Pay to Play?

Q: Just recently a drummer friend of mine offered me a gig. It’s a little local bar gig, with a fixed payout (around $150 for the night, for the band). My friend suggested we hire a great piano player for the gig, but to get him on this trio, he said we’d have to give him the full payment. I play quite a lot around town and with many people, and until now, I’ve never “paid” to play with someone. I figured if we’ll all on the gig, we should be paid accordingly. Would you pay to be able to play with someone?

A: There’s a lot that goes into a decision like this.

Some people would stick to their guns and demand equal treatment and equal pay, regardless of the situation. And that’s certainly defensible.

I tend to treat every situation differently and weigh all of the variables before making any decisions. Admittedly, I don’t pay to play very much these days, but I have quite a bit in the past.

My criteria for a gig was always threefold:

  1. The money is good
  2. The networking makes it worth it
  3. A high fun factor or artistic value

If any of those three criteria were met, I am generally down for the gig. Any combination of the three makes it easier.

If the piano player will elevate the level of the band, it may be worth it for a gig, or even a few.

If the pianist presents an opportunity to show your stuff and, potentially, get more and better gigs through him, it may be worth it.

However, if they are just taking the gig for some extra money and you don’t think there’s any chance of a reward beyond the gig, it probably isn’t worth doing.

Ultimately, you are the best judge for your situation. If it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then it’s not worth the energy and time. It may be worth doing once, and then see how you feel about it if there’s another opportunity.

Generally speaking, until I had a bit of a reputation in my music community, I pretty much took every gig I could, because I figured that it was the best way to get heard and also the best way to learn.

I’d suggest that you make a little list of pros and cons and see where you land at the end of the day with it all.

Either way, have fun!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Richard Wells

    If the piano player wants all the cash, he should play solo.

  2. Jennifer Castle

    I think that’s ridiculous. If he’s awesome and going out of his way to help you out on a show last minute then he gets a bigger cut but not all of it… That’s ridiculous who needs that. May as well play free for a great exposure/opening spot…

  3. Roberto William

    No pay, no play…

  4. Brad Williams

    Remind him that he is a piano player and you are a bass player and thus, you win.

  5. In the city where I play, if you’re not going to pander to the masses and play only the most current and obnoxious top-40/classic pop covers, not only are you not getting paid – you’re breaking your back to raise money for promoters. I’d love to be in this situation.

  6. LOL…(I laugh anytime I run into this…..I wish them luck and play without them).

  7. Too many details left out of the ‘gig’ (especially why this piano is worth so much to this gig). I’ve been in bands where we offered a fill-in player more than the evenly divided pay to keep the gig (i.e. $100 for the fill-in and the rest of us would get less… an an enticement to the fill-in and for us to seem professional). I would never pay the full gig price to any local player… unless maybe it was some legendary performer or regional/national star (so yes, I would give the $150 if Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman so I could list it on my resume).

  8. Damien,
    You mentioned the Three Factors, (Money, Fun, Connections/Career) and said if it addresses one of those, you’re in. It is my suggestion that players shouldn’t consider gigs that don’t address two out of the three, with exceptions being made for superlative cases, especially money. They’ll find themselves further along more quickly if they do this, and feel less used/abused.

    BTW, bars are charging more for drinks, and more at the door than they ever have. Why are bands still getting the same money they got thirty years ago for the same gig?

    • because there is whole new generation of owners and patrons that have NO taste nor do they have ethics and certainly don’t appreciate talent and creativity. sheeple settle for broth when they deserve a feast.

    • @[702740799:2048:Andrew C Ellis] , why is it then, that when the feast is laid out, the sheep STILL choose the broth? I’m not disagreeing with you in the least, I’m just trying to figure out why so we can work on a solution.

    • Just Ian well, i look at it as i would with my profession, the more that mass media latches on to a microscopic demographic (usually the one most easily manipulated and managed) the quicker they turn a buck. when this happens the lower rungs seize upon that template to make more themselves. ultimately, the general public (there being the stupidest people most likely to be lemmings) fall in line and spend their money and focus their attention on the most mediocre experiences. ergo sheeple and hence why style, talent and passion fall to the wayside to subsidize mass appeal and a quick dollar. why hire a wonderful band when you just but dancing with the stars or american idol on 10 plasma screens? sheeple suck. i, however, have no answer as to how could be fixed.