We’ve discussed money in bits and pieces during the course of this blog for almost two years. In this installment, we need to get specific so you can earn money while you perform and enjoy the process. It doesn’t have to be painful or awkward, but you do need to understand about money and how to negotiate to succeed.

How Much You Are Worth?- this is the first question you must ask yourself before involving anyone else in the discussion. Let’s say you’ve been in a band for years and usually made $100 a gig, assuming a typical four hour gig. This translates to $25 per hour, which is a realistic figure for a brand new solo act in a restaurant or wine bar, nationwide. Once you’ve been working as a solo for a while, you can double, triple or quadruple your hourly fee, provided you have the connections, experience and  work history to back it up. Some solo performers will have a one or two hour minimum fee and use this as a starting point. Just like band gigs, private parties pay more while clubs, bars, restaurants and the like pay less. In my experience, country clubs fall somewhere in the middle for cover music acts.

Who’s Asking?- the second question about pricing is- who wants to know? A booking agent has to add another 10-20% or more commission to your asking price, so always keep this in mind when quoting pricing. I charge more for private parties, since it’s my job to book the gig, create and e mail the contract, deposit their check(s) in the bank, collect the balance at the gig, etc. I often call, text or e mail them several times as the event draws near, to reassure them, discuss possible workarounds if weather turns bad, etc. I may take less money if a gig has the potential to become a regular event. I’ve had regular restaurant gigs here in Dallas going back to 1996, when we first moved here. If you like the room and the proprietor, this is an excellent way to hone your solo act craft.

Money speak

Here is where the rubber meets the road. A client asks,” how much do you charge for a party on May 10?” You- “tell me where the location is, how many people you’re expecting and how long you want me to perform?” I am calculating how far the drive is, how long they want me to gig and how much gear I need to bring to make my part of the show a success, in my head, before I ever quote them a price! Once I tell them, “it will be X dollars, “I stop talking and wait for them to speak next. If they say, “sounds good, how to we proceed?” I then ask them to e mail me their contact information and specifics for the show. I will then create a contract, save it as a pdf file and e mail it to them along with a request for the deposit. ALWAYS GET A DEPOSIT UP FRONT! The only time I don’t demand a deposit is on restaurant gigs. I make sure they understand they are to pay me, either cash or check, immediately following the performance. If it’s a new client, I will get them to sign a contract, outlining the terms of the performance agreement.

If a client balks about money, I ask them how much they hope to spend. If we are just a few dollars apart, I volunteer to play a shorter show for less money. If they want to spend $30 for a four hour show, I thank them and tell them they need to find someone else. I won’t waste any more time in conversation. I also have tiered pricing for private parties. If I have to bring a big PA system, travel several hours to the show and perhaps move my gear once I have started the gig, the client will have to cover these charges.  This often happens when I perform for a wedding and reception for the same client. Last year, I got a smaller acoustic guitar amp and bring a smaller rig with acoustic guitar for smaller gigs for less than 100 people. This has become a significant part of my business.

I often have potential clients come up to me on a gig and want a quote for a future event. I always decline the money discussion then, give them my card and ask them to call me the following week. I prefer this approach so I can focus on the gig at hand and do my best for the client paying me.


I will usually do this immediately after the performance. I reminded the client the day before the event they are to pay the balance following the show, and this works almost 100% of the time. I let clients pay either cash or check, which is handy, since many customers will include
a tip on the balance. I thank them for booking me, ask if they and their guests enjoyed themselves and if so, request feedback for my performance.. This is helpful for online booking sites, so new customers are less hesitant to book someone they’ve never seen or heard before. I knock down my gear quickly and leave as quietly as possible. This way, I treat the event and the client with respect, which often leads to additional work. With private gigs,  I avoid checking the final payment until I am in the car and packed up. So far, I have never had to return and let the client know they paid the wrong amount. If I am performing at a restaurant or club, I settle with the manager on duty once I am loaded up.

If the gig goes well, I will either e mail the client or write and mail them a brief “Thank You”card. I enclose my business card with the note, which helps clients feel good about hiring me and gives them a way to get in touch for future engagements. These suggestions have worked well for me during the past four decades of live shows. Give them a shot and see if they improve your bottom line, too.

Riley Wilson’s One Man Band has won the “Best of 2012, 2013, 2014” & “Rising Star” awards on Gigmasters. He’s been doing solo gigs since the early ’90’s and band gigs since 1972.