also pay a fee for a full report. The report is an exhaustive study including breakdowns by age, total wedding cost, and vendor fees.

What to look for:

  • Couple Spending by Location
  • Number of Weddings by Zip Code
  • Amount Spent on Music/DJ/Entertainment
  • Vendor Fees

 As an example, the report shows the average fee of a string duo for weddings in 2014. It gives a clear breakdown of the amount of string duos hired (vendors) organized by price – this gives you an easy way to see if what you charge is in line with what brides expect to spend.

Further detail: In the San Francisco Bay Area there were 27,856 weddings in 2013 alone with an average wedding cost of just under $40,000. Yes, you read that right. With a market value of $1.1 Billion, it’s safe to say business is a-boomin’.

I’m not going to spoil the rest of the details, but with a bit of research this report can change the game in giving perspective on things like how much should you charge relative to location, popular venues, and couple’s spending trends. It’d be extremely foolish to overlook this tool and fail to adapt your booking techniques to the market.

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The Importance of Having a Website

A website is basically a 24/7 advertising tool to an innumerable audience.  It can be viewed across the world at any hour of the day or night and serves as an online billboard for your business.  Anytime a student asks me, “what do you need to do to start getting gigs?”  I always answer: “you need a website.”  With millions of sites added daily and millions of people using the internet at any given second, it’s your best shot for being “found” and keeps contacts current on career updates.

 Get a Website

Before you expect students and concert presenters to fill your inbox with emails, you have a solid year to look forward to of little to no traffic on your website.  Your site will be the online version of a billboard hung above a seldom-travelled backwoods road; however, you have to start somewhere.  This is why I recommend every musician – even if all they have is a photo and an old mp3 – put something online as a placeholder.  You can always update the layout later, but you want people to have someplace to go should they look you up on Google. 

The Essentials

  • A Good photo with your instrument that lets viewers know what you’re about immediately
  • A brief Biography that highlights your accomplishments
  • Sound and video clips
  • Contact information 

There are a ton of free options such as WordPress, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn that can be up and running within 10 minutes – there is no excuse not to have some sort of online presence in this day and age.  In addition to the free options available, there are several companies that offer dirt cheap domain registration and hosting. 

Hosting Companies

My personal website is hosted by iPage.  It’s super simple to use and, for the most part, I’m happy with it.  With “Drag and Drop” builder, no knowledge of HTML coding is necessary,  and all you need are the text, photo, or sound files you want to upload from your computer.  Some reputable companies that offer simple hosting are:

 http://www.ipage.com/ipage/index.html

http://www.hostgator.com/

http://www.godaddy.com/

http://www.weebly.com/ 

I am not an affiliate of any of these companies.  I only offer these links as a route to finding different hosts.  As a musician – set yourself a goal and put up a website – even if its just a picture and brief bio – as soon as possible.  Later down the road you’ll thank yourself. 

 

Protip: Anniversary Follow-up

Early on I used to compartmentalize performances and events into separate categories. They were divided by the companies that hired me for corporate events, small recitals, and couples who hired me for their wedding. I viewed myself as a guitarist who just so happens to play weddings, and thought of the different events as a separate life in comparison to my “serious” performances.

What I realized was that one great way to keep in contact with past clients and get them to come to your next concert is to follow up via email. I don’t recommend blindly adding everyone to your email list, as most of the time it will feel spammy and end up in the trash folder. However, always follow up immediately after a gig with a short “thank you” email.

For weddings you can take this one step further. I’ve found that the thoughtful gesture of emailing the bride/groom on their first anniversary to be a HUGE success. Simply wish them a happy first anniversary and remind them how much fun you had playing for their big day. Ask them what their plans are for the future and in a sentence or two, let them know about your upcoming CD or concert. This is a great way to stay in touch and I’m sure they’d love to hear you play again – after all, you did play for their Big Day!

This demonstrates professionalism, friendliness, and thoughtfulness all in one short email. I’ve even mailed a free CD to a bride’s mother completely out of the blue. The result was she mailed me a surprise bottle of wine and referred me to another couple who is getting married. In order to use this successfully, it will require you to be a bit more established and be at least a year into the game. It’s crucial to have this level of commitment because eventually, you will soon have just as many anniversary emails to send as you will for new bookings.

Hope this helps – how do you keep in touch with past clients?

