Getting a Feel for Fees

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

I am a pianist, seeking to obtain performance opportunities without a manager. Can you please give me some guidance with regard to negotiating a fee? How can I tell what is reasonable and within the budget of the organization in question? How much of a range should there be, depending on venue? I want to find the right balance between coming across as expensive and underselling myself. Is there a way to do any research on this? —K.G.

Dear K. G.,

Addressing your last question first, I know of no way to research fees paid by a majority of presenters. The easiest situations to research are the more informal venues, such as libraries and clubs. In the case of clubs, the artist will often receive a percentage of the amount taken in at the door. Further details can be obtained by simply calling the venue and asking for their standard arrangement. In the case of more formal concert series, you might want to see if the presenter has engaged anyone you know in recent years and, if so, you might contact that person to see if they will reveal what they were paid and what they know about the range of fees in general. Even if you succeed in getting this information, the fee that a presenter will pay an artist may vary from performer to performer, depending on the level of their career, how much exposure they have had, and how confident the presenter feels about selling tickets to their concert. If you find yourself talking to a presenter without the benefit of any advance information, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Before you enter into a conversation about fees, figure out what your expenses relating to the performance will be and  how much you would ideally like to make on top of that. It is also good to check the capacity of the theatre they use and their typical ticket price for a concert such as yours. This information should be accessible on the internet. Keep in mind that in addition to your fee, the presenter will have a range of costs, including the hall and expenses related to advertising and marketing the event. During the negotiation, you might have occasion to refer to this information, if you consent to a lower fee and want to give a reason, such as sensitivity to the size of their venue.
  2. If at all possible, ask the presenter to tell you how much they have in mind, based on their budget. There is always the possibility that they will offer an amount higher than what you would have suggested.
  3. Most presenters know that any number you quote them can potentially be negotiated downward.  (They learned that from managers who always try to get the best fee for their artists!) Therefore, leave “wiggle room” in your negotiation by starting a little higher than the amount  that would have satisfied you. You can say: “Typically, my fee has been x, and I hope that will be possible for you.”
  4. If you end up with a fee that is quite a bit lower than what you had hoped for but you feel you have to accept it to save the date, you might want to ask if the presenter is in a position to provide housing or ground transportation (including  travel from and to the airport). Many organizations have volunteers who are happy to help with this. You might also ask if they have any suggestions of other presenters in the area (far enough away not to compete with them for ticket sales) who might potentially be interested in having you as well. If the conversation has gone really well and you feel that the presenter finds you very accommodating and reasonable, you might want to say that if they are happy with your performance and intend to engage you again in the future, you hope that the fee you have accepted will not set a precedent for the next negotiation.

Typically, community venues such as libraries and churches, will have a much smaller budget than established recital series. It might be somewhere between $300 and $1000. Established series might offer a young artist somewhere between $1000 and $3000. If you have little performing experience to point to, be prepared for the fee to be at the low end of that range. Orchestras might offer slightly higher fees and may present you in multiple concerts (typically two or three). Some orchestras will offer a per performance fee and others will offer a discounted fee for the repeat concerts. So if your single concert fee is $3000, they might offer $4500 for two and $5500 for three. The latter arrangement is most usual.

It is not easy for individuals to negotiate on their own behalf but if you bear in mind that you are delivering value to the presenter and their audience, and you feel confident in what you have to offer, the experience will become much more comfortable within a relatively short period of time. Your display of understanding, flexibility and sensitivity to the presenter’s needs will put you on a strong footing for reengagements in the future, as they will undoubtedly walk away from the discussion feeling that you are pleasant to work with before you have even entered their concert hall.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012



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