Band and Being Valued

I like to play the piano. I am OK at it. Better than many people, but nowhere near a professional player. I play jazz standards and similar and I really enjoy it. I also play with a group of others in the band “Sparkies Jazz” even though we haven’t gigged in a while and our rehearsals are now more often a social event with a bit of playing in rather than a time to make much progress musically. Over the years we have become something of a family, rather than a band. It is a very beautiful thing and a very important part of my life.

When we first got together we used to rehearse once a week and, over time, we started to play gigs. This led to the awkward aspect of being paid to play at places and deciding how much to charge. I have had this problem myself when charging people for me to play the piano at a wedding reception or other event.

On one occasion, the band quoted something like £350 to play at an event. If this makes your eyes bulge you are not alone. The event organiser was surprised and said they thought it would be nearer £100-150 and couldn’t afford to have us at the price we were quoting and would we consider doing it for £150. Now, at the time, only one of us made most of their living from playing music so the money itself really wasn’t the important thing. Our perceived value was though. Let’s break this down.

We will start with our quote of £350.
There are seven members of the band (^1) which would mean each band member would get £50 each.

We were due to play for about two hours in total, with a 15-20 minute break in the middle. It would also take at least half an hour of driving each to get there, and another to get home. We would also need to arrive at the gig about 45 minutes before time to set up (drums, keyboard, mics, PA) and do a soundcheck. For people like the drummer, they would need to pack down their drumkit at home and load the car before heading off and do the reverse when getting home. The same with the PA.

2 hours playing
15 minute break
45 minutes pre gig for setup
1 hour of driving (not including petrol costs here)

That’s 4 hours of time per person, not including the hassle of packing and unpacking at home. (Unloading music kit late at night after a gig is always a bit miserable).

The £50 per person now looks like £12.50 per hour.

Bu customers aren’t really paying for that person’s time that evening. They are paying that small amount for the years of practice that went into that individual learning to play their instrument to a level where they were good enough to play in a band, to begin with. Then there are the hours and hours, every week, that the band played together so that, when the customer heard them somewhere else, the whole band was good enough for the customer to want to actually hire them in the first place.

We were already effectively undercharging ourselves at £350 or £12.50 an hour of our time because we loved it and it wasn’t our source of income. We saw it as expenses and treat money.

But the customer only wanted to pay us £150 maximum. This would mean a rate of somewhere in the region of £5.35 an hour! Some might argue you shouldn’t charge for the time spent travelling or setting up…ok…that still leaves it at £10.70 per hour.

How many professionals, with years of experience, would charge £5.35 or £10.70 per hour. Especially ones that you had already heard/used and knew they were what you wanted.

No professionals would work for the £12.50 we were charging either. We were undercharging ourselves for the love of the music. The money didn’t really matter but being valued did. Being asked to accept a lot lower money showed how much, or rather how little, the customer really valued us or appreciated the time taken to lead up to that moment.

We didn’t do the gig.

^1 We often have a phantom 8th member called “band” which gets an equal share of any payment to cover costs of printing, website hosting and so on but will gloss over this, for now, r the sake of simple mathematics.

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