It can be a hard thing for an up and coming musician to really stand up for themselves and to hold their ground when it comes to the tough task of negotiation. It has always been rather difficult for me, and I can’t really say I’ve gotten all that better at it, but I certainly hope I’ve at least improved a little, certainly enough to help you with my experience!
I have found that unless you have a first-rate agent to negotiate for you, you’re mostly going to get just marginal people to help you, who you have to spend more time keeping a “watch” on than even watching your own career! So, if this is the case, it’s a good opportunity to learn how to barter and negotiate for yourself. Many people just take a kind of blanket approach, where they say the have their basic “day rate”, say for example if recording sessions are involved, and you can take that stance too, but sooner or later you’ll find that you’ll have to show some flexibility.
These days folks rarely have the money allotted for a project to actually pay me what I usually get, so I basically weigh each session or gig, and see what the correct amount to ask for is. I’d rather make the music and make decent money on a lot of projects, rather than turn down a job or overprice myself out of one! There are many albums being made these days by independent artists, and they rarely have the money to get the great players. Still, they have big dreams, and for me, if I feel they are talented enough, and if I like the music, I’d rather do it for lesser money or some kind of barter than walk away from it.
Also, by doing this, that artist gets the guitarist they wanted, namely me, and they are left with a satisfying feeling that I didn’t “rake them over the coals” to get paid an exorbitant amount, and that I am a nice guy! There are other times, and I can recall some of my own, where I should’ve stood my ground and asked for more. But it’s tough….the big acts usually have strong negotiators on their payrolls, and when I got a call from Simon and Garfunkel’s tour manager/accountant asking me if “they could afford me!,” well, where could I possibly go from there?! (Turns out years later, they actually discovered that this same man had slowly been stealing around $6 million from Simon’s earnings!)
The whole thing is very much a crap-shoot at times, but it’s important to at least establish a mode and style of negotiating that becomes a kind of known trademark of yours that at last gives folks a sense of what to expect when the do need to talk “turkey” with you! You must feel out each unique situation, and as you start to have more experience, you’ll see that you’ll also have more knowledge to fall back on when certain similar situations arise! So, go forth and negotiate for yourself….and remember, if they really want you, they’ll pay for you!!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.