With few exceptions, many professional classical guitarists derive their income from a variety of sources—including private lessons, wedding/corporate kinds of gigs, and of course concerts. All of these situation require the artist to act also as a negotiator, discussing compensation, logistics, and terms with a varied array of client types (that is, unless the musician would rather bypass all of the gory details and resort to a dedicated managing agent, a solution that is somewhat in decline at the lower end of the professional spectrum).
For those who are just starting to build a “gigging” schedule, let’s go over some of the aspects of negotiation that you are likely to encounter as a classical musician.
Know Your Market
Your geographical location will play a fundamental role in the kind of gigs (and the kind of pay) you will be able to secure. Competitive markets like large metropolitan areas or University communities can mean fewer gigs, but also higher pay, as the cost of living is generally higher and, simply put, customers are willing to spend more for luxuries such as background music for a party. If you have friends who are already getting gigs, it would be good to quite candidly ask them what their hourly rate is so that you can be prepared to ask for a figure in the same ballpark when the time comes. What you don’t want to do is underbid them—it may get you a gig or two, but you’ll lose their respect and also hurt the entire musical community by driving the prices down.
A Game of Rates
While we are talking about rates—your rates should be both realistic and flexible, but with a solid “bottom” underneath which you are simply not interested in performing anymore. This of course can vary a bit for extraordinary circumstances (such as friends, fundraisers or other events for a cause you want to support, or gigs that have the potential to become recursive and therefore more lucrative), but again you should always remember that by underpricing your own services you will be hurting others trying to make a living in the same field.
Personally I tend to charge a two-hour initial rate, with a higher hourly rate for any additional time. Since time is money, I also charge for travel time in excess of twenty minutes (albeit at a reduced, but still “professional” rate); again the details can be defined in the negotiating process, and include other elements such as whether or not I will be fed, weather I have to provide sound equipment for the event, and finally whether there are specific pieces that I have to learn (or arrange) for the occasion—I also bill arrangements by the hour, providing an estimate in advance.
Even though these guidelines may seem excessive, I have found that many clients are just not used to dealing with musicians—it actually helps them to have a clear pricing structure laid out in front of them, and they are free to come up with a counter-offer or ask for a discount. Sometimes it turns out that they cannot really afford me for their particular event (or, we could say, that their particular event is simply not worth my time); by being clear about your pricing, your qualifications, and your responsibilities as an entertainer you’re putting them in the same negotiating situation they are used to deal with when they arrange for catering, bartending, or valet parking for the same event.
To conclude, you should always remember to be courteous and patient—to many clients, you may be just another hired hand, and not the wonderful artist that you consider yourself to be. That’s OK—gigs help pay the bills, and in my experience are still more fun than many other jobs. By establishing a clear pricing structure and being firm about what your time is worth you will find that negotiating with brides and retirees is not as bad as they make it to be—it can actually be quite rewarding!