events

Two Benefits of Playing Weddings

In addition to giving you the opportunity to make an impact on a couple’s special day, weddings have two HUGE benefits: Networking with day-of coordinators and venue staff. For the coordinators and planners, this is their livelihood and this won’t be the only wedding they’re doing all year. Do well and you’ll lay the foundation for repeat business. In the same vein, the venue staff likely does more than weddings. If it’s a winery they will host parties, tastings, and possibly a small concert series.

Day-of Coordinators and Planners

Ideally, you should already be proactive and in touch with the wedding planner well before the big day. If you’re primarily communicating with the couple, I’d recommend asking them for the contact info of their event planner and reaching out in advance of the ceremony. Even if it’s just to introduce yourself, it shows responsibility and makes their job easier. In your email you should:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Link your website
  • List songs to be played for Processional and Recessional
  • List estimated song duration
  • Confirm venue address and start time

All of this can be taken care of in a few sentences and makes coordination smooth. Not to mention, if you’ve already struck a favorable impression before the wedding, you’re well on your way to repeat business. Making the music portion of the event planner’s job a breeze is gigging with ease.

Venue Staff

At large venues you’ll come into contact with a variety of staff. Everyone from waiters and waitresses to the venue’s event team and managers. Always, always, always introduce yourself to everyone and offer to help out with set-up (you arrived early, remember?) Even if you eat free or get a bottle of wine on the house – tip the bartender or waitstaff generously. With venue staff you should:

  • Exchange contact info
  • Ask about upcoming events
  • Email a thank you a few days after the event
  • Send them your website/press kit

These are two massive benefits of playing weddings and need to be followed to a T. Experience builds momentum, which in turn puts you in touch with more and more people who are eagerly waiting to hire you for their event.

Happy Gigging

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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.

3 Simple Tips for Emailing Clients

1. Start with a friendly greeting. This may sound simple, but this needs repeating. Many people have no idea how they come off over email – let alone in real life – but somehow think that communicating behind a computer screen is some sort of safety net. What would amount to an awkward first impression in real life results in an email that either falls flat or comes off as insincere and unprofessional. I recommend making the first sentence of any email a “thank you,” stating my appreciation for their interest in my music and that I’d be happy to discuss their event further. If this is a newly engaged couple – especially if it is the bride you’re emailing – this goes double. Thank them for their interest AND congratulate the couple on setting a date to tie the knot. The vibe you want to established is friendly-professional. They want to know that you’ll not only be a great performer, but somebody who is enjoyable to be around and could possibly be hired again in the future.

2. Keep it simple, stupid. The first email should fit on the screen without need for scrolling. Be polite and friendly, but get to the meat of things fast. I like writing, “just to be sure I understand you correctly…” and then following with a bullet-point list that includes arrival times, duration, event address, repertoire, and my quote. This will make things much easier when you are juggling multiple gigs. You’ll thank yourself later when sorting out the details of an event, and the client will be happy you aren’t wasting time with endless banter.

3. ALWAYS LINK. Always, always, always, always include a link to your website. If you don’t have a website – you should, and that will be discussed on the blog soon – attach mp3s or a resume (or both!) to every email you send. Every email I send ends with a link to my website immediately under my name. If you have an impressive site, this is a great way to show it off to clients, and it speaks volumes about your sense of professionalism.

Again, these are my simple tips and rules that I follow when I email event planners, clients, potential students, and concert venues. If anyone would like additional advice or an in-depth look at emails I have sent (I save everything) feel free to comment or email Gigsmarter@gmail.com

No Gig is a Sure Thing

Performing on a regular basis is a humbling experience. It requires a sense of dedication which comes as a result of hard work, making and taking opportunities, and a bit of luck. One lesson best learned early is that no gig is a sure thing. Just as the walls of a hallowed concert hall would be lucky to be graced by your talent, you are just as fortunate to be on stage in the first place. Whether a formal recital, opera, corporate event, house concert, or wedding – somebody else may get hired. Many things are completely out of your control. The bride may have second thoughts, there may be a rain check for an outdoor event, a performer may get sick, and the list goes on. Any number of things could happen that are entirely out of your control to make a gig fall through at the last minute.

The key to moving forward?

