Being a musician means playing for change.
Playing for change, what does that mean? According to Wikipedia, the term “busker” seems to be loosely related, although “busker” is more associated with street performers who perform for tips. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, busker is “a person who entertains in a public place for donations.”
However, that term does not quite fit here, although in some situations, the word “busking” would certainly be appropriate. What I am talking about is playing for a small amount of compensation depending on a number of factors when performing in a nightclub, bar or other venues.
The title may seem a little outside the box. “Playing for change” depends on how one looks at the situation. As a musician having played in a multitude of venues, ranging from coffee houses, cafes to concert halls and everything in between, “playing for change” is a big part of being a musician.
From inexperienced young musicians to journeymen performers and bands alike, we can all fall prey to the sharks out there in the golden land of playing the circuit. The process of learning how to navigate your way through the various scenarios of being compensated for performing in the various venues runs the gamut of how to get paid.
There are some establishments that pay a decent wage when it comes to hiring performers at their venues. The following are some ways that venues choose to pay the performers:
Pre-Paid Ticket Sales – It works something like this: the venue gives you 50 tickets, and you must sell a minimum of 35 tickets in order to play the house. The venue gets that first and if you don’t meet the minimum of 35 tickets, you pay the balance before you even hit the stage. I don’t recommend this method for anyone, but if the venue is an important stepping stone, go for it!
Cash Register Receipts – Another tricky one here! You get paid based on how much the register makes during the time of gig. Go on at 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., you only get paid during that time. You also don’t get all of the register receipts. During your gig, the house gets $10-$15 of each $100 you make. Let’s say you gross $400 in receipts for the night; take $40 off the top and you go home with $360. I guess not too bad if you have a band that’s not too large.
Beer Sales – This is sort of the same type of register deal, except your pay is based on the total beer sales made during gig time. This is another one that I don’t recommend, because the register receipts can be easily manipulated here.
The Door – The question with this method is: do you post someone at the door or do you trust that the venue won’t skim the door receipts? That can be a tough decision depending on the venue, and you may not even have a choice in some cases. However, there are several ways this method can work. The most common is when the venue gives the band or artist 100% of the door receipts. Sometimes the house sets the cover charge, but some venues leave it up to the artist/band to set the rate. Cover charges can vary quite differently from venue to venue; make sure that the cover charge is reasonable! The average price range is usually somewhere between $5-$10 per person. If the band or artist has good promotional skills, they can make a killing at the door.
Combination Door/House – In this case, the venue usually has a set cover charge with the artist dividing the admission between the house and the artist. The standard split is usually a 50/50 deal, half to the house and half to the artist. Another common arrangement is the 70/30 split, with 70% to the artist and 30% to the house.
Flat Rate – A flat rate is what is agreed upon between artist and venue prior to performance. In the case of most local artists, these agreements are done largely by verbal agreement and are payable usually at the end of the performance. These payments are for the most part done via cash, although some are contractual. In some rare cases, if not enough cash is on hand at the end of the night or performance, the manager or owner will issue a check.
The following are some great playing for change performances in Montclair for the month of January, so be sure to check them out!