I recently came across this post on social media:


Looking for a pub to supply free beer at our music festival weekend. We can’t pay you anything, but the musicians will play their favourite songs for you. A great opportunity to showcase your beer!


Such a well-worded little piece. It made me laugh. It begins reasonably enough but by the end we are in a ludicrous world where beer makers are desperately seeking exposure for their beer by giving it away whenever they are asked.


Similar grumbles are heard whenever musicians gather to discuss some gig where the booker asked them to play for little or no pay. The only return the musician/s can expect after rehearsing, travelling, setting up, waiting around, taking down the PA and driving home is the promise that their “exposure” to the people at the event will lead to an abundance of well-paying gigs in the future.


When the musician talks about the lowly amount, they have either accepted or been offered, you will hear their cry of, “Try getting a plumber for that amount! They wouldn’t even leave the house for that, let alone work for 3 hours.


A chief difference between plumbers and musicians is that when your only toilet breaks down on Saturday night, or when the hot water tank fails in the middle of winter, you will pay almost anything to get it working again. It’s a case of supply and demand. There never seem to be enough plumbers and they are perceived to be a valued necessity. Musicians are more often perceived as being abundant and optional.


But are they really? When my daughter got married in January, we booked a solo singer called Sharon West. She sang hits from the Sixties through to the Nineties by every famous female singer you can name and she kicked ass. People of all ages danced, sang and laughed the night away. A couple of weeks later I happened to walk in the same venue in the middle of a birthday party. There was no entertainment and the contrast was clear. People were talking and drinking but there was none of the extra joy and sparkle that travelled in through the door when our entertainer arrived.


And you discover how supposedly “abundant” good entertainers are when one cancels and the person hosting the party is finding it impossible to locate a good replacement (bad replacements are more plentiful but then you wouldn’t want a bad plumber either). Interestingly, even when in dire straits they often still won’t pay more than the initial performer agreed to. Because that is their “budget” which must be obeyed – at all costs.


It’s all about the perception of value. I played a wedding in the 1990s and was paid $300 which seemed okay until I overheard the cost of the flower table-decorations was $4,000. I have to be honest, I know very little about what goes into making flower arrangements, but that seemed like a big difference.


As musicians it’s easy to come to the conclusion that most people are just plain ignorant when it comes to their understanding of what musicians do and what they are worth yet it doesn’t happen the same to everyone. No-one is going to offer Elton John a fifty-dollar gig in a church basement, and then comfort his ego by saying, “It doesn’t pay much Elton, but it will be good exposure for you.” It just wouldn’t happen.


I believe a lot of this has to do with how we carry ourselves and how we communicate:


Four ways that musicians exude their self-worth and high value:


Use the Power of No

Think about where you want to be in the future and choose your gigs accordingly. Use the word “No” from time to time. Rather than take a gig that you figure will be a depressing experience say “Yes” to those that will uplift you. It’s not about the money necessarily. It’s more about showing yourself in as good a situation as possible; wherever you’re at right now. Before you say “Yes” to a gig get chatty and ask some questions to find out what you could be letting yourself in for.


Dare to be the Star You Want to Be

Wherever you go and whatever you do present yourself as the sort of person you would want to be known as. Smile, be thoughtful, be kind, be generous, be gracious and make these qualities a habit.


Dress for Success

When you perform take care to dress the way you sound and make it as deliberately and carefully put together as your music. Despite their names, Grunge and Punk were as much about the fashion as the sound – maybe more so. Don’t just throw on a pair of jeans and an okay shirt and think that’s okay. Showing the right sort of image will mean that more people take you seriously.


Talk Positively

Train yourself to think about what you say and how you say it. It can be cathartic to have an occasional grumble with your peers but mostly any negative talk, no matter how constructively it is intended, has a good chance of reflecting badly on you.


The great thing about these techniques is that even if you don’t end up becoming the Star you know you deserve to be then you should at least feel better about being the Performer you are.