The Gigging Musician Podcast

The Economics of Gigs

January 20, 2022 Jared Judge
The Gigging Musician Podcast
The Economics of Gigs
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Jared breaks down how to make the financials of performing work for musicians, and why playing solely at bars/restaurants probably won't pay the bills.

What's up gigging pros is Jared. And today I wanted to chat about the strategy about how to make a living performing from a, let's say, a gig type perspective. So I'm on my way to a gig right now. And it's a wedding. And you'll notice that over the past 70-80 episodes since I started this thing, I talk a lot about weddings, because it is the main one that I do. But that doesn't mean it's the only way to pursue a career in music. In fact, I think most of the people listening to this, don't play weddings yet. And hopefully you do someday, but you know, you don't have to. But I wanted to share why do I focus on one type of gig so much? Like why don't I diversify? Why don't I try to play bars? Why don't I try to win a symphony audition? Why don't I try to, I don't know, play more musical theater shows. And I will tell you, I actually started out trying to do all of those different types of things. I tried doing, you know, the path for an orchestra, orchestral musician is a little different than a popular or original musician. But the concepts all kind of apply, where you when you start out, you say yes to everything. And you take opportunities that aren't necessarily the best fit, but you're not sure where you're going to go with it. So you just keep taking them and see what happens. And I was doing that I was taking a lot of, you know, low paying gigs. I got into the Sheboygan symphony, which was a good gig. I mean, as far as like it was a regional symphony. It paid. It was like a half paid half volunteer orchestra. But it didn't pay a lot. And it was a long drive every week, sometimes two or three times a week, if there was a concert that week. And, you know, I also took some musical theater gigs for community theaters. And again, those did not pay so well. They were a long drive. But it was great to play both symphony music and Sheboygan symphony and also, all these different musicals like I played spam a lot I played last five years, I played, what were some of the other ones, I played Newsies. And I loved playing them, but they didn't pay very well, I actually did I calculated the hourly, because with musical theater, especially community theater, they want you at a lot of rehearsals and the tech rehearsals and dress rehearsals and then the shows, and it averaged out to under minimum wage. And, of course, you cannot live off of below minimum wage. It's just simply not possible. The economics of it are not possible rent and cost of living. They just simply, it costs more than below minimum wage, to to be comfortable. And so over the years, you know, in grad school and beyond, I started to narrow my focus. And I started to gravitate, because the business school even though I wasn't a business major, but the business school was telling me you have to treat your music career as a business. And you you've got to stop taking these low pay gigs. And it was tough for me to hear that it was like tough advice, because I love playing them. And it was a great opportunity to play my instrument and make friends in at those gigs, build a community. And then theoretically, one day, those opportunities might lead to something bigger for me. But the problem was, that wasn't happening fast enough. And as I mentioned before, you can't live off of low paying men below minimum wage gigs. So they told me the business school told me you have to start focusing on higher paying gigs. And you also have to focus on gigs that have higher volume. And so I was a little confused by that. What does that mean high volume versus low volume. And they explained it to me pretty simply, in that, if you consider the amount of opportunities for you to play that type of gig in a given year, then is the volume of that gig type. So, you know, while the you know, playing Newsies is a is a fun opportunity. It was a low volume gig because how many times is that particular theater company going to put on a show that requires a viola player? And the answer was maybe two or three times a year max. So that meant it was a low volume opportunity. Say for the Sheboygan Symphony they had like five or six concerts a year, which is low volume, especially if you only make a couple 100 bucks per concert. And then if you multiply that by six, say it's like $300 for a concert, which I don't remember the exact numbers but $300 per concert. And there were six concerts per year, which meant per year, that was $1,800, which compare that to your teacher salary minimum teacher salary in Wisconsin was roughly 32,000. So the low volume gig of playing for the Sheboygan Symphony was not going to be enough to pay the bills for me. And same for musical theaters, you know, that was a couple 100 bucks per year from them. So these low volume opportunities were not viable. And also considering that they were low paying per service, because I was putting in hours, like dozens of hours to make $200. And so there was low paying and low volume. So the business school said, You've got to find gigs that are higher paying. And you've got to find gig types that have higher volume. And that's when I started to brainstorm like, what are the high paying gig types, because clearly playing for regional Symphony was not high paying, even though it was really fun. I loved it wasn't high paying, community theater was not high paying. And I did also try a couple festivals. And there was one festival where I actually had to pay myself to be in I had to pay them. So that was the opposite of high paying. And then some of the other festivals, there's only like a couple 100 bucks again, which is fairly low paying, plus festivals, low volume. So what are the high paying gig types. One is if you can get into like a more professional symphony orchestra, you know, like the Milwaukee Symphony, they have their salary guides published plus they're a union job. And union jobs have salary minimums. So those are high paying. The problem is that getting into a professional symphony is a low volume opportunity. You know, if you think about how many professional symphony openings there are, versus the number of applicants, your percentage chance of getting that gig is extremely low. And then, you know, if we think about it, not from a classical music perspective, what are the high paying gig types for like a rock band or even an original spend, those would be headlining opportunities at