Don't Overlook This Important Gig Detail: $$$!!!

Don’t Overlook This Important Gig Detail: $$$!!! 

by Allen Cook, Musician 

Don’t make any assumptions about what you might get paid based similar scenarios of previous experiences. I recently made this mistake, and kicked myself for it, but I’m over it now. I’m cool. 

Live music can add a nice ambiance to most any venue. Small venues like cafes, coffee houses, and mid to upscale restaurants, often have small budgets...or at least claim to. It could have something to do with how they view the value of music, and what they aren’t willing to pay for it. 

I won’t get into that here. But it’s obvious: the fewer the musicians, the less burden on the wallet of the owner. This is one of the reasons playing solo or duo (looper pedal; or with or w/o tracks) is very popular. It’s typically a better situation, space wise and financially for the venue owner and musician. 

Very rarely do I play a gig as the keyboard player kicking bass with the left hand. I don’t enjoy the division of labor, especially when adding my vocal to the mix. It can be tricky maintaining independence between vocal phrasing, some kind of right hand rhythmic arrangement, and locking in with the kick drum rhythms. Some drummers can be very particular about that. 

Plus, there’s never any consideration for getting paid for doing the work of two people! There are some keyboardists I personally know who are really very good at it! Admittedly, I’m not one of those keyboardists, though the other musicians think I do a good job! I suppose I could be better if I worked at it; but there’s nothing like having real bass as far as I’m concerned! And I don’t particularly want to market myself as a keyboard bass player. 

So, enter a recent gig involving a couple of musicians I work with in which I’m the keyboard bassist: horn player, drummer, & keys trio. For this particular cafe gig, though, a bassist was brought in. Cool! It was a great evening of making music too! I wouldn’t have wanted to do this gig playing left hand bass. It was a bit more high energy, and a real bass player was priceless! 

Speaking of priceless, that’s exactly what happened: the price was less! In fact, I made the assumption that the leader would work out some kind of fair compensation for the evening. My mistake: I assumed, and never thought to ask. [Assume: ass/u/me...I make an ass out of you and me]. As it turned out (I found out the next day from the amount of the deposit in the digital fund transfer app) we were playing for tips! Four skilled, seasoned musicians playing for tips! 

Here’s the breakdown. Based on the set list sent out (unfortunately and all to common) just a few days before the gig, there were about nine tunes I was familiar with but didn’t know very well, I didn’t “own” them, so to speak. Links were sent. So I had to do a cram job of charting and playing along with each tune enough to be prepared. 

Even though they were of an “R&B Smooth Jazz” style, these weren’t the typical two to five chord tunes! Besides, as a keyboardist holding the harmony together, knowing the arrangement the other musicians are familiar with is an absolute must. 

For basic prep time, let’s just say 30 minutes per tune to chart, review and confirm. Four and a half hours. It was actually closer to five, so… 

Five hours. 

The gig was on a Friday during commuting hours... 

One hour, thirty minutes travel time to get there, plus ten to fifteen minutes to set up. 

Then, play the two and a half/three hour gig. 

Gear tear down and pack vehicle; there’s always meet and greet post gig socializing: one hour. Talking with the audience/customers/patrons of the venue is important; thus not a big issue regarding time spent. 

Commute hour. 

Compensation for eleven hours in tips: $26! Twenty six dollars! 

I didn’t ask up front what the payment arrangement was; thus I paid dearly...approximately eleven hours of total time for $26; in other numbers, $2.36 per hour! 

Now, you might be one who doesn’t take travel time into consideration. Some do, some don’t. That’s okay. Readjust the math accordingly for yourself. It comes out to about $3.25 per hour, subtracting about three hours of commuting time. If only the actual three hour gig time was calculated, we’re looking at $8 per hour. That’s a little bit better than minimum wage. The other “donation” of eight hours of my time for preparation, commuting, gasoline and auto usage...that doesn’t really matter, does it? And of course, forget about at least a small discount on the food! Full price, baby! 

Folks, for some things, sometimes saying ‘no’ is the best course of action. But if you don’t get the important details and info up front, especially and specifically about the money, you’ve said ‘yes’ by default, as I did, regardless of the outcome. 

In spite of the joy and fun of playing with some heavy hitting professional seasoned pros, was it worth all that for $26? 

What do you think? 


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