Remote Recording Sessions (Let’s Talk Pricing & Brand)
Finances and pricing are tricky subjects with musicians. Often, two musicians at the same gig will get paid differently. There are many factors that have traditionally affected what a musician makes. But the potential for a musician to increase their earnings has increasingly been capped by a contracting music industry. Many musicians are forced to accept lower pay in order to keep working. For this reason, the financial landscape for musicians can look grim. In this post, I’d like to start a discussion on how these factors have operated within online recording industry, offer some hopeful insights, and tips for musicians to make more money, make better music, and work with better clients through online recording.
As a musician, it can be easy to adopt a negative attitude, and resign yourself to either scraping by, giving up, or never doing music full time. As someone in the trenches, I want to encourage you not to give up! There’s lots of great opportunities out there, and taking advantage of them starts with keeping a positive attitude and keeping the long game in mind. Building a successful music career takes time and dedication. Persistence and experimentation are a better strategy than perfection.
Why do musicians get hired?
Musicians get hired because of a few different factors:
- Need (does the employer need a musician? This is the most basic reason, and is the thing musicians can control least.)
- Affordability (Can the employer afford to pay the musician a price the musician will accept?)
- Location (is the musician close enough to get to the gig in a timely and affordable way?)
- Social fit (how well will the musician get along with the people they will be around at the gig?)
- Brand (does the musician give the employer an overall good impression?)
- Skill (how good is the musician at the skill they will be required to perform?)
- Style (does the musician’s style of playing and style of branding fit the gig?)
- Referral (have you been referred by someone the employer trusts?)
- Credits (has the musician worked with people the employer knows/likes?)
- Awareness (whether or not the employer is aware of a musician when a gig arises)
Each of these factors play more or less of a role in determining what gigs musicians get hired for and for what price. All of these factors apply to musicians in the world of online recording, with the exception that awareness and location have been combined into a musician’s “online presence.”
Changes in Expectations
As the music industry began to shrink in the 80’s, the average musician began to make less money. The industry changed to create more opportunities for musicians, but often these newer opportunities have reflected the lower pay that musicians have begun to expect.
For example, in the 90’s the music industry was rocked by pirating. Musicians expected to make lots of money from well received records, but failed to meet projections because their music was illegally downloaded. The industry transitioned to subscription based streaming methods, which have proven more resistant to pirating and enabled the industry to recover, but has forced the average musician to make less from recorded music than ever before.
Online recording has opened lots of opportunities for musicians. The recording industry is now truly global, and musicians can now work with anyone in the world. But globalization has also brought challenges: now, musicians have to compete with everyone in the world. This has caused musicians to try and price gauge in order to find work. While this might seem like a great idea in the short term, in the long run, it can create serious problems.
Why Charging Less Isn’t The Answer
Price is only one reason that musicians get hired. While low prices can encourage people to hire you, it can erode the other reasons people might hire you for example:
There are lots of gigs that have a predefined budget. Many high quality projects have a high predetermined budget. If you set a low price, higher quality clients will usually overlook you. Why would they pay for a budget solution when they can afford to get the luxury option?
When you charge less for your services, you are communicating to the world that you are a budget musician. This will encourage clients to overlook you for higher paying gigs, and to try and book you for lower paying ones.
First impressions are powerful and difficult to overcome. When people are aware that you are available to work for cheap, it will be difficult to convince them to pay you more.
4) Social fit
Lower paying gigs usually place less emphasis on social fit. You will therefore probably find yourself in situations where people don’t respect you very much as a person, or try very hard to get along with you. You will also not be expected to get along very well with the people around you.
Many lower paying projects usually involve less skilled musicians. If you charge low prices, you will find yourself working with more amateur players, and won’t be challenged by the people around you to improve.
Mastering a style of playing, and creating your voice on the instrument takes time, and focus. Taking low paying gigs of all types can make it difficult to establish your voice, and to grow in playing the styles that you want to be best at and known for.
People refer musicians that they value and trust. When you charge low prices, you discourage successful people from recommending you for high quality gigs.
When you charge low prices, you typically will get hired for lower quality projects. Therefore, you will build up a list of credits that does more harm than good. People are more likely to hire a musician with a smaller portfolio of higher quality credits, than someone with an established track record of making bad music.
This is the sole factor that you are relying on by charging low prices. You are opening yourself up to gigs of all price, so that whenever someone “needs” a musician, you can fill the gap. Filling the “need” gap is low hanging fruit, and can push you into gigs that you don’t enjoy, with people you don’t like. If you solely play low paying gigs where you are “needed” you will quickly get to a place where it’s hard to say no to anything.
So while you might get more work for awhile by charging low prices, you are simultaneously creating a barrier to career growth that you will have to eventually overcome if you are to make a respectable living in music.
Does it limit me to have a set price?
Traditionally, recording professionals have had higher “major label” pricing, and lower “indie” pricing that reflects the budget of whatever project they are working on. Some music professionals push back against the idea of having one set price for remote services on marketplaces like Airgigs. The set service price sometimes leads musicians to list their “indie” price. I would encourage you not to do this. If you are an experienced musician, set the price of your main service listing at a fair price that reflects the value of what you have to offer. In the long run, you will attract better work, and be more fairly compensated.
Is it ever ok to charge lower prices?
There are certain times when lower pricing is appropriate. For example, if you just signed up for Airgigs, or are not yet confident in your craft, it makes sense to charge less for your price. But, it’s important to up your prices quickly once you have some clients under your belt to avoid being pigeonholed as a “budget” seller.
When should I raise my price?
1) If you aren’t enjoying your work.
If you are attracting cheap clients, with low quality songs, it can get old quick. Don’t punish yourself more than you need to – if you are getting sick of the level of work you are closing, it’s probably time to raise that price.
2) If you aren’t able to provide quality services.
Creating great music takes time and effort. If you can’t spend the time and effort it takes to create music you and your clients are proud of at the price you are charging, it’s probably time to raise your price.
3) If you are working too much.
You may find yourself enjoying your quality of work, and providing a quality service, but if you never try and raise your price, you could be working for less than you are worth. It’s a good idea to test out a higher price at least every year. If you try a higher price and don’t get the work you want, you can always bring it back down.
Low prices cripple the industry
While you may be able to undercut the competition with your lower pricing, it can lead to a domino effect. When someone else comes along and sees your low price and decides to undercut you, the trend can continue until everyone is making much less than they should.
Online session musicians are the real deal
Sometimes, online session musicians can get a bad wrap. Some more traditionally minded musicians have written online session musicians off as a cheap substitute for “real” pro musicians.
Let’s look at the skills and gear an online session musician has to have to do their job:
A place to record: This has to be a place where they can make noise, and where there isn’t lots of noise happening around them.
Recording gear: In addition to whatever musical instruments they need for performing, they will also need: a computer, recording software, audio interface, preamps, plugins, etc.
Engineering: They have to be a recording engineer, and be at least passable at mixing (even if they aren’t offering mixing services, if they don’t know how to at least create listenable rough mixes for clients to review their work, then they won’t be very successful).
Videography: In order to get work, most online session musicians also have to film themselves and create video content in order to market themselves
Marketing: Online session players have to market themselves online in order to find work.
The truth is, the best musicians in the world do online gigs, and doing online gigs takes more skills and financial investment than traditional in person session work.
The power of optimism
The only way for musicians to make a decent living is for them to be confident in the value of their service, and to stick to their guns on price. If more musicians can push back against the idea that they have to devalue their skills in order to make a living, then it can actually make the playing field better for everyone.
Hopefully this will serve to open up a discussion, so feel free to comment below with anything you’ve found valuable.