How much should I charge?

May 7, 2019, 1:25 PM · Hi, it's been a while since I last posted here.

I have a gig coming up and don't know how much I should charge. My violin teacher's friend asked my teacher to come and play but since he (my teacher) has a concert to attend he naturally can't come. Thus he asked me to replace him.

I will be playing some light music for 15 + 30 minutes (with a break in between when there is an award ceremony). It's a job event for a company at a quite nice hotel. The person who asked me to play is an employee at the company

I'm a non-professional teenager who has only gotten asked to play at gigs by acquainted and such. The employee asked me directly "what do you usually charge for a gig?" I've never been asked this and didn't expect a question like this so I'm quite dumbfounded. It has always been the organisers who decide how much they pay me (sometimes no money but a gift instead). It's also the first time I'm playing at such a formal event.

I already know that I'm going to charge slightly more, because I'm supposed to attend the same concert as my teacher (a concert I really looked forward to) but have to miss half of the thing because of this gig. I thought about charging 40€ but, as I said, I'm not sure.

My mom suggested me letting them decide how much money I should be given because it might be more than what I would suggest.

Please excuse my horrible English...

Replies (32)

May 7, 2019, 1:35 PM · It's going to be difficult for anyone to answer this not knowing where you are (country and city) and what the local rates might be. Also, is there are reason you can't simply ask the person who got you the job (your violin teacher's friend) what you should charge?
Edited: May 7, 2019, 2:55 PM · I live in Finland, the gig is in the centre of the capital.

And about the question why I can't simply ask the person who got me the job what I should charge, it sounded unprofessional in my ears. Then again, I'm not a professional and what do I know :P They asked me what I charge, should I change back the question to how much they think I should get charged? Or did I misunderstand you...

Edit: clarifying
Edit 2: typo

May 7, 2019, 2:33 PM · Back in the days in my country, an English lesson with a private teacher would cost you 1 kg of pork meet. With no relevant parameters, I would translate this into price of 1 set of Pirastro string of your choice.
May 7, 2019, 2:36 PM · ask your teacher what a reasonable rate would be
Edited: May 7, 2019, 2:53 PM · Oh, I had assumed your teacher's friend was a violinist who had passed on the job to your teacher, who had passed it on to you. But he/she is the employer. So, I agree with Irene. (Wait for it): Ask your teacher!
Edited: May 7, 2019, 4:14 PM · Normally I'd say charge what you think is fair and stick to it, but since you're filling in for someone else, you should ask your teacher.

Edit: How is your English horrible? It just seems normal to me.

May 7, 2019, 3:48 PM · Ask a professional musician or the musicians union (assuming there is one) what "scale" is for a single performance. You might be surprised how little they pay considering all the preparation required in addition to the time spent performing.
May 7, 2019, 4:34 PM · I was 15 in 1950 when an internationally known professional dance troup came to town and hired me to play a cello solo accompanying their prima dancer's solo. They paid me $5 (covered one rehearsal and the gig). At the time, my father, a medical doctor and leader of the pathology branch at a government lab was earning $10,000 a year (2,000 hours) or $5/hour. Of course I was on stage (off to the side, but visible) only a few minutes, but I had to get there and home again. Later that year I played violin solo for a square dance and got $5 for something over an hour of work.

Based on that, I think it is fair to request the going wage for one hour of professional work - whatever that is where you live.

May 7, 2019, 5:56 PM · By all means ask your teacher but I think your price is too low. I would recommend at least 75 euros. It is a fancy corporate event and they are probably already spending more than that on the centerpieces. It is over an hour of work, by the time you wait around listening to probably what will be a boring awards ceremony.
Edited: May 7, 2019, 6:13 PM · About 10 years ago I was called on occasionally as a cellist to stand in for a frequently absent bass guitarist in a local barn dance band. My job was to improvise a strong rhythmic bass line from the sheet music the violinist was playing from, not an onerous task.

The leader of the band, a banjo player, engaged me and paid me £60 (UK) + travelling expenses per gig. During the gigs the band always had first go at the food during the half-way break, and was supplied liberally with liquid refreshment throughout the evening, all written into the contract as I understood. Always an enjoyable event.

Eventually, for me the good times came to an end when the band recruited a 100% reliable bass guitarist, and my services were no longer required :(

An important point: never undervalue yourself by asking too low, which can have an unfortunate knock-on effect for other musicians seeking gig work.

