BB King really said it best, when he said he’s “paying the cost to be the boss,” and in the “glamorous” lifestyle of the working musician it rings true. And yet, when it comes to taking a gig and getting out and playing, we sometimes forget those costs and just agree to the gig, only to find out that the paying gig really cost you $$$. So with that, what’s the best way to be the businessman and musician at the same time?
Before we go any further into this, let me be clear: this is for educational purposes. If you want to take a gig and realize the monetary payout is going to be lacking, by all means take it. This is meant more as a guide to help those musicians that may be new to gigging in general, or are wondering what someone else considers when taking a gig.
Travel: This is probably the biggest cost that you will run into, because you HAVE to get to the gig. Travel expenses are any amount of money you’re going to spend to get to the gig. Whether it’s gas for the car, maybe a rental, money for the train/bus/cab or even a flight, it has to be factored. Remember: if you’re carpooling with a bandmate (or on the tour bus), while your expense is less, it’s still there. Factor it in.
Another thing that is often overlooked in this is car maintenance. If you’re driving a substantial distance (for example, out on the road for a tour), things such as oil changes, tires, wipers and other types of things need to be considered. You may not need them right away, but for a tour you will. Make sure to put away a certain amount after every gig to make sure that those needs are covered, whether they’re planned expenses or those wonderful surprise ones.
Rehearsals: One of those things that can be seen as a grey area. You have to rehearse for a show, right? Well, if you’re hired to play a show and they mention rehearsals, that should be taken into consideration when you’re looking at the final amount. If you’re offered $100 for a gig which also includes one rehearsal, you can think of it as being paid $50 per service. See how that breaks down?
Gear: I had a guitarist that always changed his strings before every gig. So it was no surprise that when he turned down a gig one evening, his rationale to me was “The amount I’d spend on guitar strings alone wouldn’t be worth it.” It’s another of those things that we may not consider (because really, we HAVE to change strings at some point), but can be a very large expense when all is said and done.
Miscellaneous: Anything else that you might have to acquire for the gig. Playing a musical theatre gig and don’t have dress blacks? That goes here. Playing a Halloween gig and have to rent a costume? That goes here.
These are the basics that I will mentally go over when considering a gig. Here’s a quick example of how this works out, with a real offer that I was given (and turned down).
I had a gig offer for New Year’s Eve. It involved two rehearsals (an hour drive one way) and the gig (that was a half hour away). The gig paid $150. Here’s the breakdown.
The Gig Breakdown
Travel: 5 hours for rehearsals/gig. At roughly $3/gal (oh, those were the days…) it would be about $30
Rehearsals: Two of them, meaning three services total.
Gear: One set of bass strings, for $25
Miscellaneous: Need a tux shirt and black bowtie, for around $35
Total Cost of Expenses: $90
Pay of Gig After Expenses: $60, or $20 per service (1 performance and 2 rehearsals)
There are other things to definitely consider when taking a gig (and as said before, if it’s something you’re interested in, GO FOR IT!), but in this case it was strictly a monetary proposition. And one that I politely turned down.
When it comes down to gigging, we’re all “paying the cost to be the boss.” We’ve got the final say as to whether or not we want the gig, but knowing your expenses can help you make a more educated decision if that’s the prime motivator. What are some of the things that you take into account when you’re offered a gig?