I remember those first paid harp gigs I got from people I did not know. It was thrilling to be getting paid to play harp! Until they asked that awkward question: “How much do you charge?” I did not want to charge too much, after all, I was a teenager, no music degree yet, with little gig experience. So I would usually respond with something in the range of $100-$150.
Now that I am older and wiser, I wish I could go back and give my teenage self some business advice. Specifically, how to take into account the true cost of a gig.
Consider the following costs that go into that gig. Not every one of these expenses will apply to you, but I’m betting most of them will.
Becoming a harpist: This is what you must have invested in order to get to this point. This usually involves many years and countless hours on top of monetary cost.
• Buying a Harp (or more than one), and probably renting before that
• Accessories (dolly, tuners, covers, benches, stands, amplifiers, tech, etc.)
• Music (constant sheet music purchases to increase repertoire)
• Lessons, workshops, and conferences
• Harp maintenance, repairs, regulation, new strings
• Music associations and insurance
• Music degree(s)
Getting the lead: The cost for the client to find you.
- Business cards
- Lead generation site
- Bridal Fairs
- Paid social media promotions
- Phone and internet bills
Pre-event: What you must do to be ready.
• Time spent quoting the gig, going over details with the client, and creating the contract
• Managing deposit and payment arrangements (Never ever play without being paid first!)
• Credit card processing fees or lead generation site booking fees
• Time spent putting together the setlist
• Time and cost of purchasing/arranging/learning special requests
• Time practicing pieces
Day of event: Your actual time spent the day of the gig.
• Getting dressed up/hair/makeup
• Packing up harp and accessories
• Driving to the event (gas, tolls, parking, wear and tear on vehicle and harp, and your time)
• Arriving maybe 45 minutes early to get set up and tuned – usually involving multiple trips back and forth from the car, sometimes with difficult parking situations or poor directions
• Playing – This is the only time investment the client is usually considering
• Possibly having downtime waiting to play or waiting to be able to leave after playing
• Getting everything packed up (again, this may include multiple trips to the car)
• Driving home, maybe getting fast food on the way
• Unpacking and setting up the harp and accessories at home
• Taking off the fancy clothes, possibly sending them to be dry cleaned (could be $25-$30 to clean a formal dress)
• Sending a thank you email to the client, requesting feedback/review if appropriate, contacting the photographer to request copies of photos, if appropriate
• Handling overtime payments if needed
Even if you don’t have a music degree, have not bought an amp, are not doing any paid advertising, and don’t take special requests, I am still betting most of the above points will apply. Look at that list again. Do you still want to charge $100 for that “1-hour” gig? 15 hours of your time and $25 in hard cost later, you have made $5/hour, which is less than you would make working fast food.
So no, it is not selfish to charge $200 to even $400 an hour, or even more in some areas. You are not taking advantage of the client. You are taking into account the high cost of what you have put into your profession and what it will cost you to fulfill the gig. Even if you have limited gig experience, if you own a harp and have been taking harp lessons for say 5 years, you have poured many thousands of dollars and an awful lot of time and effort into getting to where you are now. Yes, you do deserve to charge what “the pros” charge, and you are worth it.
Be professional and courteous but firm with clients. Create your set list from music you know you can perform well. Dress to impress. Be punctual/early. Then play to the best of your ability, and walk away from the gig knowing you did the harp world proud. And those clients who say they only have $100 in their budget for music? Wish them the best and move on. A better opportunity will come along from someone who values you and what you bring. And you will be so glad you respected yourself enough to wait.