So, What Are You Worth?

“What is the sum total of your lifetime of musical skill and experience worth for one hour?”

This is great question, and one often asked of a musician, sometimes before they know it is happening. People ask when the subject of performance fees, lesson fees, or studio recording costs come up. A friend becomes an employer, a family member is your boss, and a casual acquaintance becomes your bread and butter in a matter of seconds. I am going to suggest three ways to answer this and a few pointers on enjoying working for other people with your music. Likely, I will make this a series of articles.

There are numerous ways to answer this value question, and I hope to at least guide you a bit in your thinking.

You are of indescribable value to your Creator as a child of God. Your worth is in His love for you and is inestimable. Jesus died for your life to be worth everything and you owe Him that life with all your heart, soul, and strength. I remind musicians that they are Christians by calling, and then they also get to be musicians by the favor of God. Music should be a joyful life, and you are of great value and should live like it.

You also have a variable value as a musician in the real world with someone who is buying music or instruction. This is our topic today and once you have the first part settled (a daily task in life), you can consider this second part and get down to business. Your music can put food on the table.

When someone is buying your musical expertise, or buying anything for that matter, they are in control of three things: what they have to spend, what they want to see happen, and when they want to have it happen. This is a modification of the triangle of getting things done – quality, speed, and cost. You may have heard it said that you can have any two things from the triangle – you can have something done fast and with quality at a great cost, you can have something done fast and cheap and low quality, or you can have something done with quality and affordability, but it may take awhile.

They may not know yet which one is most important to them, but the buyer has control of what they want and what they get. This does not mean the buyer has all control, just that they control what they want and get.

You may be the one to decide if it is you that provides it. Not every transaction has to be wonderfully perfect for everyone because everyone wants something different. You control whether the person making the music is you.

I say this so you can be released from unrealistic expectations and you can work with people from a position of maturity and strength, not as a desperate musician. You will always come out further ahead if you are prepared and not desperate. So, think about these things ahead of time. Essentially, you want to develop a good relationship with the buyer for current and future mutual benefit. Relationship is key.

So, what are you worth?

Musicians make most of their money in three ways – performance, studio, and teaching.

Musicians make most of their money in three ways – performance, studio, and teaching. Performances can vary greatly in style and length, studio can change as it is happening, and teaching is more or less different musicians’ gifting or not.

Performances are best placed on a scale of number of musicians needed and for how long. I base this on around $50 per hour per musician in my medium sized market for an average gig or job. This is based on church, club, wedding, rehearsals, party, every style, and corporate events. If everyone comes out with $50 per hour most people are happy. If it takes a four piece band three hours and you don’t get $600, but $500, it might be acceptable based on the ease, exposure, cross promotion, etc., but you have some mouths to feed (and to keep quiet and happy) so ask for what you need. Sometimes you are not the right band for a show or you could do it with fewer people.

Studio work is based on a scale in very few cities, but it is often doable by song or part or hour. Still, it often leads up to around $50 per hour. Sometimes it is $150 for a part and you get it done in 45 minutes, but often the load in, wait, and time to get it together takes about three hours, so there you go – $50 per hour. I hear everyone out there with a variety of complaints about what I am writing even as I write it. Yes, you’ve been paid way less and way more. We all have worked for chicken feed and for gravy. But think about that middle road, averaged out, “worth my time and I didn’t hate it” level of compensation and I think it will land somewhere near $50 per hour.

Education is the backbone of musician work, and some love it and some work really hard to like it. It does bring joy to families, so at least try it. Here, people often make from $20-30 per half hour lesson, again landing right in the middle of $50 per hour. Many variations of employment setup and taxes and payment plans and free lessons and marketing, all that, affect the end result, but around $50 per hour is fair and enough to keep you going, right?

So for this article, I am going to stop here and say you are worth $50 per hour, so go out there and get it! I’ll break down some ideas about this number and these modes of income in future music business columns, but for now, go work 40 hours a week and bring in that $104,000 per year as a musician! Comments welcome.

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Founder and President of Visible Music College in Memphis, TN. President of Madison Line Records. Founding guitarist of the band Skillet.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’d suggest a few more points – 1. You’re worth what someone is willing to pay you for your service. Some musicians could make a lot more doing studio than live, live than teaching etc… Some are great studio musicians but not very good teachers. So you may have different rates for different services. 2. For church musicians in particular (that are good at that genre), the more savvy churches seem to budget more because – a. they understand the importance of the quality of the music and its impact on their growth and – b. they get that there’s a small window of time per week that musicians focused on worship have an opportunity to make money. Typically there are multiple churches in the area vying for the same players, which results in higher pay. Lets face it – music is half of the typical church service. It’s the first half. Therefore – it’s the first impression visitors get. And its probably a prime driver on people inviting friends or not – either because the music is cool or embarrassing. Churches wake up to this reality every day, and I think that will factor in pay ranges as time goes on…

  2. This discussion hits me in a sore spot. I’ve been a church musician for 32 years at the same church and have been paid nothing but the occasional wedding or funeral. I have a degree in music education but I’ve never used it. I’ve become very good at this “genre” and I love what I do but I still have to fight off resentment over not making money at it. After all this time, how can I now make the case for being paid? If they start paying me how would they be able to justify it unless they paid all the other musicians and singers?
    Thank you for any advice you can give.

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