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A friend approached me with a question about LED gig pricing and, having taken a moment to send some good feedback, I thought my answers might be useful to other artists looking to set their rate for gigs.
Q: I’ve been getting offered LED gigs lately and was wondering what your experience with that is. I’m wondering about pricing, thinking maybe $200 for 2 songs….?
To begin with, my thinking on pricing is always as follows: whatever the market will bear! Now the unfortunate aspect of that is that you never actually know in advance what you can get away with. The best thing you can do from a selling perspective is create value for what you offer before talking prices so they want you and price becomes irrelevant or at the very least, diminished. The more invested they are in you, specifically, the more likely they are to book you, specifically. Thus, creating a great relationship and deepening rapport will help.
$200 for 2 songs is pretty decent for LED gigs that are local, but that also depend on some factors:
- are they 3 minute songs or 8 minute songs?
- do you pick or they pick?
- is it music you like or music you need to tolerate?
I bid minutes (set length) and number of sets not songs because it’s clear contractually and leaves me the freedom to do however many props in that time. That said, I’d say at least half the performers out there have less specific criteria making me the “weird” one in valuing clarity. I think it’s professional, but others have a different perspective.
I have talked to lots of artist who bid $100 for an hour of their time. I look at that number and can’t for the life of me understand precisely what they mean because each artist means something different but not a single one who bids that actually means spinning an hour, they mean an hour of their time.
But then I ask: where does your hour start? The reality is, our hours started years ago so that number is both unclear in terms of specifics and leaves you open contractually to some ambiguity with clients I don’t think is wise.
Similarly, you can get hired for 2 songs but they may want one of them at 9 pm and one of them at 1 am. That’s 4 hours on site. If you don’t want to be at the venue, or if you want to be doing something else, you’re stuck there. At that point, to only get paid for your two songs but not get paid to have to be stuck at the venue isn’t really fair compensation in my book.
Here’s the thing for me — it’s not just how much time — it’s how much time between sets, how long the commute is, where the location is, how much I want to be at the venue or not and how much I have going on. If I have more money, I demand more money because I need it less. If I have less money, I might do something for the money because I need it when I wouldn’t have if I were more flush.
It also goes back to the reality of the gig — if you’d do the gig either way, then that’s very different and any money is acceptable. If you wouldn’t be where the event is without the gig, then you obviously will want the money to be worth your while.
In my experience there is this very uncomfortable zone when bidding gigs when you want to be at the event to be there and experience it versus be at the event to market. As you move into the professional realm, it’s important to know before going into the negotiation which type of event this is. It is in your best interest to not reveal that to the client if you would go to the event anyway because that makes them think they are doing you a favor by hiring you as opposed to the reality: you are working for them in a mutual value for value exchange.
Ultimately, the best advice about pricing that overarches everything is have a strong ‘no’ so your ‘yes’ is even stronger. Truly, a ‘yes’ coming from someone who doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ is meaningless and I always feel more comfortable dealing with business people who have comfortable boundaries because they are typically much more clear about things and it makes for much smoother sailing.
You don’t have to know so much in advance where the line is in the grey zone, but I strongly recommend you get clear on your ‘no’ (what I won’t tolerate) and ‘yes’ (what I absolutely need) boundaries because without this, you are opening yourself up to misery.
For example, if you take it for $200 and have to commute 4 hours each way, that’s not nearly the same as taking it for $200 for something that is 20 minutes from home. That sounds obvious but sometimes promoters don’t give all the details so it’s incumbent on us as the artists to ensure we have a great list of questions we’re asking when we are sussing out the gigs. Just because a promoter says its 45 minutes away doesn’t mean it will take you 45 minutes to drive it the first time at the time they book you and it’s happened to me where they quoted me one drive time but the reality was it was more than twice as long or there was far more traffic than I could have ever imagined which made it far less enjoyable.
These seem like incredibly little things on their own — ultimately, 45 minutes here or there isn’t that big a deal once. But if you consider that 45 minutes one way means 90 minutes per gig and if you think about doing 4 gigs a month where you lost 90 minutes per gig, that’s 6 hours and that really is a significant amount of time. Travel boundaries are a big deal to me and I didn’t think about them clearly enough in the beginning. I ultimately have turned down fairly well paying gigs and “let myself get undercut” by people who were geographically closer. For example, if you are leaving San Francisco and going to the East Bay for an ongoing gig all weekend long, you have to pay the bridge toll an east bay person isn’t considering and that also adds up, particularly with gigs that have repeat engagements.
Consider the impact of those little things when calculating your cost because as much as they don’t matter individually or you might be willing to let them slide, the overall impact of them may be a lot more than you’ve considered until you take the time to really honor yourself. Also remember that in the beginning, what seems like good money may be very different as you have more experience under your belt and a better sense of what actually creates time suck in the performance process you never would, could or tried to imagine before performing became a “job” versus a “fun thing to do.”
Additional resources can be found when you subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek business training or guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly: