Setting your hourly rate for gigs is confusing and difficult! In this article, as well as in our article on the sliding scale, we will take you step-by-step through all the factors you should consider.
First, why are we so obsessed with hourly rates when many musicians are paid “per service” and rarely set their own wages? Though not inherently malicious, the per service payment method obscures the true cost of agreeing to a gig. There is no standardization of how long a “service” is, and per service payments do not account for travel time, expenses, outside practice, and a host of other costs (both in money and time) that are your burden to bear as a working musician. An hourly rate takes all of these factors into account so that you can have the whole financial picture before you agree to a gig.
So, if you are in a position where you get set your own fee, we encourage you to think about it hourly. Then, to set your hourly rate, you should consider these two questions:
Thinking about your rate in this way centers you, the musician, and your skills and needs. Knowing why you charge what you do will allow you to have fullest ownership of what you earn on your gigs.
Not an easy question, to say the least, but one you'll need to think about when you're setting your hourly rate. In coming up with your answer to this question, here are a few things you should consider:
Whether you're making enough to meet your financial needs should absolutely be taken into consideration setting your hourly rate. This question is about what you need to continue your livelihood sustainably. Here are some relevant things to consider:
What about some hard and fast numbers? We're in the process of compiling some data from musicians across the US so you can see what actual freelancers are charging. Once you've come up with a number that suits your skills and needs, you can use our calculator to work out how much you should charge for one-off gigs based on your hours and expenses.
We understand that you won't always be able to choose how much you earn, but when you can, we want you to have a clear sense of how every aspect of your skillset and needs plays a part in what you charge. You can get there by coming back to this article every once in a while and being mindful and honest as you answer the questions above. We recommend checking in with yourself and writing down your responses to these questions at least once a year, so that you can make adjustments to your rates as necessary.
In a perfect world we'd only take fulfilling gigs with great people that pay us fairly. In reality, we'll always have to deal with low-paying gigs from people who aren't transparent about what they require from us. But how do I know if a gig is too low-paying for me to take? How do I define my own financial flexibility?
And what about the question of access? You might be wondering, "If we always charge what we're worth, especially for teaching gigs, who gets excluded? How can we get paid fairly and still contribute to a more economically fair society?"
A potential solution to both of these issues lies with the sliding scale, a powerful and flexible tool which takes into account both your financial needs and your client's. Head over to our article on the sliding scale to learn more!
— Gloria Yin, ed. Emily Duncan
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