Gig Economics

getting-paid-21You know that great feeling you get right after you’ve played a great gig at which everyone had a blast, the club owner was delighted, and you just got five crisp twenties counted into your hand for your efforts? That’s the feeling that can vanish faster than the Statue of Liberty for David Copperfield when the waitress brings your tab. So you fork over $25 for the tab, adding another $5 for the waitress because she works for tips, too, and because you’re not a schmuck.

Then, after you’re all loaded out and you start the car, you realize you need gas. Another $40.

Of course, if you’re gigging and don’t care about the money, that scenario might not seem like a big deal to you. But if you are an independent musician or a serious cover band, then you know it’s not much fun driving home in the wee hours of the morning while fuming that you’re only netting $30 from the night. Fortunately, there are a few things we musicians can do to wind up keeping more of what we earn.

  • Pack a cooler. Just because you’re playing for a club doesn’t mean you have to eat there. A cheeseburger, fries, and drink at a club can run about $10 – $15 before tip, and that’s excluding any alcohol you order. Add in a mixed drink or a couple of beers and you can count on spending about $30 on food alone. Getting fast food on the way might save a little, but you’ll come out way ahead here by packing sandwiches, snacks, and drinks in a cooler. Savings: $20 – $30*.
  • Negotiate discounts. Most club owners will offer discounted meals and drinks to band members as part of the compensation package, and sometimes your band can eat for free. Alcohol is rarely included, although soft drinks, tea, and water are. It never hurts to ask, though, and you should always ask. Savings: $10 – $15.
  • Drive slower. You can’t get around using gas to get to the gig, but you do have some control over how little you can use to get there. It’s no myth that you can increase your gas mileage by up to 25 percent just by driving slower, and performing regular maintenance. Trade for a more fuel-efficient car if possible. (About a month ago I went from a minivan to a Saturn. I now get 35 miles per gallon, and I can still fit in 3 keyboards, two powered speakers, stands, and gig bags!) You can also try leaving about fifteen minutes earlier for the gig and driving 5 – 10 miles an hour slower. Finally, download one of the many smartphone apps like Gas Buddy or Gas Guru (both available on iPhone and Android) to help you find the best gas price. Savings: variable (though by combining these strategies I’ve realized a 28 percent savings at the pump).
  • Know where the cheap hotels are along the way. A couple of the gigs my band plays are nearly 2 hours away from my home, which makes for a rough drive back at 3 AM. I’m able to stay the night with our drummer most of the time, but not everyone has that luxury. For those occasions when you’re just too tired to drive, or when you shouldn’t, an inexpensive hotel makes the best sense. It’s a smarter idea still to research them beforehand to avoid wasting time looking for one at 3 AM that fits your budget. You’re not really saving money here, unless by doing so you wind up avoiding a ticket or driving into a ditch.
  • gBagFromAboveKeep spares in your gig bag. We all keep spares of the obvious things: strings, picks, drumsticks, batteries, and so on. But it’s usually the want of that odd accessory that can ruin a gig. Once I left the house without packing the wall-wart power supply for my Yamaha CP 33 stage piano. I had about an hour before the gig, so I drove (okay, I raced) 15 miles to the nearest Radio Shack, bought a replacement, and got back with about 10 minutes to spare before downbeat. Alas, it was the wrong size! I got through, but I bought a backup power supply at the music store the next day. Savings: variable (but $20 over a year is probably realistic).
  • Charge more for gigs that are farther away. This is the biggest variable over which you have complete control. Your band should already have a good performance fee schedule in place that is both competitive in the marketplace and fair to the musicians. But sometimes good gigs are farther away than those you usually play, and you’ll need to adjust the cost of doing business if you want to take them. Likewise, club owners should expect to pay more if they want you. If you normally charge $500 for a five-piece, get at least an extra hundred to help cover gas and oil; get more if there’s an overnight stay involved. I put the extra $20 into my tank and consider it money saved. Savings: $20 – $35.

To find out just how quickly these savings add up, try this for a month or two: take out the money you would have spent at each night’s gig and set it aside. (Assume you earn $100 per gig.) Getting a comped meal or carrying food and drink each time will probably save about $60 per month ($15/meal * 4 gigs), and driving your well-maintained car slower could net you a $10 savings over the same month. And if you get an extra $30 in a month in tips, sock that away as gas money.

Congratulations! You’ve just saved $100 – a night’s pay!

Now go celebrate at the next gig with a chicken finger plate and a couple of beers.


*Savings are estimates only. Your mileage may vary, depending on location.

Image credits: Top photo – Bottom photo –

Updated 6/25/13

Should You Give Your Music Away?

man in the black jacket with cdCan you imagine someone asking you this question twenty years ago? I can’t.

