In this post, I want to address the topic of how we make money. It’s a topic that doesn’t just affect drummers, but creative professionals in all fields. Whether you’re a professional musician, a sound engineer, a mastering engineer or whatever else: at some point, most freelancers in the music business will have experienced the feeling of their creative work not being valued and sufficiently rewarded by clients.
Before anything else, allow me to remind you that as a musical professional, you are not only an artist, but a businessperson, too. If you’re not earning anything, your “business” will eventually go bust. If you, as a creative service provider, consistently sell your services for less than they are worth, music will only be viable as a sideline or a hobby.
Starting out in the music business
At the beginning of our musical careers, we typically don’t lose much sleep over pay. We relish performing in concerts and going on tour, and the money side of things is not so important to us. At the end of the day, we love what we’re doing and are living the life we’ve always wanted. Besides: better to be earning a little money than none at all, right? We can’t expect too much when we’re just starting out!
In addition to all this, we are brimming with hope and expectation – after all, we’ve all heard about the big tours, where freelance musicians can command as much as 500 euros per day. At first pass, it sounds a lot – but not when you consider things in a little more detail.
For one thing, daily rates in this region are only paid by the really big acts. For another, these 500 euros truly cover a 24-hour workday, since musicians typically find themselves on the tour bus around the clock. Once you’ve taken this into account, you’re left with an hourly rate of just 20 euros – if that. Quite unbelievable, no?
An easy way to calculate what you should charge
You’ll often find yourself in discussions about pay. Clients will say, “You’re too expensive!”. They’ll want to haggle over every price rise. But if you consistently charge hourly or daily rates that are not sufficient to cover your expenses, you’ll quickly discover how hard life can become. Even if playing music is perhaps more “fun” than reviewing tax returns or selling cars, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fairly rewarded.
To calculate appropriate hourly or daily rates, you can start by looking at comparable gross wages in your region. Let’s say you want to earn 3,000 euros after tax each month (36,000 euros per year). To that, you need to add the amount your employer would pay towards your social insurance per year (in Germany, approximately 7,200). Next, you need to think about how many days you’ll work in a given year. On average, employees in permanent roles are paid for around 220. From this, you’ll need to deduct days for holiday, illness, administrative work and similar. This leaves around 190 days per year, from which you need to earn a total of 43,000 euros. This necessitates a daily rate of around 230.
As an alternative, you could base your rates on a calculation of your fixed costs: the average amount you need per month to survive. As part of this sum, remember that you’ll not only need money for rent, food and other personal costs, but that you’ll also have outgoings for your telephone, internet, taxes, health insurance and pension insurance (and perhaps you’re also a member of an social welfare scheme for the creative industries, like Germany’s Artists’ Social Welfare Fund). In addition, you’ll need to set aside some money for holidays, sickness, periods without concerts, other periods of lower demand and investments in equipment.
Negotiating with confidence as a professional musician
Always have confidence in what you can do and what your skills are worth. Clients should understand what creative services you are able to provide and how much time you have invested in acquiring these skills. Clients who demand a great result should also be willing to pay for it. Moreover, you’ll never manage to acquire well-paid jobs if you request too little too often, or if you agree to work for nothing. Remember the old adage: “If you don’t ask, you won’t get!”
As a drummer and a professional musician, you’ll almost certainly need to combine a mixture of sources of income. Potential contributors include instrument lessons, concert appearances, studio jobs and/or workshops, all of which are paid at different rates. If a “fun job” or an impressive portfolio project comes along, many musicians are prepared to compromise on money. For jobs they’re less interested in doing, they charge more. And – spoiler alert – you’ll sometimes be lucky enough to work on desirable jobs with likeable clients and great rates of pay!
Live or in the studio: Requesting fair rates of pay
When it comes to cover music and home recording projects, musicians face a lot of competition. This can drive prices down, which is why all members of the community have a shared responsibility to demand fair pay. A short wish-list in this regard:
- Clients should be able to understand our pricing structures, accept them and be willing to pay an appropriate fee.
- We should not have to apologise for the fact that we cannot – and will not – work for price XY.
- Clients should understand that we although we are pursuing our passion as a career, we also need to make a living from it.
In short: You don’t need to be “businessperson of the year”, but you do need to be constantly aware of what you, as a professional musician, are worth.
Now it’s your turn. Why do you think musicians often sell their skills for less than they are worth? Is it the amount of competition; a lack of confidence in their abilities; a lack of business acumen? Let me know in the comments – I’m looking forward to hearing from you!