Price and Value: Considerations When Hiring a Musician For Your Event
Some things you may not have realized are influencing your decision when hiring a musician for your events, and a caveat against arrangements providing “exposure” and “opportunity”.
Due to the proliferation of online lists which show prices for well-known national acts, people have a good idea of the price they can expect to pay for famous acts. However, some people appear to have “sticker shock” when they hear the prices that local/regional musicians charge for their services. If you've ever balked at hearing how much a musician charges, have you given thought to where your resistance might be originating? What makes you decide that they do not deserve the price they've quoted? There are some “mental discounts” you might be applying without consciously being aware of.
The “musician isn't a real job” mental discount.
Here's how you know if you have this perception, very easily: if you've ever asked a musician what his “real” job was, or some variation of “what do you do during the day?” Even though there are many performing artists who do have day jobs (like me), the insinuation is that music work is somehow less “real” than other types of work. If you do have this belief on some level, it can certainly make you more inclined to add a mental discount to whatever amount the musician might quote you.
The “fame” penalty mental discount.
The stigma of being an “unknown” immediately marks down value. This is a mistake. The common term of “success” for musicians is “making it”. We have this idea that a successful musician, one who has “made it”, has this success manifested in a very specific way. One must be on a certain level of fame and recognition in order to be considered a real professional. Reality show competitions perpetuate the myth of being “discovered”, that this is the only “real” validation. How many artists have heard, "Oh you're so good, you should be on American Idol", or "Why haven't you tried out for America's Got Talent?" from friends and family alike? There is a common idea that shows and competitions like these are the only true measure and validation of a musician's talent and ability.Truly, there are many different routes to success for musicians, and very few of them are the traditionally perceived "fame and celebrity" route. There are world-class performers and entertainers all over the world who may never be famous. Don't fall into the trap of just paying for “the name”.
The myth of the “exposure” discount.
Let me be very clear on my position here. The "opportunity for exposure", the way that most clients will try to present it, is in no way is equal to actual financial compensation. To ask a musician to absorb all of the expenses involved in performing for an event and also perform the service for free, with the wholly imaginary benefit of “future” imaginary engagements, is something I find very troubling. I say this because at first glance, it is a one-sided proposition: the client gets all the benefits and the artist gets “paid” with an intangible. If you really want to barter with an artist for exposure, then provide tangible benefits as you would in any other barter transaction. As a wise musician once told me, “People die from exposure", so artists that enter into these transactions must be particularly careful that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
I do not mean to imply that there should be no budget limits when it comes to hiring musicians, or that you shouldn't scrutinize artist pricing, but I encourage you to make sure that you are fairly weighting your consideration. Performing artists provide a great deal of value to events, and I believe that each client must carefully weigh the artists' pricing against the benefits and value that artist provides.