Understanding Value and Worth

I used to work for a printing company in downtown Nashville, and I was on my way to work one morning when I noticed a man standing outside one of the city’s modest skyscrapers. He was well-dressed, and a smart-looking briefcase stood on the ground beside him. But what really attracted my attention was the sign he held: “Will work for $30,000 a year.”

It seemed a very clever idea. I asked him if he’d had much interest. “Loads,” he replied. He had a folder stuffed with resumes, and he said he’d handed out about 30 or so before 8:00 that morning.

While I never found out what happened with him, I always assumed he got a job by means of his unique marketing strategy. It was the mid-Nineties, and $30,000 seemed a reasonable starting salary for any number of entry-level professional positions.

This man comes to mind now because he had obviously done his homework. He knew his worth, but he knew his value, too, and he understood the difference between the two figures. He probably thought he was worth at least $60,000 per year, but he knew what he could reasonably expect in Nashville. In other words, thirty grand a year was what the market would bear, what the market said he was worth. Once he was hired and proved his value to a company, advancement would follow.

The same thing is true with bands or any other business. Pricing yourself or your band out of the market is an excellent way to stay in the garage, says David Lowry in this excellent article. “If you aren’t producing the kind of numbers (at your shows) that determine what you think you should be getting paid,” he cautions bands, “you won’t.”

Lowry speaks a sobering truth. I’ve known musicians who won’t even consider a gig for less than $150 per musician (or the worth figure). That’s all well and good, but those guys need to realize that the club doesn’t owe them a place to play. Moreover, there are other musicians who are a little more hungry and a little less proud who will take the $100 per musician (the value figure) the club is offering. They may be less talented, or they may not, but as I said in my last post, talent isn’t high on the list of what clubs are after.

That doesn’t mean that you have to take what a club is offering you. Think back to the man seeking $30,000 a year. He knew that amount would cover his living expenses with perhaps enough left over to pursue his passion (music, maybe?). Like him, ou must also know your operating expenses:  if it costs you more than your night’s pay to drive back and forth from the gig and to pay your food and beverage tab before leaving, then the gig isn’t worth it to you. Everything is negotiable.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to break into a new market in a larger city or another state, you might have to take a little less at first if you want to get in. Your band may have packed the house at the Smallsville Civic Center, but that’s a far cry from LA or New York. As Lowry says,

When you start talking to new markets about your band, don’t assume because you get $1,500 in one market, you will in another. Some venues will pay this, most won’t because they don’t know you, they don’t have any experience with you, and if you have never played in the area before, well then you won’t be bringing a crowd either ….

So be prepared to pay your dues. Do your homework before you visit your next club, and have in mind three figures when you negotiate the gig:

  1. What you want to get paid (your worth)
  2. What other clubs in the area pay (your value)
  3. The absolute minimum you must have (your squeal point)

Be willing to say no if the deal doesn’t make sense. But if you understand the difference between your band’s value and worth, you’ll probably book more gigs, and you’ll also be more satisfied than if you stayed at home and played in the garage.

David Lowry is the owner of The Lowry Agency, a full service artist management/development and promotions agency. Visit http://www.thelowryagency.com/ for more information.

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