How Valuable Are You As A Musician?


Most musicians who are at the stage where they are either gigging or about to would probably say 'I'm a good musician, and I'm worth £X per gig.'  Is it that simple? No. You are as valuable as what others perceive you to be, and to all intents and purposes perception is reality.  Just because you think you should be paid £300 a gig does not mean you'll get that if your client or band don’t think so.  On the other end of the spectrum, it's important to be aware of exploitation. Most have experienced it.  I have.  But let's talk about your value a little more...

So, you've graduated from a top music school.  Congratulations!  Now what?  Well, for me it was playing gigs that didn't meet my expectations or value as a musician, and constantly chasing an agent for payment for gigs that were months old. This was before the days Google and social media took off as it did.  Now, agents are open to scrutiny far more than they were back then.  Now there are (albeit only a small handful at best) reputable agents who also develop you as an artiste.  You nailed the audition and either got the job of the guitarist/drummer etc in a cool band or impressed an agent enough to go out on your own. Great, so far, so good.  But how do you improve your value?  How do you build a name for yourself?  How do you stand out?  There's a lot of 'noise' out there after all.  


...carve out a permanent spot for yourself...


Well, it's easy.  It's easy because most musicians who are self-employed are sub-standard, lazy, or have work ethic problems, or a combination of all three.  It’s true!  Unfortunate for them, good news for you.  The other good news is that when a musician does make a name for being talented, many of them can't maintain their good name because they are unreliable.  Even better for you.  That means all you have to do is be more reliable than them.  But if you really want to carve out a permanent spot for yourself and annihilate any competition (which, let’s be fair is what you really want to do), you treat it exactly how it is.  It is a business.  The difference between a successful musician and an unsuccessful musician is the same difference between a dream and a goal…ACTION.  Yes, you may need some luck along the way, but you can quite often create that, plus you cannot build a career on luck.


...the difference between a goal and a dream is action...

You are now a musician AND a business person.  You are a commodity.  And it is imperative you make your tools as good as possible, for as long as possible. If you buy a Ferrari, you don't drive it and treat it like a 20 year old banger.  You take care of it.  The business of being a musician is no different.




Here are some common examples of the way many musicians approach their business.



Fantastic musician, great image, really promising future. Everything going for her except one thing.  Drugs.  More specifically, cannabis during the week, cocaine on the weekends.  Not only did she become lazy, it ruined her voice.  First to go was her range (which was huge), second was her tone (became breathy and would distort and break often), followed by her tuning.  I paid her a visit one day because I wanted her to know the extent it was damaging her career and health.  During that chat, she said 'I'm not doing anything different now to what I did when I was 18.'  I said 'it catches up with everyone at different times and it has now caught up with you.  At this point, you are at a crossroad.  What you choose to do now will decide whether you will be a successful singer, or whether you will be someone who used to sing.' She is now someone who used to sing.


                 ...drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are costly to a singer...

Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes are vices that are costly to a singer.  Yes, there are great, famous singers who still sound amazing after doing years of this stuff.  The exception rather than the rule.  Are you really going to use that excuse to justify why YOU are taking this risk?  Morality aside, you are taking a gamble that has very little to no return for what?  A high?  Come on!  Why would you gamble your livelihood away?  But many do.  Someone reading this will. I'm not saying to never drink alcohol, for example, I'm just saying be aware, you're a professional singer, so act like one.  As a singer, drugs and cigarettes are obviously not a good idea.  You could qualify this by saying 'I only do *insert drug* once in a while, so I'll be ok.'  Try it.  I’ve seen a million singers screw their voices from their poor lifestyle choices like smoking cigarettes, and I’ll see a million more.  Go for it and see how it works out for you after a while.  I have also known drummers and guitarists with vices like these kicked out of bands who are now famous, and I’m sure you do too.  That’s how common it is.  They can become irritable, unreasonable and flaky.  Most people find those traits difficult to deal with, especially when they don’t have to deal it.




Great technique, sounds impressive, natural talent, though slightly lazy.  Got absolutely plastered the night before a gig with a relatively new band.  Called off 'sick', and left the band in a big panic trying to find a replacement.  He didn't get many more gigs as word spread.  Turns out he often called in 'sick' with other bands and not just because he liked a party, sometimes he couldn't be bothered.  Great when he turned up.  Sometimes he didn't.  Sometimes he took higher paid gigs last minute instead of honouring his previous commitment.  Bands talk to each other and recommend to each other, and bands no longer trusted him.  His reputation was damaged irreparably for the sake of an extra £30 a gig.  Do not cancel unless you have no choice.  I'm sure you have the logic to know when you should or shouldn't cancel on a gig.  If you do cancel, at least help the band with a replacement.  Being a musician who is quite good but extremely reliable outweighs someone who is as amazing as they are unreliable every time.



