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Danielle Gomez

Society's Take on Hiring Musicians

April 26, 2010 at 10:29 PM

 I am primarily a music teacher.  Recently I got together with some of my music friends to form a quartet to do weddings and such for some on the side money.  I performed in weddings throughout high school and college, but usually it was at a rate someone else had already set.  So, since I'm in charge of my quartet, this is the first time I've really had to assert and market my skills as a performer (not in a teaching capacity).

As I deal with the emails and phone calls from potential clients, I've really found it fascinating to experience all the different ways non-musicians "view" musicians.  First of all, even though having live music at your event instantly adds quality, no one wants to pay for it.  Some people border on shock when they hear it takes more than $50 to hire four professional musicians to play for an hour.  Is this really so hard to fathom?  I don't know anything about ice sculpting, but I would definitely expect to pay a goodly amount if I wanted one at a party.

Another mentality that I frequently come across is the idea that musicians must audition for the part of playing in the wedding.  I've talked to people who have almost bristled when they heard that they would have to pay to get a live demo as opposed to just listening to the free samples we have online.

Since this quartet is by no means my primary source of income and I only take on clients that pay for the rate I ask, this is by no means an embittered rant; it is mostly just musings.  I just don't get why it is that for every other professional involved in a wedding, from the planner to the caterer to the owner of the venue being used, it is very clearly understood common sense that you pay for time you occupy out of their day.  Except for musicians.  For some reason we are the exception that makes the rule.  How did this come about?

Posted on April 27, 2010 at 2:18 AM

totally agree...this is why I cannot get overly excited about the discussion much less playing for weddings. They want 45 minutes before the ceremony with your string trio or quartet and another 45 minutes during the "mingle" cocktail portion of the reception. It takes up 4+ hours of your time and they often think gas money and a meal should be payment enough...ehhh, no thanks. I shall teach some students on Saturdays and have a tuna sandwich.

From simon lyn
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 4:24 AM

 Hey Danielle - that's an uncomfortable but accurate assessment. When I was in my teens I did weddings (literally) for cake. These days its different. I wondered why you wrote 'Society' in the title of this post but it makes sense to me now. Unlike event planning, flower arranging or cake design music is in many ways for many people an information product, digitized onto mp3 players, available everywhere, and *free*. 

So whereas people have no problem handing over $500 to a mechanic or plumber for a few hours of effort, they often cannot seem to justify the same for live music, like playing at their wedding should somehow be reward enough (!) Anyhow hope you stick to your guns and get a fair remuneration for the unique contribution you make to special occasions like this.

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 5:40 AM

Weddings do, indeed, take up a large portion of your day.  Which is partially why I just do them on the side for fun.  Sometimes it's nice getting to play something other than twinkle =)

What baffles me the most is just the way a lot of people approach the whole shopping for live music business.  Like, I don't know about anyone else, but if I needed a professional for ANY reason (fix an appliance, paint the walls, tune my car, plan my event, etc...), I would fully expect to have to pay for the person's time.  Why would looking for musicians be any different?  It's just really interesting to me how that mindset is there.

From Malcolm Turner
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 6:51 AM

It's not just music. My other pastime is photography, and the same happens there. I think the similarity is that everyone knows someone who plays music and takes pictures - little Johnny down the street learns the violin, so it can't be that hard! In the same way, Uncle Fred has a nice camera and his holiday snaps look great. This seems to make people reluctant to acknowledge the huge step up to a professional standard in both. On the photography front, look up Judge Judy on Youtube for numerous cases of bad wedding photography - very funny.

Our quartet do weddings, and if I'm approached, I quote our agreed fee, and then it's take it or leave it. Actually, thinking back to student days, it's always been the same. People seem to think that because you enjoy playing, you'll do a week of a show for petrol money (or less!). I had to learn (the hard way) that the first question you ask is "How much?" And then we get the reputation for being mercenary. No, but I don't like being taken for granted. And strangely enough, you get taken at the valuation you put on yourself. "They must be good - look how much they charge"

So - put a price on your skills and stick to it. Starangely, you actually get appreciated more.


