Some Musical Math

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Q: What’s the difference between a musician and a pizza?

A: The pizza can feed a family of four!

It’s a tired joke about life as a musician and in many cases it’s not that far from the truth.  Yes, there is less work out there for the full time musician but I think many musicians, especially those that are not trying make a living, don’t mind playing a gig for little or no money.

Piggy Bank and canadian dollarsHere’s what I know about what musicians are making these days.  There’s a range from $0.00 to $1000 per night.  For me free gigs have included things like fundraisers or benefits for some cause or another.  I have been paid for some benefits as well.  Then there are the gigs where musicians pass the hat.  I heard an interesting argument about that versus a cover.  People may not come in to the venue if they see a $10 or $15 cover but if it’s pass the hat they just might throw in a$20.

There are some bar gigs that still pay the same $75 per person for a 10:00 pm to 2:00 am that they were paying when I started playing again.  Actually, it’s not the same $75 that it was in 2004 since you can’t buy as many pizzas with it in 2013.  I did those gigs because that’s all I could get at the time.  Some musicians I know are paid $600 for a weekend plus their travel and hotel are covered.  Who’s getting the $1000 a night?  That’s the top end of the ‘hired gun’ musician market that probably involves a lot of travel on planes, trains and automobiles.  Where do I sign?  After that there’s the rock star money but the chances of going there are as slim as becoming an NHL player.

So what’s a reasonable fee to expect for a gig?  My very smart wife came up with some simple math when I was grumbling about a $125 gig that was on offer.  This gig involved an hour drive to and from the venue. and hour set plus load in and load out time.  Call it 4 hours in total.  Divide the money by the hours and I’m at $31.25 per hour.  Not bad at all.

My rule of thumb is fairly simple.  I’d like to average out to $25 – $30 per hour including my travel time to and from the gig.  Double it for a corporate/wedding gig situation.  I’ve been paid less and I’ve also been paid a lot more but not often enough.  In the meantime I’ll keep hustling to play with as many people as I can so that I can buy my pizza and eat it too.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below.



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