A solid guitarist and reliable, although his attitude with people wasn’t the best.  He would yawn on stage, look at his phone to see how close the band were to finishing and whenever there was hassle at a gig, he always seemed to be in the middle of it, with a face like a smacked arse.  He also failed over the years to reinvest in his business and his tools.  He obviously had a guitar and an amp, but at one particular gig the amp started to fizz and spit, and didn’t bother to get it fixed while other guitarists had amps that worked.  He didn’t even practise outside of learning the songs (practise can be boring and hard work, you can always do it tomorrow or next week can't you?).  He missed opportunities such as when his friend asked to record him in his home studio, but he couldn’t be bothered, opting to play his Xbox instead.  It got even worse when his guitar bag broke as he was retrieving it from the car.  The guitar landed on the headstock, splitting the neck, making the guitar an unstable instrument.  Now his equipment was on death’s door and he panicked because with the guitar damage and the amp dying, it was now an expensive fix when it didn’t have to be.


Investing some time into your business will increase your value, as will having a good attitude.  Imagine if he had taken up his friend’s offer?  He would have some studio experience and may even have the knowledge to build his own.  What if he was easier to work with?  No-one wants to work with a misery guts.  Try and fix your equipment as soon as you possibly can.  If that's not usable, neither are you.  Also, if you are serious about a career then you should be reinvesting constantly and improving your craft as much as you buy equipment.  Also, be polite and respectful.  People tend to work with who they like.  


...if an opportunity arises to network or learn something new, take it...


As a side note, singers are prone to being criticised for having no equipment, and will get no sympathy from any instrumentalist (who has saved up and put money aside for their gear) when they complain that a microphone is expensive.  It always amazes me (and many musicians I know) when singers turn up to a gig and ask you for a mic (not surprisingly, these are the singers that do things like demand payment immediately, ask for more money, complain about songs, unreliable, get drunk at gigs, don't learn the songs etc).  You don't get a bass player turning up for a gig expecting you to provide a bass do you?  For every minute you're not investing time and some cash (however small), there is someone else who is.  Oh, and they are hungry for your job, make no mistake about it.  And they will viciously take it from under you with relish if they have the opportunity and they won't even be sorry - because it's your fault.  It's not unheard of for a musician to go up to a band leader and say 'fire him/her, he/she is awful and I'm your man/woman,’ from grass roots all the way up to famous bands.

And finally…


MUSICIAN 4 - Drummer


Amazing control, reliable, easy to work with and learns songs thoroughly.  He has all the pre-requisites to get work.  The final cherry on the top that puts him at first call?  He always invests in his trade. When he could afford it, he bought some drum mics (the bands he played in loved this), and some basic recording software so he could listen to himself from a different perspective and review his playing regularly.  He could slow down parts that were a struggle with the software and practised his studio technique religiously.


He also was wise to the fact that he didn’t want his technique to slip so while most of his old class mates were spending their money in the pub, he balanced his social life with his professional life and booked some time with a top class drum teacher every now and again to make sure he was improving all the time.  He wasn't arrogant enough to think he knew all he needed to know just because he'd graduated from a music college.  He didn't want to know just enough to keep his head above water, he wanted to know more than anyone else and pushed himself through gigs that were tough without complaining.  He missed very few gigs and earned a lot more.  He asked the band he was playing for to teach him how to set up the PA and eventually saved up enough to buy his own.  He started a new band which he managed himself and sought out his own gigs, now learning how to organise agents, photoshoots, videos and demos.

...add value, or fall behind...

Within 6 months he was a better drummer than he ever was, and despite the money spent, was better off financially (that's why they call it an investment right?).  Word spread about how professional he was.  Once fully booked, he raised his prices because he was worth the money.  And now, he's also taking theory and singing lessons to further improve his value.  He set up his own website and advertised himself as a drummer for session work, band work, private teaching and even online teaching.  He regularly writes blogs, bought himself a camera and now has a popular YouTube channel.  He won't be replaced by up and coming drummers anytime soon.  

...the more action you take, the higher your value...

He has the skill, knowledge, experience and drive all rolled into one.  99% of musicians can never compete with someone who does this.  Top of the food chain by a country mile, just because he took ACTION that most couldn't be bothered to do.  Furthermore, because he has diversified his skill set, he can charge to record a demo for someone, produce, teach, do session work (remote/studio), understand music theory, write/record his own songs to submit to artists and music libraries, and most importantly is turning down work because he can't fit it into his schedule.  If you are 18 years old and really believe you have the positive attributes above except for experience and a few bits of gear, don't worry, time will cure that, just concentrate on your craft for the moment. If you are 25 and don't apply yourself, start looking over your shoulder, that 18 year old wants your job. 

Now, let's ask that question again...

How valuable are you?

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