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How much should a musician be paid?

how much should a musician be paid


This is a hotly debated topic. If you sign up to any of the Facebook musician sites (such as UK musicians for gigs or Dep Musicians in the UK ), there are always posts asking for advice, as well as some highly opinionated professionals!

This blog is intended to be slightly more factual than my previous airy fairy posts! Of course it’s subjective in places but I will try to give as many real life examples as I can. I’m not intending to complain; I do ok with the work I get. I merely hope that by posting this information it will be useful if you ever book musicians or if you are a musician yourself.

All monetary examples are relevant to the UK in 2016. If you disagree with anything I would love to hear from you. Please use the comments section below.

Firstly, lets address an issue which lights up in the internet:

Should musicians play for nothing?

Short answer is: No.

What if it’s for a charity event?

No. The cost should be factored in. You could ask for a reduced fee but you should never expect anyone to volunteer their professional services for nothing.

What if it’s for a friend?

Still no. Again, you could ask for a reduced fee (mates rates) but in my experience this can lead to all sorts of problems so it’s best to draw up a contract and stipulate exactly what each party expects.

What if it’s for a new venue/agency/management company and they promise massive exposure?

NO! This is the quickest way to infuriate a musician as it seems that it is almost exclusively limited to music and the arts. In no other profession would something be expected for nothing. Is it really going to provide exposure? What is exposure anyway? Do you expect that the limited amount of people attending the event will immediately be so wowed by the artist that they buy 100′s of CD’s and book them for the next 3 months of Saturday’s?

Why shouldn’t musicians play for nothing?

Again, this is a debatable subject but in my opinion it winds people up that someone can be paid for something they love doing. For some reason, as an example, they expect their dentist to be qualified, do a good job and show enthusiasm but when a musician shows passion for their work they assume that it’s so fun that they don’t need payment. Surely no one can love their job THAT much?!

But they just rock up, strum a guitar for an hour and half, then get back in their VW bus.

Ok, let’s talk about overheads for a minute. In order for a musician to play a venue these are some of the costs they may incur:

  • Transport running costs (fuel, car/van ownership, servicing & repairs, insurance, parking, congestion charge -in central London)
  • Insurance (music instrument insurance, public liability)
  • Tax – Self assessment and National Insurance contributions
  • Instrument costs (original purchase plus maintenance – strings, reeds, servicing & repairs)
  • PAT testing on electrical equipment
  • P.A. purchase or hire
  • Lighting purchase or hire
  • Agent fees
  • Blacks/Stage wear/Costume
  • Accommodation
  • Phone & Broadband – to arrange the gig in the first place
  • Practice facilities
  • Production of recorded material

Ok, so this list is neither fully comprehensive or indicative of a regular gig but it gives you an idea. You may also have been unaware of one or two of these costs. Of course, this does not include the years spent training in music and the financial or social sacrifices (or both) that the individual has made.

Right, I get it; Musicians like to be paid… but is there any time that playing for nothing is appropriate?!

Musicians are usually nice, flexible, caring people, so if they believe in a cause they will offer their services. Of course, they are free to charge what they like. If someone decides to charge nothing then consider yourself very lucky. However, the repercussions could extend further than you think and I would advise that you are always clear what is expected.

For example: Let’s say you ask a plumber friend to fit a shower.

“Sure mate, I’ll come over Saturday morning”

Saturday arrives and you wait in all day… Nothing. You don’t want to call because you’re asking a favour and your friend said he’d be there. You wait in and sacrifice you plans. Still nothing. Eventually you call your friend who informs you that their Friday job ran over and as it was a high paying client; he couldn’t refuse. I guess you get what you pay for and if you pay nothing then there is no real incentive or commitment. This can cause all sorts of problems and even lead to a broken friendship. Not cool.

There are musicians out there who:

  1. play free of charge and they usually have another profession. They are therefore hobbyists. I am constantly frustrated by these well meaning individuals because they add petrol to the flames by encouraging event organisers to continue asking for favours.
  2. are so insecure about their abilities that when they do charge money it’s so low that they damage the economy of the music industry. I realise that’s a very dramatic statement but I really believe that musicians should charge a respectable fee.