shows not just your like bargain, but an actual show. And again, you know, unless you're lucky, those, the percentage of you getting a headlining show at a high profile enough concert is pretty low. Unless you've put in the effort to build a massive following. And, you know, that's a whole different discussion. But most musicians have not put in that effort, or they don't even know how to, I don't know how to, it's not been my focus. So the chances of getting a high paying festival or headlining gig is low volume. So then what are the high volume gigs are not just high volume, but high paying gigs? Well, circling back to what I talked about at the beginning of the episode, weddings are high volume. There's actually data about the wedding industry. And there's like a company that puts on the wedding report. And I've discovered that in my city, there are every single year 1000s of weddings, which is crazy, that is high volume. Compare that to the number of, you know, musical theater opportunities for me, which was like 6000s versus six, high volume, and then high paying. So weddings are high paying that that report, the wedding report mentioned, it gives you the averages for how much those couples spend on their wedding for given categories. And I noticed that for ceremony, soloists and ensembles and for Milwaukee, but also I've checked in other cities too. The average for a wedding ceremony musician, which includes groups is about $600, which is, you know, I'd say that's medium paying, it's not the highest paying, but it's definitely higher than making you know, a couple 100 bucks for 20 hours of rehearsals and and shows so it's higher paying for sure. Combine that with the fact that there are 1000s of them a year that's high paying and high volume. Also, corporate events are high paying because corporations have a big budget. I also want to mention circling back to weddings like they also talk about reception entertainment. And the average spend for a band is at least $1,000. I don't remember the exact numbers, but like reception music is high paying. So if you are a covered band or a band that's appropriate for wedding ceremonies, that is a high paying high volume gig type. corporate events is what I was talking about just before, corporate events are high paying, because corporations can afford, and they build it into their marketing budgets, they can afford entertainment at a good rate too, because they're paying for professionalism. The goal of corporate events is to impress their clients and increase the retention of their employees by giving them these fun bonus opportunities, like a cocktail hour with a nice jazz band. So they'll drop 1000s of dollars on a band. So that's high paying and, you know, pre COVID. And now as we're coming out of this COVID season, they are high volume because there are 1000s of those opportunities in, you know, most cities in a given year. Also private parties. This is kind of similar to weddings, in a way weddings are honestly just like a private party, but taken to the extreme private parties are high volume, because there are tons of parties around. And a good percentage of them require live music, and they will pay a high dollar amount for them. So that is high volume and high pay. So it was tough for me to hear this advice from the business school, because I really loved the artistic, I guess I wouldn't even say artistic freedom. Because when you play in a symphony orchestra, you don't get to choose your music. But you get to choose to play in a symphony orchestra, which has a lot of artistic satisfaction. So it was tough for me to hear like I need to figure out how to play more of the high volume, high paying gig types, because I was worried that I was going to lose that artistic satisfaction. But the cool part was that I got to design my group, and what we play from the ground up, which meant I got to choose music, that leaves me artistically fulfilled. And I also got a chance to fund my career. So by playing high volume, high paying gigs, what it does is it gives you financial freedom, because it's you're playing music, and you're getting paid a good wage for it. And what that does is it actually allows you to feel more comfortable when you do take those lower paying, or lower volume gig types. Because at this point, once you play enough high volume, high, high paying gig types, you have enough money where you can afford to, you know, put yourself out there for something that doesn't pay as much. Or you can take those auditions with and spend more time practicing for those auditions, because you don't have to spend as much time taking on extra shifts at Starbucks, or taking on as many private students. So that was pretty interesting for me to think about and kind of talk through on this podcast is the shift from low volume, low paying gigs, into the high volume, high paying gigs. And I have to credit Myron golden, who is he's a sales trainer. I'm reading one of his books right now it's called boss moves. And it was talking about high volume, high profit margin selling. And that kind of gave me the inspiration for thinking about it in those terms here because, you know, you could theoretically just put those two things on a on a grid like xy axis, volume on one and payment amount on another. And think about where do your gigs lie right now, if you're playing a lot of bargains, but they all pay kind of low, then it would probably be on like the top left. But if you're playing a lot of weddings, say 150 a year, then you can put yourself in the top right corner for high volume, high pay. And it's okay to mix and match those two. Because, you know, you don't want to give up the whole reason why you got into music. But if you want to be able to afford to play those fun gigs that don't pay as well, while making a living without having to do non musical things, then you have to fill your calendar with high paying gigs and a lot of them that's the high volume part too. So hope this helps. If you're interested in diving deeper into this and figuring out how to get into the high volume, high paying gig types. I would like to invite you to enroll in BookLive Academy because the whole focus is to find those high volume, high paying gig types, how to sell and market your services to the people who book those gigs. And then how to automate that work so that you don't have to spend as much time on the admin work. If you check out BookLiveAcademy.com And you can enroll the enrollment is currently open. If not then keep checking because we open it periodically depending on how many students we can take on at a given time. But thanks for listening and remember you are just one gig away. You