Many artists dread one question more than any other.
Not “So what kind of [music, art, books] do you [play, draw, write]?”
Not, “Do you know anyone famous?”
Not, “What’s your real job?”
No, the question many of us dread the most is: “How much do you charge?”
While everyone works for a living, professional musicians, artists and creatives often live for their work. Therefore, because we creatives tend to see our work as an extension of ourselves, setting a rate can become a deeply personal decision. Some wish they didn’t have to charge at all. Others hate having to haggle and negotiate with people who balk at the costs they quote. In any case, rather than waiting to be asked about your fee for a gig, service or product, it’s best to have some things already thought out in advance.
Here’s some tips on how to maintain a proper mindset while setting your rates.
What you shouldn’t think about
1. Don’t think about what you need. The first mistake most musicians and creatives make when charging fees is becoming a prisoner of the moment. You might think about the car payment that is due, the groceries that you need, or the equipment you’ve been dying to purchase. However, all of your responses at this point are now tied to a temporary situation. Instead of thinking of what your services are worth, you’re thinking of what your current financial need is. This means you will adjust your rates higher or lower, and your pricing model will never be consistent. Instead, set your rates long in advance and don’t change them simply because of a momentary financial need or desire. You’ll avoid being swayed or influenced when you are presenting your rates to a potential client.
2. Don’t think about what you feel. You’ve heard that artists are sensitive, and for many of us, it’s true in one specific area – we hate to hear the word NO. When we quote a client, business, church or any other potential customer, you might be tempted to make yourself more affordable to avoid that moment of rejection. But your feelings have nothing to do with the value of the service. Reacting to rejection by adjusting your rates means your primary motivation is not financial, but emotional. This is usually a mistake. Feelings are great for creating but bad for business. If you have set a minimum rate and your potential client can’t agree to it, that doesn’t make you a bad person or a greedy artist. It simply means there’s a difference in the client’s budget and the cost of your service. That’s it. Release yourself from any judgment or worry about how you’re viewed. Put it this way – if someone finds fault with you for charging a higher fee than they expect, find out what they do and then tell them to imagine accepting less for their job. It’s unlikely they’d be willing to do so.
3. Don’t think about what others charge. A lot of musicians and artists try to match rates and charges with others in their field and particular location. This is a normal business practice, but it can be taken too far. If all that concerns you is maintaining the average rate for your area and expertise, you’ve forgotten that your service or music may be unique. Perhaps what you offer as an artist is not what everyone else does, and you should be able to evaluate the value of it without assuming that it’s the same as every other artist in your area.
What you should think about
1. Think about the worth of your time. Even before you play a note or prepare a plan for a new artistic project, remember that every moment of your time is most valuable to one person – you. You can’t replace the moments you spend on a project, and you should never feel guilty for being compensated for that time. The money you earn as a result of your work is what will give you the time – the margin – the resources to do the things you want to do later.
2. Think about the uniqueness of your skill. There are only a limited set of people who can do what you do. In his book Unmistakeable:Why Only is Better than Best, creative coach and author Srinivas Rao explains how being the only one with a particular type of ability is better than being the best at a more general type of skill. Being unique, standing out, and having an angle that can’t be replicated is valuable. Make sure you include your uniqueness as part of your valuation and price setting.
3. Think about the example you are setting. When you set your rates, you are unconsciously telling your client what you think about yourself. When you choose to set a lower rate, you actually are sending a message to your customer that you might be less qualified. Imagine if you were shopping for a Ferrari, and the dealer quoted you the price of a Toyota. Your first thought would be to wonder what’s wrong with the car. Make sure that you remember your goal is not just to win a client or make a certain financial goal. It’s to properly communicate the value and professionalism of what you do. Your prices are more than a number, it’s a statement of your belief in yourself.
All of this does not mean you cannot give things away as you build an audience, or that you can’t be generous in certain situations. But it does mean you must always do so with the knowledge that what you are giving is valuable. You can always make this clear with a statement like this; “This service is worth ___, but because I value our relationship even more than that, I will provide it for ____.”
In every situation, remember your compensation as a creative isn’t just about paying your bills.
It’s about valuing your own art, and helping (yes, helping) others to value it as well.