Understand that until you are sitting on a stage physically playing your instrument at said contracted venue, no gig is a sure thing. It’s only real when you’re there. Never count on others to follow through, never count on one “special” gig to come through and present itself to you out of thin air. Granted, those things are great when good fortune smiles upon you, but the rule is you need to be the one to make things happen. Book events, coordinate, arrive early, follow through, and play.

In the ever-changing world of music, the key to making a decent living in performance lies in two things: 1 – Taking charge of everything that you can control
Set up arrival times, send contracts, set rates, select repertoire, and bring CDs and business cards. The more details you can take care of – often only requiring a few minutes of emailing – the better, and you’re clients will remember you for it.
2 – Understand that nothing is set in stone
Don’t get frustrated when things don’t go your way. Have faith in your ability as a musician and understand that change is part of nature. Just because an event falls through or you get a lousy turnout, doesn’t mean you totally suck. After all, Led Zeppelin’s first gig was playing in a teen hall for a whopping 12 people, and the rest is history. Stick it out and chalk it up to part of the process.

Smartphones can save your ass

For years I avoided upgrading my phone. I hated seeing people out at restaurants giving their phone so much attention that they might as well have given it a menu and a chair. And I sure as hell didn’t want to become an iPhone zombie, inseparable from my fancy new device. However, after incessant prodding, I finally caved in, ditched my taped together, pink Sony Ericson (I miss you) and got an iPhone 4.

i don't know what I was thinking...

i don’t know what I was thinking…

My dad was right – since getting a smart phone, it’s way more convenient to respond if you get an urgent gig request than having to find a computer. Having access to email, websites, and Google Maps has a HUGE impact on booking gigs. Remember: time = $. Booking gigs = $. Gig = getting to perform. More gigs = reputation. Reputation = you’ve successfully put yourself out there.

Since getting a smart phone, I’ve consistently gotten 3-4 more gigs a month and have been able to respond to more leads WAY faster than I would have with just my laptop. As soon as I hear the email alert go off, I check my phone and if it is a gig I’m interested in, I send a short email right away. (The short, preempt email will be detailed in a post of its own.) And for bonus, even if I don’t end up getting the gig, nearly everyone who emails me back compliments me on my concise, timely manner. This is a good thing and can lead to future bookings.

Anyway, here are the huge bonuses to having a smart phone:
• Check and respond to email = give better service, book gigs faster
If you use a site like Wedding Wire or Gig Masters, this is an ENORMOUS advantage, as most performers’ response time falls between 1 and 2 days.
• Look up directions and Maps
No excuse for getting lost on the way to an event.
• Access to websites
You can keep track of your website and email links – all things that can’t be done with a phone call.

It’s amazing how much one small device can save your ass if put to good use.

not like this

not like this

How to Get More Gigs: Keep a Contact List

Part of being a professional musician – which implies a successful musician – is keeping a contact list.   Every time you perform or exchange business cards, whether playing a wedding or meeting somebody backstage, add their information to a master document.  This master document could be as complicated as an Excel spreadsheet complete with names, dates, and venues or as simple as a Word document that lists current email addresses.

Music, like all business, is about networking.  You never know what could end up in your pipeline because of a brief exchange at a gig you played months ago.  This gets you more performances, more exposure, more fans, and more money – win, win, WIN!  Personally, I’m not fantastic with technology.  That’s probably part of the reason why I’m a classical guitarist…But anyway, I find that keeping a Microsoft Word document is the easiest way for me to keep track of my contacts.

Keep It Simple

Add the new contact to your list as soon as you possible.  I find it’s effective to write where you met as well and I’m in the habit of logging the info as soon as I get home from an event.  Some will advocate keeping your entire list updated of any and all of your activities.  I find being effective – emailing those who have a greater probability of buying your CD, hiring you again, or coming out to a performance – to be a better use of time than forwarding a mass email.

Compile a List of Prospective Venues  

Another overlooked aspect of the contact list is keeping track of venues and concert promoters.  These can be people you have never met or played for, but may be interested in contacting about performing at their venue in the future.  Have a new CD to sell?  Have an exciting new program to debut?  These will be the people to contact to set up that event and send your press materials to since most venues book out months in advance.  It gives you an immediate feel of any and all musical activity in a given location, as well as a bird-eye view to laying out a potential string of concerts.

Summary

  • Keep a list of all contacts from any event you perform
  • Update the list regularly for email changes, new additions, and new phone numbers
  • Keep a separate list of local concert venues and promoters
  • Target members of your list for emails relevant to your career