From Danielle Gomez
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 7:16 AM

 That's actually a very interesting observation, Malcolm.  The ease of access to violin lessons or buying a little credit card sized camera almost, for lack of a better term, degrades the art .  I hadn't thought of that before. 


From Elaine Dowling
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 2:24 PM

It isn't just with musicians.  I'm a lawyer.  I am always astonished at the people who schedule an appointment, take up my time, want my help with whatever problem they have -- and don't seem to think that they should have to pay me.  Somebody else is supposed to take care of that. 

From Tom Bop
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 4:31 PM
This is a hard lesson- people will only pay for services if they are capable to do so, and if they see high value in the services. The hard part of building any business is, over time, identifying those who meet both criteria and retaining enough of them to make a living. Many people just don't see "value" in what others do- not that it's not there, but they minimize it- as said above re: the camera and kid down the street- or think "you'll play that day anyway when you practice" or whatever. Toughen up your skin and don't let anyone who doesn't meet those criteria bother you too much- and set out to identify and impress the ones who will appreciate you and pay you! Focus on the target market who will value your services and pay, and you'll end up fine. It might take some time, but that's what makes established businesses valuable! And don't be rude to anyone- you never can tell when someone will refer someone to you or introduce you to someone who is seriously looking for your services.
From Randy Mollner
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 4:41 PM

Here is an email exchange with a potential client looking for "professional string groups, NO AMATEURS":

"Randy I will be listening to everything this week if you would like you can send a demo to the following address attn. (Mr. smith)  that would be great.

I need to tell you that as we are a polished casual dining restaurant that would be looking to pay you for your performance in the form of a wonderful meal and cocktail.

I assume that by hearing back from you in the form of a demo you are interested.

Thank you"

My response:

"I would love to play at you restaurant in exchange for a wonderful meal and cocktail.

Please bring your best chef, server, and dishwasher to my place and I will throw a party for 30 guests.

I think that would be commensurate trade for the service I would perform for you at your for profit business.


PS- send me self-addressed, stamped envelope and I'll get that demo right to you."



From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 6:06 PM

 What an interesting subject, and what great comments! 

From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 6:40 PM

 Market principles apply. You have a skill and a service. Price it at the market value. You may have to do some marketing to differentiate yourself from cake eating amateurs but that is marketing.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 8:33 PM

$50 per hour?  Why that's a princely $12.50/hour each!!  Who else is working a wedding for that kind of money?  Caterer?  Planner?  Oh, please.

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 9:55 PM

 No no.  I charge more than $50 for a wedding lol.  I was just commenting on how potential clients seemed to be shocked that I do.  Which kind of shocks me in return.  I can't think of ANY professional that I would approach only guesstimating that they charge $10 an hour.  Get real.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 10:33 PM

I live in a city that has a living wage law of $9.50/hour.  One person I talked to when it went into effect thought that was awfully high, until I explained that it worked out to an annual gross of $19,000.  She then changed her attitude to one of surprise that anyone could even try to live on that.  People have odd concepts of money.  I think they don't understand that just maybe some or all of the string quartet actually do this for a living, not just dinner and a drink as per Randy's example.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on April 27, 2010 at 10:51 PM

Hey Randy, great email response, did you ever get a reply?!   lolol

Don't forget that in the heyday of the European aristocracy through most of history, musicians WERE servants and in the most cases treated like them and I guess there's unfortunately still some of that attitude going on today.  Remember Mozart's unfortunate encounter with the Archbishop of Salzburg?   I can imagine he'd feel nothing much had changed if he dropped back to the planet as a gigging event musician...

I remember going to a reception held after a really big concert, lots of patrons, sponsors, local representatives etc and the orchestral musicians were invited too.  Great fun, lots of good conversation, wine and food when this wrinkled old crone dripping with jewellery totters over  to me and mutters:  "Who let the musicians in here?  Don't they have their own eating area?"   Sad but true...

Makes it all the more important that musicians stand up for their profession and all it represents.

Posted on April 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM

from Google, I found that the average spent on weddings in my area is between $25,000 and $33,000...pity these poor folk money left for the string players I guess.

