Advice Clinic

How To Negotiate Your Band’s Fee

15th March 2018


You’re an artist. You aspire to follow in the footsteps of David Bowie, not Del Boy Trotter. Haggling over grubby tenners isn’t why you picked up a guitar. Too bad. To close a deal on the notoriously tight-fisted live circuit, you’ll need to get into character, summoning your sleeping Wolf Of Wall Street, channelling your inner door-to-door salesman and cranking up your self-belief until you make Kanye West look like a tongue-tied shrinking violet. Here’s how.   

Know the ballpark

If you charge peanuts, you’ll go broke. If you demand the GDP of Qatar, you’ll be sent packing. Before you start the dance, you need a realistic ballpark figure in mind, so check out the Casual Stage Rates and National Gig Rates on the Musicians’ Union website. Remember that a corporate gig for an evil, smoke-spewing multinational oil conglomerate should pay more than a student house party – and inflate your quote accordingly.

Talk yourself up

Give the sceptical promoter some evidence of why you’re worth every penny. A great demo goes without saying, but your pitch should also include gushing press cuttings, references from venues you’ve already played and proof of a social media army that will swarm their venue like a plague of beer-swilling locusts. Make them terrified they’ll be missing out on the next big thing, then watch the numbers tick up.

Decide which payment structure works best

Needless to say, any self-respecting musician should spit in the face of a venue-owner who operates the dreaded ‘pay-to-play’ system. But be ready to negotiate when it comes to their payment policy, which could be a set fee (paid regardless of whether anyone turns up) or a split (which means you share the night’s takings). If you’re offered the second option, establish the ticket price, insist on at least 50 per cent of the gross receipts – then shake down everyone you know to be there.

Don’t show your cards

Rather than blurt out your demands, let the venue reveal what it typically pays – this might even be more than the figure you have in mind. Always ask if they can go higher, and whatever figure you settle on, get it in writing. Serious venues will be happy to sign a standard contract, but if you worry that’ll put them off, even a two-line confirmation in an email is a start. If you do everything you agreed and the venue still squirms out of paying you, approach the Musicians’ Union to ask about fee recovery – Just make sure you’re a member first, or you won’t have a leg to stand on!




Henry Yates

Henry Yates is a freelance journalist who has written for music magazines including Classic Rock, Total Guitar, Guitarist, NME and Metal Hammer, and brands including V Festival, Download, Epiphone, Yamaha, Roland and Universal. His proudest career moment was meeting Jimmy Page - and his toughest assignment was interviewing Pharrell Williams."