May 7, 2019, 6:31 PM · E50 sounds fine. Spend some of it up front ... on business cards.
May 7, 2019, 7:48 PM · Find out what others in your area charge. Don't shortchange yourself. I did photography for a dance company in Minneapolis. They paid me $10 for each photo they used. One day, another photographer was at one of the shows. The director of the company explained that the other photographer was like me, just shooting photos for fun and experience. Well, before one show a friend of mine was there substituting for that photographer. "I only do this for the money," he said. "Money?" I replied. "What money?" Well, it seems he was getting $1,000 for his time. I'd been duped. I never went back. So learn from my experience.
Edited: May 7, 2019, 7:58 PM · It's a job event for a company at a quite nice hotel...…

Sounds like they don't have a problem with cash flow, charge them for your service. For this kind of gig I wouldn't do it for any less than 125 Euro. So what if they don't want to pay, you can attend the concert then.

May 7, 2019, 9:10 PM · 1. Ask your teacher what a fair fee for a student to charge would be.

2. Never, ever, ever ask an employer what he/she thinks would be a fair fee to pay you.

3. Remember, once you quote a price, you can always come down but you can never go up. So don't quote your rock bottom price to start with.

Edited: May 8, 2019, 8:38 PM · What is the minimum hourly wage in Finland? Can't be less than that. Performance time + reasonable setup time + transit cost + non performing time where you are required to hang around. That's your bottom line IMO. Then find out what the average pro orchestra player gets paid, and you are somewhere in between, perhaps on the low end given that you don't (I assume) paying union dues. Agree in advance on how long you are expected to remain onsite, over that it becomes overtime unless it is your choice to hang around.
May 8, 2019, 9:03 PM · All this tough talk is predicated on the assumption that you will be providing professional-quality service.
May 8, 2019, 10:38 PM · That's why the OP needs to ask her teacher what a fair fee for her would be. He knows how well she plays. Close to professional level playing = close to professional level fee. Otherwise....should be otherwise.
Edited: May 9, 2019, 12:33 AM · Right, so Im from Finland but I have never been in such a situation. However, your teacher has deemed you capable of replacing her, so you must be really good. Im assuming it is a firm and not a non-profit organization or such. And if it is a big firm 40 e sounds too little. I cannot think your teacher would do the gig for 40 euros.

You really have to ask your teacher, but in that situation if you really have to say now, I would say 50-100 euros or then do as your mother says and ask what sum they have in mind. It may very well be that they are planning to pay 80 euros or up.

A lesson in violin costs here at the littlest 30 e per half an hour (with taxes) and that is in the province not in Helsinki, a violin lesson in the biggest city with a really good teacher I imagine costs over 100 euros. (Im thinking of individual lessons, most lessons are buy a state funded music shools, so difficult to compare)

A concert should cost more than a lesson so thats something to go buy. I would think that well above 100 euros would be a adequate charge for a professional musician in your situation. Your teacher has to pay taxes from the sum, so it has to be a significant sum, may be well above 100, but I have absolutely no idea how much above.

I would probably play the situation like asking do they allready have a sum negotiated with your teacher and then if they seem realuctant say you would be find with about 3/4 about the price allready negotiated and if not, I would probably say 80 euros and then if they look like its too much, just ask what they had in mind. 25 procent discount for being a non-professional would sound right.

I think its either free playing or then a good sun, they wont appreciate you for not evaluating yourself high enough, they are firm-people, dont feel gratitude and such.

May 9, 2019, 12:57 AM · Like many others said, obviously in this situation, just ask your teacher!
May 9, 2019, 11:43 AM · I asked my accompanist today about this, she suggested 200€ and said that a pro like my teacher (whom she is a friend of) would probably charge 400€... I have a lesson tomorrow with my teacher, will ask him then. Thank you for your answers!
Edited: May 9, 2019, 12:01 PM · Lilian, I'd probably start out by asking what the normal pay rate is for such events where you live and work, and then negotiate from there.

We don't know yet whether you are a spectacular or lousy player, and a lot could depend on that.