The fact is, the concept of giving one’s music away for free is a concept that has only surfaced in the last two or three years, and I’d say its nativity was in 2007 when Radiohead announced that they would let their fans pay whatever they wanted to for their new album, In Rainbows. I mean, how can you compete with that kind of a pricing structure?

Fast forward to today where Jamie Leger is telling musicians that they should give their music away because it’s not like people are buying it anyway – they’re listening on YouTube or downloading it from a bit torrent site. And if nobody is buying, then what good is having the attitude that you must be fairly compensated for your work? The world, Leger says, doesn’t owe you a living. You’ve got to figure out how to make one, and it’s a good bet you can’t make it on the paltry royalties paid out by Pandora or Spotify.

The music industry paradigm has shifted. People had bands in the sixties, and their music was about peace and love. Today people have brands, and music is just a tool to promote that brand. Bands are businesses now (they always were), and businesses have to make profits. Free music, it seems, has become the new method for getting people in the door.

Think of it this way: would you rather have the revenue from one customer shelling out $0.99 for a download on iTunes, or would you rather have that one customer coming to your shows on a regular basis and buying your merchandise? Doesn’t it make sense, Leger asks, to build relationships with your fans so that you have a sustainable income? And if you can get that relationship by giving your music away, isn’t it worth it?

Recently I got the chance to talk with some teenagers who had been to various concerts over the weekend. One of them proudly pointed to a necklace she was wearing that day. “Look! I got it at the show for $40!” she gushed. It looked like it might have been worth about $5. She said she’d found out about the band from a friend, who had sent her some MP3s from their first CD. She liked them enough to buy tickets to the show ($10) and buy their merchandise. It would have taken 5 people buying CDs at $10 a pop to realize the same revenue from one girl who paid $50 at the show because she’d heard free music.

So is it worth it? You tell me. Join the conversation and say whether you think artists should give music away in order to get fans. Vote in the poll below and add your comments.



Better Gigs 101: The House Concert

House-concertsRecently I ran across an excellent guest post about house concerts by acoustic artist Fran Snyder on The DIY Musician. These gigs are so named because the artist performs in someone’s living room in front of anywhere between 10 to 50 friends and neighbors of the host and hostess. Such concerts are very intimate affairs: most venues enjoy excellent reputations for having good concerts, and it will usually be a packed house.

What Artists Can Expect

There are practically no downsides to performing at a house concert. You will not have to promote it. Admission (called a donation in house concert parlance) is usually between $10 and $20 per person, and you get to keep it all. You are also encouraged to bring CDs and other merchandise to sell. There’s almost always dinner or a potluck, and some guests may bring their own wine or beer (depending on the rules of the host). Most of the time you can count on spending the night with the host, as some venues may require a few hours travel. And best of all, you get the chance to introduce your music to a new fan base.

But before you get all excited and start visiting house concert websites to book shows, you need to realize a few things:

  • You are a guest in someone’s home.
  • House concerts rarely have any PA. A small system, like the Yamaha Stagepass , will be plenty.
  • Outlet locations may be in inconvenient places. Bring an extention cord.
  • You can’t be shy. Guests may sit very close to you, and they will expect to talk to you, sometimes between songs.
  • House concerts are for artists who are very, very good and know it. As in played-the-Bluebird-and-got-great-reviews-on-my-CDs know it.
  • Acoustic independent artists, solo or chamber classical musicians, or jazz acts are probably best suited for house concerts.

While house concerts usually don’t book acts with a large backline and Neil Peart-style drum kit, there are exceptions. I have played two such events as part of a 5-piece rock band, and both were incredible experiences.

Who Attends House Concerts?

House_Concert_023For the most part, house concerts take place in the homes of wealthy individuals who are interested in live, independent music and who enjoy impressing their friends with the scope and quality of the acts they bring in. Because of their interest and willingness to open their homes to independent acts, these individuals have become the new patrons of the arts. It follows, then, that the guests who attend will be middle-aged, and they will have money to buy CDs and other concert souvenirs. Some of them may even want to book you to perform in their homes later on.

Another reason house concerts are popular for this age bracket is that, while they used to run out and spend the weekends at the clubs, it’s too much of a hassle now. They can watch internet concerts on 60″ plasma flat screens  in a smoke-free environment and not have to worry about designated drivers or riff-raff. But they will get out to see you performing in their friend’s equally cozy house, where they can hang out with like-minded folks.

Ready For the Next Step?