Multiple Income Streams

In order to achieve some level of financial stability, every musician will leverage a variety of income sources to make ends meet and eventually break through to higher earning potential. The degree to which each category will be leveraged will largely depend on factors such as individual personality, career goals, style of music, and networking. The three biggest income streams for a musician can be broken down as follows: Teaching, Performing, Sales.

Teaching

Being a music teacher is by far the most stable hat a musician can wear, and this is serves as the foundation for world-class performers teaching masterclasses at Conservatories or Universities and serves as a steady start for the young teacher at the local music store. As you gain experience performing and word of mouth spreads about the success of your students, your studio will fill and your rate will gradually increase.

In major cities, by far the best place to teach is after school programs. You simply set up an interview with the principal or music teacher and then find out if there are any students interested in afterschool music lessons. You won’t get more than a couple kids per day, but the benefits are great: you can command a higher rate, cherry pick interested students, no charge for renting a studio, and parents will jump at the opportunity to keep their kids occupied instead of sitting around waiting for the bus or in study hall. If you’re worried about getting started and have no experience, the most effective way to get your foot in the door is to substitute teach for a friend (again – network!)

Performing

Who are we kidding? Getting on stage and playing is the reason most people pick up an instrument. Unless you’re already booked at the Met or solo regularly with orchestras around the world, performing will serve as a high but often unpredictable source of income. Concerts, background music, weddings, corporate events, and church services all count as a way to boost your income and get you playing for people. In order to get started you will need a website and a couple mp3s at the bare minimum and can expect to take about a year to get yourself up and running and no longer “paying your dues.”

 Some people like to look at their income as primarily teaching-based with performance as a bonus. This will gradually shift as you gain experience performing and once you find yourself turning down more events due to your teaching schedule, it will be time to evaluate your approach, crunch the numbers, and re-focus your streams.

Sales

This includes T shirts sold at concerts, CDs, mp3s, sheet music, iTunes, and downloads. Personally, this is the weakest of my income streams with performing shifting into the strongest stream over the past two years. I always bring CDs to sell to any event and all musicians should utilize sales as an income source. If you have a huge Facebook following or your band is a local favorite, you need to have something fans can purchase. Additionally, having a CD or mp3s you send concert promoters or include in your press kit is a must.

Part 2: Good Habits for Developing your Business

Although reaching an elite level of artistry takes years of hard work and dedication, the market is nonetheless saturated with an impressive number of highly qualified artists on every instrument. Today, the musicians who distinguish themselves are the ones who, in addition to maintaining a high level of artistry, have outstanding interpersonal skills and business habits. While the basics of professionalism go without saying (e.g. show up on time and be prepared), it is worth addressing a few of the business-side habits that will set you apart from the competition.

1. Be Involved
I have never been a proponent of the term “networking,” per se. It’s a nebulous, all-encompassing word that can take on any variety of meanings depending on your perspective. To some, “networking” simply means seeking out opportunities to be in the same room as others in your field; others perceive it as behaving like a used car salesman with an over-rehearsed elevator speech about what makes your product so unique.

Instead, I like to think about “involvement.” Frequent places and events where your type of work goes on. Interact with others who do what you do, especially if they are at a more advanced place in their career than you are. Think about engaging actively rather than existing passively; if you cross paths with someone in your field whose work you respect, there is nothing wrong with being friendly and introducing yourself. There is a good chance you will be crossing paths with them again, and it will be nice to see familiar faces going forward. If you genuinely make an effort to get involved, you will find yourself forging real friendships with your professional colleagues before you know it.

It should go without saying, but always conduct yourself professionally and courteously, even toward colleagues you perceive as having little to contribute to your career development. Every musician you encounter will have something to offer and something you can learn from them; plus, you never know who might surprise you by sending a gig your way or putting in a good word with a contractor. Make an effort to meet as many colleagues in your market as possible, and be kind to all of them. Your reputation for being a friendly person will go a long way.

2. Carry Business Cards, Make Connections, and Follow Up
Always have business cards on hand. They should be tame but not boring, informative but not overwhelming, and provide the recipient with a unique way to remember their interaction with you. I choose to include my picture on my business cards. That way, somebody I meet on a gig need only glance at the card in order to remember who I am, even if the extent of our interaction is a handshake and a fifteen-second conversation after the show. These encounters form the basis for growing your professional network and give potential employers the opportunity to put a face to a name – you never want to appear unprepared.

On a related note, if you have a particularly good conversation with someone you meet on a gig, follow up with them by email. Even if it’s just to say that you enjoyed meeting and playing with them, a follow-up email is a nice gesture that will keep you on their radar.

