Why I Charge What I Charge: Understanding My Performance Fees


Many of my performances are at private events as a solo guitarist. A highly skilled guitarist with nearly 30 years of professional experience who can perform virtually any musical style, I have over 1200 live performances logged. I have the highest degree possible in my field (i.e., a doctorate) and add daily to the literally tens-of-thousands of hours to time already spent refining my craft. Despite these credentials, a fairly large percentage of prospective clients often take pause or question my fee when I provide a quote. I have encountered people who seem perfectly content with paying a well-established DJ upwards of $1000 for a couple of hours. Yet the same people do not understand how I can justify charging $600 for exactly the same amount of time.

Recently, I took a poll of 10 well-established DJs in the San Francisco area. I asked each to provide me a bid for two hours of music at a venue about 35 miles away; the average was $800. Typically, my rate under the conditions is $600-almost 35% less. So why is it that a skilled solo guitarist is perceived to have less value in comparison to a DJ?

Over the years, I have discovered that several misconceptions exist about me as a professional solo guitarist. I hope to clear up these misconceptions in the following paragraphs.

Many clients are surprised when they see how much equipment that I bring along to a performance; it is comparable to a DJ. While I play a modestly sized instrument, the instrument does not project very well when unamplified. Even an acoustic guitar in a large room is audible to those within a 20-30 foot range, but that is assuming everyone is quiet. When you factor in other noise and the conversation levels of those in attendance, the range drops to around 10 feet. If I am performing outdoors, the range drops even more.

Aside from bringing one or two guitars, the standard equipment I carry to the gig includes a guitar amplifier, speaker cabinet, and a PA with a mixer and microphones. Considering the time necessary to set up the equipment, sound check, and warmup, I need at least an hour before the beginning of the event. Therefore, a two-hour performance requires about four hours when factoring in the time needed to setup and breakdown.

When it comes to song requests, I do not charge extra for one or two that require me to come up with solo guitar arrangements. On average, I spend about 2-4 hours per arrangement and more time practicing the arrangement.

As a solo guitarist, I am responsible for condensing the parts of the singer, pianist, bassist, guitarist, and drummer into one instrument. Covering multiple parts on a guitar can be very difficult. In comparison, performing only the guitar part of most songs is a cinch.

An additional travel time fee is assessed only if the event is over an hour's drive (one way).

To summarize, the following is an hourly breakdown when I am hired to perform for two hours and arrange two songs for the solo guitar for an event an hour away:

4-8 hours of song arranging

4-8 hours of practicing the arrangements

2 hours of driving

2 hours for setup and breakdown

2 hours of performing

Clearly, a lot more goes into performing as a solo guitarist for two hours than one might realize; these, too, are factors when it comes to determining my fee.

Dr. Seth Greenberg