3 of the Best Tips for Successful Music Industry Negotiations

Gregory David Roberts famously said, “Food is music to the body, music is food to the heart.” Musicians feed people’s hearts with lyrics and chords. In return, deserving musicians ought to receive financial compensation and fame.

It’s quite common to come across a talented musician living the life of a starving artist. This can be due to inadequate pay, but it can also be because some musicians’ income goes toward their next project. There are three top tips negotiations experts recommend that musicians can use to secure and progress their careers.

Balance Exposure Vs. Compensation

What do Justine Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga all have in common?

They are all mega-successful musical superstars. Each of them could sell out tickets at almost any arena in the world within days or even hours. Even so, each of these artists has played for free at the Super Bowl’s Halftime Show.

At a negotiation seminar, the facilitator cautioned musicians and creative artists against taking on free work unless there was a valuable trade-off. One of the main reasons successful musicians accept playing for free at the Super Bowl is the exposure.

In recent years, stars performing at the Halftime Show realize double and triple-digit percentage growths in their music sales in the immediate days following their performance.

That said, musicians should only consider exposure when the stage is worth it. Taking gigs that pay in exposure and not taking enough paid work will likely lead to not covering the costs of living.

When you work for free, you may undermine your business model and your prices. You may be setting a precedent, telling future promoters that you are open to free shows. If, during negotiations, the exchange of discounted fees for exposure comes up, consider:

  • How much actual exposure will your music receive?

  • What kind of exposure is involved? E.g. Is it digital, live shows, or interviews?

  • What are other benefits at stake aside from exposure and networking?

  • Will you be credited for your music, and what form will the credits take?

  • What is the exposure’s duration? Is it indefinite?

  • Who is your audience? Is the audience likely to buy your music after the show? Is it a charity event?

  • What other stipulations come with free exposure? Are you gaining or losing?

Factor in Your Expenses

It’s common practice for musicians to have a standard rate card. Having a standard rate gives your clients a figure to work with. For instance, maybe you charge $1,000 for a two-hour private event and $3,000 for a two-hour performance at a business promotion event.

In spite of having standard rate cards, one common mistake is not factoring in all your expenses. Your standard rate may go into paying off other services and even land you in a loss of profits. Some extra costs may take the form of:

  • Hotel rooms for band members

  • Food expenses

  • Transportation of fragile music equipment

  • Concert stage lighting and special effects

  • Rental cars

  • Plane tickets

  • Resources spent promoting

  • Extra agency fees and commissions

Negotiate for Extra Revenue Streams

When negotiating a show contract, negotiation seminar advice is to include a provision to allow you extra revenue streams. Maximize your income from the show by selling more of your music-related products and services. Some bonus income streams include:

  • Selling CDs, digital codes, and other music formats

  • Selling branded merchandise

  • Selling gaming products

  • Selling music-streaming and download services

  • Promoting your YouTube videos

  • Promoting your social media platforms

  • Promoting upcoming performances

  • Getting paid for studio session work before or after the show

  • Earning performance royalties for your compositions

Extra revenue streams can return significant profits when done strategically. In one music seminar, there was the story of how Kris Lager of the Kris Lager Band (Nebraska) would offer short coaching sessions to randomly selected concert-goers. The coaching sessions increased the band’s popularity and boosted the band’s endorsement prospects.


How you get paid may determine the success of your music career. With the right negotiation skills, a talented musician can earn significantly more. You may also be able to lift your profile and increase your fan base with the right negotiation outcomes.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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