3. Set Business Goals
Whether you hope to give a certain number of performances in a given year, command a certain dollar amount per performance, record a CD, or increase your teaching studio to a certain number of students, writing down concrete goals will increase your chances of reaching them. Nothing happens overnight, but setting goals can give direction to efforts that might individually seem inconsequential. Creating timelines for reaching your goals can provide motivation and give you a meaningful way to quantify and track your progress as you forge ahead.

4. Maintain a Current, Professional, Online Presence
Your website is the public’s window into your work and your career. It should be the most comprehensive, centralized resource for making your media, biography, schedule, and contact information available to those who might be looking for it. As artists, we are trained to pay attention to even the smallest details; if someone browsing your website sees that your list of “upcoming events” hasn’t been updated since 2011, they will understandably question your attention to detail, and maybe even your dedication to your career. Take pride in your website. If you keep it current and informative, visitors will appreciate it. Consider adding a blog or other regular update mechanism; if content is updated regularly, visitors will have a reason to return to your site again and again.

5. Seek Advice When Necessary
Nobody ever said running a business was going to be easy, and yet that is essentially what you will be expected to do, all while maintaining the highest level of artistry. Whether you’re unsure of how to copyright a new song, avoid infringing on the copyright of another, navigate a contractual relationship with a venue or publisher, collect royalties, or take advantage of the tax consequences of depreciating your instrument and deducting business expenses, there are resources available to assist you. Whether you need the guidance of a professional or simply the advice of another musician who has already faced the issues you’re dealing with, there is no harm in seeking help when you need it. Consider it a part of your continuing education. Not only will soliciting this sort of advice help you navigate your own career, but you may also find yourself in the position of being a resource for others in the future.

The Bottom Line
The above lists are not exhaustive. There is always more you can be doing to enhance your career and reputation, both with and without your instrument, and building a successful career takes time and consistency. These days, being an exceptional performer is a given; the artists who are truly able to distinguish themselves are entrepreneurial thinkers with robust professional networks and a commitment to the good habits necessary to develop both their art and their business. If you begin to consciously allocate time and effort to implementing those habits, you will be laying the groundwork for a successful career as a musician who is valued and respected by presenters, colleagues, audiences, and the community at large.

Frank Gulino is a composer, bass trombonist, and entertainment attorney living in the Washington, DC, area. As a composer, his works have been commissioned, recorded, and performed by some of the world’s foremost brass soloists, chamber groups, and symphony musicians at venues such as the Kennedy Center, the U.S. Capitol, and conservatories and universities around the world. As an attorney, Frank practices in the Entertainment and Music Industry Law group at Berenzweig Leonard, LLP.

Setting a Fair Rate

In my previous post I highlighted the importance of self-evaluation and knowing your worth as a performer. Now that we know the importance of setting a comparable monetary value for one’s work and how settling for low-paying gigs only brings more competition and frustration, this post will explore how to set a fair rate for an event.

Location plays a huge part in setting a quote that is reasonable to the client and fair to the performer. Having lived in major cities like Baltimore and San Francisco where cost of living is rather high, any quote for an event is going to be more expensive than it would be in a smaller city/town for an event of similar duration. For major cities like New York, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, you’d be a fool to charge small town rates in the big city.

Flat Quote or Hourly Rate? There are benefits to giving a flat quote or using an hourly rate for events. Personally, I like giving flat quotes – it’s straightforward and I avoid itemizing charges in contracts like hours, breaks, travel, etc. I simply give a number and don’t hassle the client with minor details. This works great for weddings and gives the Bride-to-be one less thing to worry about. However, for a small concert or an event that needs background music for a specific amount of time an hourly rate may be more appropriate.

Part of setting a fair rate for an event is having a feel for how much you believe your performance is worth in the context of a reasonable budget. As I’ve said before, there’s always somebody willing to work for less. You need to command a higher rate to stand out – and also DELIVER THE GOODS! This means consistently playing your ass off, being social with guests/audience members, and being sure to take the time to thank the person who hired you – they’re providing you with work, and you’re providing them with an irreplaceable service: live music!

This link between the professional and social aspect of being a musician is part of why I prefer setting flat quotes on a per event basis. Breaking down an event to hourly rates tends to give the gig a feel of a transaction – paying for time as it is. Like putting coins in a parking meter. This can leave the performer feeling like a human jukebox and the client only concerned with putting enough coins in to keep the tunes coming.

