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. 

Everything is an Opportunity

Early on, finding success can seem like a total mystery. You hear about friends and colleagues winning competitions, recording a CD, or having a concert and you wonder how they got so lucky – “why can’t it be me?” And this is the problem. The competition or gig or CD was not their “success” – it was the manifestation of the fruits of their labor, the intersection of timing and preparation. It was the moment when their hard work paid off. Success is total commitment to the process of work and practice.

With that in mind and after working long and hard on your craft, only then will what seems like luck to the untrained eye will reveal itself as opportunity. Everybody you meet and everywhere you play has the possibility to lead you someplace new. You just need to keep your eyes opened.

A rather wealthy, older gentleman who comes to many of my performances took me to lunch one day. We ate and spoke and we tossed around the idea of putting together a CD release concert, with him playing Host and taking care of the audience. Over the course of lunch, I asked him what he was doing when he was my age and how he ended up in the position of being able to help young musicians. What he said has stuck with me ever since: “Instincts – I look at everything and everyone as an 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

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.

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.

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?

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

Year in Review

2013 Wrapped up to be a great year for me. In fact, it was the busiest year I’ve ever had. While I’m still a fulltime student, I managed to book 46 private events and about 10 formal concerts. I finished recording a CD project of Spanish guitar music with a friend and we’ve just about sold the first batch of CDs – the good ol’ fashioned way – at concerts. The best concert was the Fayetteville Theatre in West Virginia. Not only was it a great show, but we were the first guitarists to EVER play that venue – the whole town showed up simply out of curiosity. Oh, and we stayed at a haunted mansion…

My teaching has been going great and my students are doing well, however, it is starting to bite into my performance opportunities. I got a new job at a private arts school and have two job offers from other music organizations to consider so 2014 has me weighing the benefits of each position – it’s nice to have choice.

In private bookings, I already have 10 concerts booked for 2014 and a short concert tour of Texas thanks to my good friend Jake who’ s the founder of the Aranjuez Outreach Series – they are a KICK ASS music nonprofit that puts on concerts at free master classes at universities throughout Texas. In the coming weeks I will be posting in more detail about how to book events including email and networking techniques.

I’ve managed to break the $700 barrier and $1000 barrier for a single event which is great progress! My average amount of gigs in 2013 was 3.33/month. Not bad, however, I had some months like March and June where I had no bookings, but then had tons of events in August and September. My goals for 2014 are to start my own event business, average 4+ gigs/month and break the $1500 barrier!

Setting high but attainable goals has been a huge part of my process. Even simple things like “wake up, figure out how to update blog email” is a step forward for me (I’m quite technically inept) and that old motto of “a really freaking long, crazy journey starts with a single step.” Or something like that.

What are YOUR goals for 2014?

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