May 9, 2019, 3:30 PM · Unlikely she's lousy as her teacher would not want his judgment or teaching skill questioned by recommending a incompetent player... He's got something at stake here.
May 9, 2019, 5:23 PM · Have a think about how much tax you may have to pay on your fee (someone else mentioned that, I believe), and also your travelling and other outgoing expenses, which may be tax-deductible. All these things will influence the size of your fee.
Edited: May 9, 2019, 6:28 PM · E400 for "15-30 minutes" seems pretty steep even for your teacher. Unless maybe your teacher's name is Pekka Kuusisto or such ... that's US$1000 an hour.

We'd all be better off if there wasn't such a taboo against discussing gig pay. In my little circle, we talk pretty freely. A friend couldn't do a certain (solo jazz piano) gig that he does every year so he referred it to me. I asked him what I should charge for 75 minutes and he told me he got $115 last year so I asked for that and got it. That's actually a notch better than I usually charge for solo playing which is $75 an hour (including 15 minutes between each hour). These wages may seem low to you but I'm not a professional (for example I use fake books) and I don't live in New York. In hindsight I should have asked for $125, not so much for myself, but so my friend would have an instant raise when he takes the gig again next year. It turned out to be a tough gig because the piano was incredibly stiff. Pounding out the standards took on a new meaning. Also it's the first time I've ever seen a piano that was made primarily of particle board coated in 2 mm of black plastic.

May 9, 2019, 7:14 PM · I asked my accompanist today about this, she suggested 200€...………..

Now we're talking business, and if indeed your teacher does charge 400 then I'd be asking that. Doesn't matter how or what you play, doesn't matter if you are a student, they asked you to play. If you wanted exposure or the experience you would tell them you will play for nothing. This is not some local community get-together-social-activity, this is a corporate function were they splash out on entertaining their employees and clients. Don't allow them to take advantage of your good will, charge them for the service you will provide. Don't charge by the hour, only trades persons do that to undercut each other. Your rates should be based on who has asked you to play and whether you want to play or not.

May 9, 2019, 8:30 PM · It is normal for gig musicians to charge by the hour.
May 10, 2019, 7:44 AM · Yes it's normal to charge by the hour, but also to arrange up-front how many hours it will be (thus a total fee), and what happens if the amount they need you to play suddenly becomes shorter or longer (shorter is more common at corporate events, in my experience, because speeches, awards, and stuff like that always run much longer than expected). Remember that every gig is an opportunity not only to make money, but to build one's reputation and to improve as a player and business(wo)man.

I agree with Henry that if its a corporate function, the amount they're already spending on catering (among other expensive amenities) will blow your mind. This is one reason why I generally decline to play for free at charity fundraisers. I did a few of those and when you get there you see all this beautiful food, and you find out they're paying the caterers at retail.

Just remember that if you ask for E400 their answer could be "No thanks, we'll find someone else." It's more likely they'll make a counter-offer but not guaranteed. And if they hire some other pro, chances are they go with the other pro next year instead of your teacher. One of the things you're going to learn freelancing is that the business world is complicated, and sometimes the people you deal with are weird or mean. Maybe Finland is like Southwestern Virginia where, generally speaking, people are nice. I hope so.

May 10, 2019, 9:56 AM · If somebody on your street sells their house for a really low price then it brings down the value of your house. In the same way, if a musician does a job for free or a low price then that will have an affect on other musician's wages and what people expect to pay. We should all keep our prices at a decent level for the sake of all of us.
I have been in the USA for 16 years now and in that time what you get for a gig has not really changed. Some people tell me it was the same in the 80's as it is now! Even though we don't want to outprice ourselves, we can raise our fee every year just as every other bill goes up. We all have to do it though.
Edited: May 13, 2019, 9:18 AM · Another way to look at the charging problem is to think of your music playing/teaching as your prime source of income, and figure out your hourly rate accordingly. In the UK, where I live, government economists reckon that the average living wage is about £27K per annum. If you are self-employed, allowing yourself 8 weeks holiday a year and teaching private pupils for 20 hours a week, then this works out at £30/hr. This is about the rate that many private teachers charge in my area.
May 12, 2019, 5:55 PM · SO, how much are you gonna charge....?
Edited: May 13, 2019, 3:36 AM · I went with 80€ after discussing with my teacher and some friends.
May 13, 2019, 6:39 AM · That seems fair. $50 for the gig and $50 for the inconvenience of getting dressed up and driving there.

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