What Am I Paying For When I Hire a Live Band?
By Tristan Whalen-Hughes
When hiring live music for your event, the band’s rates can sometimes seem a little surprising. “It can’t really cost THAT much to hire a bunch of guys just to come play music for a few hours!” you might be thinking to yourself. You have to keep in mind though, that for most bands, the musicians’ performance fees themselves are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how a band sets their rates. Below is a detailed explanation of just a few of the many factors that can influence how a band calculates its professional fees for a gig.
Paying the performers
This is the obvious one. It takes years of dedicated study and practice to master music and a professional band is just that, professional. Each and every band member has put in the time and work required to perform at a high level and music is how they earn a living. It should also be noted that the instruments you see on stage aren’t your run of the mill, superstore budget items. Professional calibre instruments can cost the performers thousands! The largest part of any band’s fees should be going to compensation for the performers.
Rehearsal time and space
Sure, you’re paying for a group of highly trained musicians to play music at your event, but even the most skilled musicians have to prepare for a show. The band’s fees also have to reflect this, taking into consideration all of the unpaid time and effort required to learn the music individually and practice as a group ahead of time before taking the stage at the event itself. This could even include renting space to rehearse if the band doesn’t have its own dedicated rehearsal space.
Sound and lighting equipment
Unless you’re very lucky and your venue is particularly well equipped, the band will likely have to supply its own sound and lighting systems. This gear can often cost thousands of dollars for a band to purchase, and even short term rental of this type of equipment can get expensive. It’s no surprise then, that sound and lighting costs are often included in a band’s professional fees.
Set-up and sound check
Speaking of sound gear, these heavy speakers, tangles of audio cables, and multiple microphone inputs all take time to transport, unpack, set up, and test. This means that some or all of the band members have to arrive early in order to get everything up and running well ahead of the scheduled performance time. Consequently, you may find yourself paying a little extra for those members’ time and audio gear expertise.
Professional bands will usually have an audio engineer, or “sound guy”, on their roster. This skilled individual will have an ear for balance and the in-depth technical know-how required to operate the sound system while the band is performing. In addition to helping with the set-up and sound check, the sound guy is the one in the booth expertly sliding the faders on the mixer, minimizing audio feedback, and generally keeping the band sounding its best throughout the show.
Agent, manager, and other administrative fees
Overlooked in many situations are the basic administrative costs required to effectively and efficiently run an organization. A band is no different. Things like website hosting, meetings with clients and event planners, and advertising/promotional costs to name just a few, all contribute to the administrative challenges of running a band. Many bands choose to hire an agent or a manager (or even both!) in order to make these tasks easier. While it’s an agent’s job to help find gigs for the band and a manager’s job to organize logistics and ensure things run smoothly, they may take anywhere from a 5% to 15% cut each of whatever the band makes.
These are just some of the many behind the scenes costs that play a role in how a live band sets their rates. Most bands should be able to provide you with a breakdown of exactly what your money is going towards upon request.