From Randy Mollner
Posted on April 28, 2010 at 3:46 AM

Nope, no reply from the guy.  No surprise- he's just hoping to find a sucker, that's business, I guess.

Honestly, I don't mind terribly being treated as a servant, most society gigs I don't want to mingle with the high hoity-toities anyway, as long as they pay me.  It's being treated like a beggar that bothers me.

By the way, Rosalind, I think I met that wrinkled old crone once.  In another life, I was hired by a well known event planner to suspend 1000 votive candles over a dance floor with fishing line in a small private club for a  birthday party/private concert featuring Marvin Hamlisch, for whom I was also operating the sound and lighting board.  It was tight quarters, so I was seated very close to an elderly gentleman who engaged me in conversation while his wife was in the bathroom.  When she returned he told her that I was the one who had done the decor and lighting.  The old Crone responded, "Pshaw, he's a liar, that was done by (the famous designer).  You should be ashamed young man!" 

At least I was paid.

From Susan Horn
Posted on April 28, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Recently I was asked to play at a wedding in another state.  No payment and I had to pay my way there.  Even though these were friends of my family I had to decline.  I just couldn't afford to do this.  They were disappointed, but I had to stick to my guns friends or not.  So, I completely understand why you must have a set fee for your time.  I also look at it from this prospective, you have invested alot of time, effort and your own money (in lessons) into your violin.  You do need some return on that investment.  Personally, I think live music at an event such as a wedding means more than the canned stuff out there.  Just a better touch if you ask me.  Stick to your values on this one, yes, you may loose some events, like you said this is not your total livelihood, but you do not want to be taken advantage of either, and given the chance some people will do that. 

From Ray Randall
Posted on April 28, 2010 at 4:55 PM

My wife's parents were fairly well off when we got married in 1968. However, we all decided to have a cheap wedding and use the money that would have been spent on stuff that you would never see again on a house down payment. In my opinion a much better use of money.

  Our ST. louis Civic Orchestra charges $75. a head for playing outside regular concerts. The musicians are either very good amateurs or professionals. We get it, too.

From Gene Wie
Posted on April 28, 2010 at 10:15 PM

I tell my students (high school and college age) this all the time: Do not sell yourself short, and do not play for free unless there is a good reason to do so!

I had a discussion a few weeks ago where someone asked me what the going rate out here was for wedding music. I asked them to specify what they wanted and it came out to about two and a half hours of music with some custom arrangements (covering the guest arrival, ceremony, and reception/dinner), along with attendance at their rehearsal dinner the day before, with them making it explicitly clear that they wanted professionals and not students of any sort.

When I told them that this cost them in the neighborhood of $1000, they went ballistic on me. And this is a group of people who are spending $30,000 on the event because it is taking place on the main setting of a beach front resort hotel!

When the wedding coordinator called me later to try to "negotiate" to what she felt was reasonable ($200), I told her quite bluntly: "You expect to hire a group of four professionals with master's and doctoral degrees in their field that will provide the entire background setting for the ceremony in an event costing tens of thousands of dollars for the kind of wages one makes flipping hamburgers? I'm sorry, but your expectations are unreasonable and offensive."

A single place setting at this wedding would have cost more than what she was trying to convince me to accept.

From Roland Garrison
Posted on April 28, 2010 at 11:03 PM

I'm firmly in the middle.

For my wedding, we had a Harpsichord and flute duo. They requested scale (what they said was scale, I had no idea) and we didn't quibble; the total even included transportation of the harpsichord.

For my daughter's wedding, I had a friend play piano. I asked his rate, and he refused payment.

So, I guess I paid about h1/2 the going rate, on average.

From Lawrence Franko
Posted on April 29, 2010 at 2:13 AM

 Supply and demand, folks. Our educational system has been turning out large numbers of great players these past few decades, and, alas, fewer and fewer afficianados/listeners/patrons. Worse, live players are competing with cheap, recorded everything. Until there are more wealthy people who appreciate music than there are willing, good people who play it, musicians have a problem. Either we create fewer players, or more (paying) listeners. I am all for doing the latter, but how? [Economist, Business PhD and violinist, Lawrence Franko]

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