How do Musicians Make Money: Getting Paid For The Show

  • By cvbizz
  • December 14, 2020
  • 0
how musicians get paid
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Happy holidays everyone! In the spirit of the Season of Giving, I thought the most valuable gift I could give musicians would be this: how to make money and get musicians paid, or at least properly equip them for a negotiation in order to negotiate for the pay they are worth. This is exclusively for hard ticket rooms (ticketed), not soft ticket rooms (no cover/ bar or brewery gigs).


If nothing else, I want performing musicians to take away one thing today: ALWAYS ASK HOW YOU’RE GETTING PAID. If you ask for nothing, there’s a good chance you’ll get nothing. Especially if you’re in a local band supporting a larger national act. As a club owner/talent buyer, I try to temper expectations going in, but often I’m (as well as others in my position) working on upwards of 50+ (usually around 60-70 pre-covid) shows at a time, meaning things do slip and sometimes the things we think are implied are not. So… ALWAYS ASK HOW YOU’RE GETTING PAID. Additionally, never be afraid to counter the proposed terms if you feel you bring some value to the table attendance-wise.

Let’s talk about pay structure. There are a number of different scenarios, but the two most common I see can be divided into: Door deals and Guarantees. However, there are different components of both.

First off: door deals. The most common door deal is referred to as NBOR (Net Box Office Revenue). There is also GBOR (Gross Box Office Revenue), but we’ll focus on that in just a moment.

NBOR means, the artist walks with a percentage of the door after expenses are met (often referred to by the venue as “production”). This means you’ll be offered a percentage of the door after the venue recoups their expenses. Typically, this translates to a sound-person and door person. On a smaller level, this usually sits in the $150- $250 range. Sometimes less, sometimes, more depending on the venue. Typically, a venue is also paying (or is supposed to be) the admissions tax on ticket sales, and providing some form of hospitality for the artists. All of those things add up.

Essentially, this is the starting point. Once you have proven you can continually put asses in seats, you’ll have the leverage to negotiate more. And to be transparent, I’ve also had nationals and locals that know they will sell tickets be fine with a good NBOR door deal.
It all depends on perspective and the venue. I discussed knowing which venue was right for you a few months ago, and this is another factor to that. A venue could be decent for you market or attendance-wise, but it’s also important to know which ones are open to negotiate with you once you prove yourself, and which will be content to keep things as they are. Always remember to know your worth, even when starting out negotiating these deals.

The second common door deal, GBOR, means the artist walks with a percentage of the total door and the venue pays their expenses out of their cut. This is also often referred to as a “$1 deal” (The artist walks with their percentage of GBOR or $1, whichever is greater). If you’re feeling like you’re bringing in some ticket sales, and ready to move on to a different deal from NBOR, but are worried about rocking the boat by asking for a guarantee, this may be for you.

An example of GBOR: 60% from $1 (60% GBOR). The package of artists would receive 60% of the door, and split amongst themselves while the venue kept 40% to pay their expenses. Another example could be to do 70% vs $1, and negotiate to split some expenses with the venue: “We keep 70% of the door and split sound with you”. You may not get the deal, but if you’re putting 100+ people in every time, venues might bite.

In my opinion, artists often go to “I need a guarantee” a little quicker than they should when they could/should be working on a better door deal. These deals often work more in favor for everyone involved because it mitigates some risk for the venue, and when risk is lowered for the venue/buyer, they are more apt to want to work with you. You could even ask for a higher percentage of NBOR to see how that goes. Again, it all depends on your situation and relationship with the venue.

Now, onto guarantees.

There are two different scenarios here: a flat guarantee and a guarantee with a backend (you receive a guarantee up-front and a portion of ticket revenue if the show reaches a certain sales threshold). A flat guarantee is pretty self explanatory, “We want $500 to play here”. Either you get it or you won’t. Often, the venue will counter or just say “no”. Expect it. Be prepared for a more conservative counter-offer on your end if you feel their rebuttal is too low/unfair.

For guarantees with a backend, there are also usually 2 different scenarios. Both I’d argue are really hybrid NBOR deals. The first is something like “$400 and % after $_”. If you’re feeling you’re worth a guarantee now, and that’s important to you and your band/crews, this can be a good arrangement. You get something up front to ease your concerns, but know if you all work together and the show crushes, you will be rewarded on the back-end.

Another scenario for backend is an offer up front vs. %NBOR. “We want $400 vs % after $_____, whichever is greater. So if the house expenses are $250 you could say “I want $400 vs 70% after $250. If you did 100 tickets at $10 a pop, you’d make $525, and the venue would have enough to pay their expenses and the other bands, and you’d make more than your guarantee.

Communication really is key in the music industry

A big part of this all really is knowing your worth, negotiating your worth, while also looking for scenarios to present that put all parties involved at ease. It’s all really a journey, and knowing that there really is no such thing as a dumb question. Communication really is key in the music industry, so learning how to communicate and be flexible instead of presenting an ultimatum could be the difference in getting a great gig with just a different pay structure, versus having no gigs at all.

I really hope this helps, and I know it’s probably a lot to process at first glance. However, I hope you can bookmark this for later use if you need it, and always feel free to reach out and ask me any questions.

Wes Gilliam
Heylook Director/CEO

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