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On Gigging Fees


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Last weekend we had a wind music festival here, with a tent of nonstop concert band music, a parade, food and beverage, the works.

Some bands are notoriously short of certain instrumentalists and so we were asked to help out for a concert. This would include four or five rehearsals and the concert itself, of course.

Now it is custom to give the aide a small amount of money (say $30) to cover the extra expenses (gas, beer, whatever), and that's it, usually. (It should be said that we're all amateurs).

What we got for our gig, however, was way over the top re generosity and while it certainly helped to create that warm fuzzy feeling in your innards, we really felt overpaid, especially as our own band is in the same situation of occasionally having to hire someone with a Bari or an English Horn.

Now what is your stance re paying aides? What do other bands do? Market paychecks for stand-in amateurs? Just a wet handshake and a free beer or two? Would thick paychecks kill the spirit of making music for the poor joy of it?

Again - this is strictly about amateur helpers. A pro lives on gigging and deserves a fair fee.

(PS: we decided to donate the extra money to the local youth music school)


Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
First you have to define pro. That's a fuzzy term for me. I used to simplisticly say that if you get paid regularly, you're a pro. But I now get paid regularly and I really am just a hobbyist. I'm now leaning towards people in the union being considered the pros and everyone else are semi-pro to amateur. What follows is based on experiences in Seattle where you can't talk to someone who isn't or doesn't know a musician. :cool:

The big bands that I run are 501c (charity) organizations so I rarely ask for money unless we really don't want to do it. Only the subs get paid and the rest goes into the band fund. The pro's who have subbed for us told us $50 for two hours is a fair amount for them and they've subbed for less money.

The 8-piece, 4-horn and vocalist combo I run practices 10 times a year or so, or twice a month, and gigs 4 or 5 times a year. We all have day jobs. So I am asking for $50 a musician for two hours. We've had three paying gigs this year. The subs get the same fee.

I'm starting to think about doing gigs 2 or 3 times a year with my sax quartet peeps. That would be $100 per player for two hours. There is no place to hide in a group like that. I let you know how that goes if we ever do a gig.

When I sub for a pro Big Band, I ask for $30 for two hours if I'm playing 2d chair alto and/or tenor and clarinet. I don't get asked very much. And I turn down more than I accept. If I'm asked to solo I'll ask for $50.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Okay, in my context a pro is someone who makes a substantial part of his/her living performing (on stage/studio or as a teacher) with his/her instrument. Read that as "being subject to IRS attention". An amateur on the other hand is someone with a rather unrelated day job who wouldn't starve if no paid gigs materialized during the year. (I know that this is a somewhat fuzzy definition, but I don't want to get into that)
A pro does it for money.
An amateur does for free.
There are gray areas...
Sometimes I sub in a local community big band (not the community band in which I am a member) at their dances. They charge an admission, which, I suppose, helps offset their expenses. I play either piano or string bass on these occasions, chairs which are difficult for them to fill with players who know the literature and can read without needing a rehearsal. And are highly exposed parts not covered by a section.

They do not call me if they are not prepared to offer payment. They know that I am a dues-paying musician. The usual fee is fifty bucks.
The community band in which I am a member often features a guest artist in our concerts. We pay guest artists a sum--I believe they call it an "honorarium"--for their appearance. A typical honorarium is 200 bucks.

On occasion we hire a pro player to cover an unusually difficult part that we cannot cover with someone from our membership. I think we pay union scale for that, which covers the performance and one or two rehearsals.


Old King Log
Staff member
To be perfectly frank, the AFM sets rates for both performance and rehearsal, including rates for different types of performance/recording. In addition to these general situations, there are also specific contracts that cover a myriad of organizations (some even considered amateur ones, at least by me). The path through these is relatively complicated, but if you're in such a situation, you get used to it.

As we are a right to work state down here, and as I can't get my bunch to join the union, I have a lot more latitude. I pay better than scale for most types of jobs, but nada for rehearsals. And when performance time comes around, everybody gets the same share, across the board.

Quite frankly, the union has nearly priced itself out of business for "casual" musicians. Those in a symphony gig, an Equity theater orchestra, or something along those lines, structured like a 9 to 4 job, they do just fine. For the rest (up to and including some theater orchestras) get by on something less.

Even in non-right to work states, there are too many "Will work for anything; just let me play" folks available and too little in the way of enforcement mechanisms available for the union to clean all of them out. Whether or not this is a good thing depends upon your point of view, of course.

And, if you have never been in the union, it's no big deal to join. Back in the day when I first joined, I had to pick out a G scale on the piano, but now it's just a matter of plunking down the dues and you're in. (Or, it's that way in the Houston local at least.)

In theory, if everyone belonged to the union, the overall price of live music would adjust upwards, albeit slightly. That's the theory, at least...


Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
So there are no other union paying members on this forum? I'm just curious about rates and such. I think I read somewhere that there are three musicians' unions in Seattle. But I've never read about the union coming after hobbyists. But then we don't usually play the 5th Ave Theater or Seattle Symphony gigs.
So there are no other union paying members on this forum? I'm just curious about rates and such.
I'm a life member of Local 389, Orlando.

I have been told that union scale is established by the local based on the local economy. Orlando scale and Seattle scale could be different. Call your local and ask for a fee schedule.


Staff member
I have belonged to the union since I was 17. I didn't have much choice in the matter - some goon came into the bar we were playing (country rock band, no chicken wire, but there should have been) and asked to see our cards. Everyone had them but me, since I had just joined the band, and it never came up as an issue. He threatened to bust up my horns, and said he would be back the next time we played there (he did and I had a card). I have been a member now for 36 years, and can count on one hand the number of jobs I have gotten as a result of my membership.

Illinois is also a right to work state, and you really don't run into issues unless you play the big venues or the fancy downtown hotels. I have played in bands that were all union, partial union, and none except for me.

My criteria is as follows:
Rehearsals - almost always free - there are a few exceptions.
Big Band - at least $50 for a three hour gig, unless it is a charity or community event.
Rock Band / Small Combo - same.
Any band where I need to provide PA equipment - at least $100, preferably more.
Full fledged soundman support - at least $250, more for large setups or extended hours.

If you hold out for union scale around here, you won't work very much. Not sure of the exact numbers, and it varies by venue class, but it is well over $100 for 3 hours.


Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
I'm currently a member of AFM local 802, New York City. 802 might be the strongest local, plenty of union work going on in New York. Big name recording sessions and jingles still going on, large concert halls, and broadway theaters of course. If your city has a symphony orchestra, chances are it's union.

I joined the AFM back in '74 or '75 when I started working scale recording sessions at Philadelphia International Records, also known as Gamble and Huff. I joined local 77 in Philly. Philly recording scale was $184 for a three hour session. Philly International sessions always went overtime, so the pay was usually around $275-300. Nice bread back in those days. You had to go down to the unoin hall to collect your check, so you needed a union card to get in the door.

The AFM has helped me. In Nov 1981, I was working the road with the Stylistics, doing the world tours that were all the rage back in those days. We went to Vegas to do four weeks, seven nights a week in the main showroom of the old Silver Bird casino. During the afternoon sound check for the first show, the local 369 union rep showed up. He showed us the union contracts for each band member, and the scale rate each one of us was to make in Vegas. Scale ranged from about $900 a week, to a little over $1000 per week for me and the tenor player. We both doubled saxophone and flute. The whole band got added scale for the fact that we worked 7 days a week as opposed to 6, and th fact that we were a road band, coming in from outside Vegas. This was real money back in '81.

So, we had to sign off on these contracts, stating that we were in fact being paid Vegas scale. Problem was, we were getting the regular Stylistics road pay, $425 a week in my case. The 'Listics had told us to lie to the union, and that we would not be getting any extra money, and anyone reporting them to the union for the short change would be fired and would have to pay their own way home.

So, I stopped the union man, Chico Alverez, on his way out of the casino and reported the Stylistics. I had done many free "favors" for these guys in the two years I had worked for them. Plus, we (the band) had gone without pay for a while in Japan, one of the most expensive countries in the world, to help these guys save money for their pockets. Now it was time for me to get paid. Chico called a meeting for after the first payday, a week into the run. We went to the meeting at the 369 union hall, told them what we had been paid for the previous week, and authorized the union to put the singers pay in escrow, to make up the previous week shortchange, and to pay us the proper scale for the next three weeks. So basically, the union took the singers' money from the casino and paid the band first, then what was left went back to the casino and was paid to the Stylistics. That's how we were able to be paid Vegas scale.

Needless to say, the singers were livid. They offered a deal where anyone who would give the money back, the difference between the regular weekly rate and the Vegas scale, wouldn't be fired and would get to ride back to Philly on the rickety old band bus. I think that two guys took them up on this, the two weakest players out of eleven. The rest of us were paid fairly for our work in Vegas, the way professionals should be paid.

I went back to Philly and got a gig with a big band that toured the country working college concerts and dance dates. And I keep my card up to date.

Community concert bands around here do not pay the musicians. Of the three I have been affiliated with, only one pays the director. In a local community college jazz ensemble, we pay $25 per semester -- but the leader is so good I'd pay more just to play for him. The only pay for play big band I'm with gets a minimum of $25 per player per hour for nursing homes, civic organizations, etc., usually about twice that for venues that charge admission (and those big band gigs are becoming rare). We do rehearse two mornings a month in a nursing home for no pay.
Personally, as an aspiring professional, I take each situation as a separate consideration.

For example, I have had the opportunity to sub into several gigs / rehearsals with top professionals. In all those instances, I played for free, but what I was gaining musically, artistically, personally, FARRR outweighed any payment.

Ultimately, If I don't stand to gain something (musically, artistically, networking etc) except maybe a headache, I will pass on the gig if it's non-paying.