18_century_house_concertIf you have an act that is good enough, consider planning your next tour around stops at some house concerts. The income potential from the donations and merchandise sales is usually far better that what you might get at a club, not to mention the fact that you’re playing a show you didn’t have to promote to a room full of people who are there just to hear your music and meet you. Add that to an established house concert word-of-mouth network, and it’s possible that you’d never want to play a bar again. Indeed, there are some acts that make a living touring the house concert circuit.

House Concert Resources

In addition to his own music career, Fran is also the founder of Concerts In Your Home, a global resource for those interested in playing at a house concert, and for those interested in hosting such concerts. His video and website links are the three resources listed below.

 Additional resources include the following:


Image credits: Top photo –; Middle photo – That Camera Guy; Bottom photo –

Updated July 29, 2013

Theme from Jurassic Park Played by the Vienna Horns

A beautiful rendition of the theme from Jurassic Park, composed by John Williams and played by the Vienna Horns. It’s such a simple melody and chord progression (I-IV-I-IV), but the suspensions are the elements that really move the listener.

Many thanks to Jeffrey Agrell, from whom I first saw this post. Click here to visit his blog.


Kent Moore’s 14 Myths About Pianos

I’ve followed Kent Moore’s blog for some time now, and I always enjoy his posts. There’s gravity to his writing, a sense that he has thought carefully about whatever he’s writing about, and a certainty that it’s the best way to say it.
His “14 Myths About Pianos” is no exception, and the advice is right on the money. I can tell you from experience that a grand piano sounds robust when it gets tuned every quarter. I can also tell you that my parents actually did trade up from an old $200 used upright to a new Kimball spinet. But they did it because I told them I couldn’t stand the sound of the old one.


Misinformation is a burden.  Here are a few of the myths I most often encounter about pianos.

1. Pianos should be placed on an inside wall of the home.

This was true before the outside walls of a home were insulated.  Old Victorian style homes were poorly insulated against outside humidity.  It is no longer necessary to place a piano on an inside wall in a home. It is still recommended to not place the piano by a window that receives direct sunlight for long periods of time.

Learn more about the history of insulation here.

2. We have not tuned the piano because no one plays it.

A piano should be tuned annually even if it is not played.  The changes in humidity cause slight variations in the soundboard which changes the tension on the bridge. This causes changing tension on the strings which causes movement.

Read more…

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New Year’s Resolutions vs. Lifelong Goals

another-nyI’m sure your just as tired of all of the new year’s hype as I am. Strange how the birth of a new year creates this huge onslaught of media coverage that would make one believe the Myans had been right after all. It’s as if there had never been another new year ever, nor will there ever be one to top this one. At least until next year, when the whole circus comes to town again.

So I won’t speak of resolutions, since that’s all you’ve heard about for the past 3 weeks, not to mention that we’re all prone to breaking them sooner or later. Rather I’ll focus on just a few goals musicians should work on, regardless of the time of year.

  • Write the kind of music you’d want to listen to. Sure, you have to know what’s mainstream, but that doesn’t mean you should get carried away by it. Your message is in your music, and you need to personalize it. Take courage from the fact that there’s an audience out there for whatever music you want to write. Think Field of Dreams here: if you write it, they will come.
  • Practice the basics when you practice. Scales. Chord voicings. Arpeggios. Modes. These are the building blocks of any song or composition ever written, and you’ll become a better songwriter if you practice them each day.
  • Focus on building good relationships. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, don’t ask what other people can do to help advance your music career. Instead, look for ways you can help them get what they want. And to do that you have to be willing to talk to people.
  • Create and maintain a conversation with your fans. If you run to your table and hide out during breaks, you’re doing it wrong. Use that time to go out to the crowd and talk to your fans. Connect with them. Find out what they do for a living, where they go to school, what they’re studying. They’ll remember you because no one else does that, and you took the time to make them feel special. You can also mention your upcoming CD, or hand out business cards, or get email addresses, but none of that will matter if you don’t connect.
  • Learn a new skill. Don’t know how to record your songs on a computer? Now is a good time to learn. Can you edit video clips together to make a video demo? No? Read up on it and find out how it’s done. Regardless of how good you are at your instrument or craft, there’s always one more skill out there that you can learn to make yourself even more marketable.

Whatever you do, don’t set yourself up for failure and the associated letdown. Don’t say, “I’m going to practice my scales and modes each day,” or “I’m going to go out and learn a new skill.” Put the action in the present tense: “I practice scales and modes each day (or each time I practice),” and “I build good relationships with my fans.” It’s funny, but if you tell yourself you’re already doing it, you start to do it, and eventually it becomes a habit.

Resolutions are made quickly and fade just as quickly. My guess is that this is stuff you already do, so working just a little bit harder at it won’t seem like so much of a stretch. You’ll feel better about yourself for doing it, too, and that feeling wins out over a blown resolution any old day.