To command a good fee, you need to go above and beyond simply playing for the allotted amount of time and this is something you want to make very clear to potential clients via your websites, emails, and phone calls. This is why I prefer to give a flat quote. Somebody emails me saying they need classical guitar for an event in a couple weeks. I email them back thanking them for their interest in my music and tell them I’ll happily play for them. I may only be playing an hour and a half, however, when I give a client a quote they know that also comes with my guarantee to arrive early, set up, provide my own amplification as well as set up a microphone if someone may speak at the event, plan the music program, and learn any song they may require for the performance.

This is where I differ from other musicians. In the same city for the same event, a lesser experienced guitarist may give that same event a quote based on their hourly rate. At $100 an hour for 1.5 hours total = $150. They may then include travel expenses or booking fees, all of which feels like getting a bill from Verizon or Direct TV rather than giving your client a personalized, all-inclusive musical package. It’s cheaper, may be easier to quote and convenient, but you’re basically selling yourself short. Lots of people may book you, and that’s not bad, but the main reason they book you is because it’s a cheaper option.

Breakdown This should serve as a guide for event price range and is my average of 75 gigs between 2012-2014.
• Short Wedding (less than 1 hour) $200 – $400
• Wedding and Cocktail Reception (up to 2 hours) $350 – 800
• Private Event (Wineries, Universities, Hotels) $400-1000
• Corporate Events – $400-1000 (my experience has been corp. event budgets are about 1k for music)
• Small Concerts, House Concerts – $300 – 600

These are the ranges that I use when quoting an event to give an idea of what is possible and as you can see there is room for flexibility. I was booked for considerably more weddings than anything else, and I’ve also had to turn down several events that didn’t align with my price ranges. When this happens, work with the client and their budget, however, if you can’t agree on a number you can always refer a friend who would love the opportunity.

Know Your Worth

Knowing your worth and valuing yourself as a performer is the single most important aspect of making money as a musician.  After years of lessons, hours of practice, teaching, and getting your feet wet with small gigs here and there, there comes a time when you will be forced to evaluate yourself and what you offer the community.  You aren’t getting paid for all the hard work, yet you deserve to be making money with your talents.  Why aren’t I getting more gigs?  Why was there a poor turnout at my last concert?  Sooner or later these questions enter the head of any musician, and the answer lies in how you view the business side of your career.

 Life Outside the Practice Room                                                                                               You could be the greatest musician in the world, but if your cat is the only thing to hear you play, you’re in for a tough time when looking for opportunities in a city where nobody knows you exist. Having confidence in your ability to deliver a truly great performance and the ability to communicate with your audience in a genuine, friendly manner goes a long way to securing a fair booking fee.  Ask yourself – what would I pay to hear me

Shoot for the Stars, Land on the Moon                                                                                    With performer based search engine sites like Gigmasters, GigSalad, and Wedding Wire, it can be difficult to book events as the new kid in town especially when up against longtime members.  These sites are great for getting started; however, they are best used to drive traffic to your personal site.  I’ve shared these same struggles and I’m going to share with you some of my tips to get the rate you deserve and book more gigs. 

 1.       Know  the competition

Whether you use Yelp, your own personal site, or a large event booking site like the ones mentioned above, take some time to view other musician’s press materials.  Do a search in Google and type in things like “Piano wedding Baltimore” or “Guitarist for event” and see what the results are.  Take a look at sites you like and don’t like so you can organize your webpage accordingly.

2.       Know what types of events you’re interested in

This should be common sense, but don’t waste time with events you aren’t interested in.  If you want to play weddings, contact wedding planners and do some research on many of the popular venues in your city for ceremonies.  Don’t waste time in desperation trying to find a bar looking for music once every blue moon.

3.       Charge more than the competition

This may sound insane, but if you truly know your worth, believe in yourself, and stand by your rates – you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the events that may roll down your pipeline.  It all comes down to proper groundwork.  If I was looking to hire somebody, I’d never take a musician seriously if they charge $100 for a performance or $20 a lesson.  That’s just too low for all the time spent practicing and reeks of desperation.  Yet, that’s the price range of the bulk of my “competition.”  To top things off, with a rate that low, you’d need to land at least 10 gigs a month just to pay the rent – that’s hardly surviving.  You want to be the Ferrari, not the Honda.