If you fall into either of these categories then please ask for a proper fee and then set up a charity or trust to put the money to a good cause if you really don’t need it yourself.

The ONLY time I play for nothing is if I choose to join a jam session or I choose to take part in a radio broadcast (but even then I would look to recoup money through PRS). I like to think that this isn’t because I’m tight, but because I care deeply for the profession and it pains me that so many artists struggle. I realise we’re not talking 3rd world struggle here but still, it seems unnecessary.

Point taken, I’m willing to cough up. How much should I pay?

I’ll make this as succinct as possible. Each £ amount is per musician for a reasonable set length of 2 x 45-60mins for an evening performance (let’s say between the hours of 7 and 11pm)

  • Small venue/function (birthday party, pub gig) £50-80
  • Club or small festival £80-120
  • Wedding or corporate event £100-300
  • Larger festival/Theatre £100-500
  • TV/Radio Performance – this can vary massively as this might be the one true example of decent exposure. As I said before however, you can recoup through PRS and/or PPL (or similar royalty collection agencies)
  • Cruise liner or holiday resort contract – usually £1000-2000 a month + food and board (some extras may be negotiable i.e. bar discount, ski hire, access to resort facilities etc)
  • Stadiums and National festivals £500-3000 but this is often factored into the touring cost and you will usually be offered a fee for the complete tour

These are my approximations based on personal experience and although there will always be exceptions, I believe these ball parks figures are reasonable.

Here’s what the Musician’s Union suggest though (minimum fee per musician):

  • Single performance (max 3 hours) plus rehearsal on same day (max 3 hours) in a venue with a capacity of less than 200: £133.00
  • Single performance (max 3 hours) plus rehearsal on same day (max 3 hours) in a venue with a capacity of more than 200: £148.00
  • Two performances plus a single rehearsal in a venue with a capacity of less than 200: £233.50
  • Two performances plus a single rehearsal in a venue with a capacity of more than 200: £260.00

Additional Rehearsals

  • On the same day: half a performance fee
  • On another day: a full performance fee


  • Rehearsal or performance: £19.00 (Double Time) per 15 minutes or part thereof based on the National Gig hourly rate of £38.00

Late fees

  • Payable when time of return is midnight to 2:00am £24.00

Overnight stay

  • Payable when return would be after 2:00am £95.00


  • Payable per day to cover meals and expenses £43.00


Is this the same throughout the UK?

You will find that there may be geographical discrepancies. While London and the South East are willing to offer the highest fees, the costs to musicians are often higher too. As you travel further north or to remote parts of the country, you will have to balance travel costs with a competitive rate. Bigger cities will have more venues and more need for functions, however the competition will be much greater. Easy solution: Always be professional and play really well!

I’m a musician and struggling to earn a living

In this situation, artists often charge less but I would seriously consider putting your prices up. The reason is twofold:

  1. People expect value for money. They pay more for a Mercedes than they do for a Ford. Are they better cars? Debatable – they do the same job of driving you from place to place. It’s all to do with expectation, if you charge less then you are telling people that you are not worth a higher fee. You have immediately set their expectations low and some will just go ahead and book a more expensive band because they want their event to be the best.
  2. Are you good enough to warrant the extra money? If people like you then they will be willing to pay more, if not, you need to practice and work on your show!

The benefits of keeping musicians happy

To finish I want to briefly explain why keeping musicians happy can benefit you as a client. It’s the same reason you offer the workman building your new conservatory a cup of tea, if they are treated well then they are likely to do a good job. Most professionals care passionately about their work and if they are provided with the correct information, have enough time to work and have reasonable demands made of them they thrive. It is a turbulent time for the music industry and artists are finding it hard to earn a living from selling copies of their music so they are relying heavily on live performance. Most will act professionally and enjoy their time with an audience. They are grateful for the work and will give 100% to entertain you. Please support live music by booking artists, visiting local venues and venture out to local festivals and events. Enjoy the music, pay a fair fee and feel good about yourself!

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4 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Penny
    June 16, 2016


    • Jay
      June 16, 2016

      Glad you think so Penny

  2. Dud
    June 17, 2016

    Very informative, you really know your stuff.

  3. Great post. I am facing a couple of these difficulties.

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