 50 gigs later, after one year in a new city, I’m convinced that a large part of my success is due to my ability to set high goals.  I moved from the East Coast to the West and came to terms with the fact that There’s always somebody willing to work for less.  Rather than low-balling my quotes to potential clients and competing for scraps, I waited it out and laid down the proper framework to beat the competition. The first couple gigs were tough to book, but if I hadn’t been sure of my worth as a performer and the experience I offer in planning music for a wide array of events, I’m afraid I’d still be competing for $100 weddings and $200 background music events.   Now, I have broken the $1000 barrier and am still looking to improve my results.  Do I still do the occasional $200-300 event – absolutely if it is something I’m interested in!  However, rather than scrambling for dozens of gigs, I can pay the rent and then some after 2 or 3 all because I trust my worth and what I offer as a musician and businessman. 

Remember: You bring with you not just an instrument, but thousands of hours of practice, past performances, and the years of experience gained from honing an art. 

Price Reflects Value

This is a point I’m going to make frequently on this blog.  Price is a direct reflection of value.  People are proud to pay in full for a 100k sports car – it shows off their worth.  People buy designer clothes not due to functionality, but due to BRANDING.  Why do you think H&M gets a away with charging $200 for a blazer, that is really just Indonesian cotton that is beat up and dyed an obnoxious color?!  (I will admit H&M does have great sales…but you get the point.)

If you consistently try to engage your competition a price war , the only thing you offer is a LOWER PRICE.  Price becomes your BRAND.  Think – what are some companies known for low prices – Walmart?  McDonalds?  Sam’s Club?  Their entire business premise is around practical goods or services at the lowest price possible.  What about high prices – Whole Foods?  Banana Republic?  Fogo de Chao?  These companies charge high prices for their goods due to perceived value and higher quality.  Value – whether real or not – and offering a higher quality of service is their brand.

As a musician you can use this concept to your advantage.  You want to be the Rolex of your field, whether playing a wedding or corporate event, small concert series, or doing a recording session.  You want price to reflect your value – not how low you’re willing to go.  There will always be someone offering to do the job for less.   Don’t worry about your competition’s fees – if somebody wants to pay Joe Schmo $100 to play their wedding, well, that’s their choice if they want the music for the big day to sound like a total hack job.  Instead, offer a fair price that reflects your value – and offer a superior service.  Be punctual, friendly, easy to communicate with and make the performance about THE AUDIENCE . 

In the coming posts I will detail exactly how I negotiate contracts and what you can do to leverage simple business concepts to your advantage as a working musician.

Keep a Gig Journal

Keeping a gig journal is something that really helped get my feet in the ground after moving to San Francisco. No, this isn’t a journal in the literal sense of the word. I don’t curl into bed after a performance and pen my thoughts and feelings into leather bound, tear-soaked loose-leaf. Instead, I simply log all pertinent information regarding a performance. I do this beforehand so when I arrive at an event I have who to look for, important phone numbers, how much I am getting paid, and how long the event lasts all in my pocket. If you’re serious about getting results, it serves as a physical reminder of past success and is a tool to track your improvement.

For my first dozen performances it served as a sort professional training wheels – instead of scrambling through emails for event details, I assign each client/event one page and write everything pertinent there. I’m a huge fan of writing things out by hand and having hard copies – I just don’t trust myself to keep track of a bunch of details crammed into an iPhone note. To me this seems pretty common sense, but you’d be surprised by the number of musicians who can’t keep track of their performance schedule. Pulling a Spinal Tap and getting lost on the way to an event is a surefire way to not get hired again. Remember: Take charge of everything under your control.

What to include:
Event Address
Directions (including 1 alternate route – NEVER be late)
Contacts
Event duration
Repertoire
Payment details

If you don’t already have some method of keeping track of your events, a gig diary is a great way to start. Again, it’s something you don’t need to do religiously; however, if you’re somebody who prioritizes professionalism and organization, it will go a long way to taking pre-performance stress out of the equation. I remember a time when I got ridiculously lost on the way to a wedding. I left 3 hours early because the event was in an old farm field that was only accessible from dirt back roads. I got so lost, and the weather was so bad I had to pull my car over for 45 minutes because I couldn’t drive due to the torrential downpour. It was the type of storm where it was near-apocalyptic in one area, yet a few miles away you can see the sun is out making its way through the clouds. I still managed to arrive on time, but after that I decided to never let that happen again and plan for everything. You may have done tons of weddings, but for the couples you’re playing for, hopefully they only have to do it once.

How do you keep track of events and your progress?