What do you think the minimum fee should be for doing:
a wedding ceremony
ceremony with prelude, interlude and postlude music
Posted In: Professional Harpists
I’d like to state this question another way. When you play a job-in this case a wedding, how do you come up with your fee.
The following need to be considered when coming up with this figure:
1) The amount of time out of your day to do this job. You start counting the minute you start to pack everything up in your house and you stop counting when you are back home and completely unloaded. So the time consideration is: packing everything up and loading it into the car, driving to the wedding, unloading everything and setting up(including tuning), playing the wedding(probably 45 minutes to an hour at most), re-packing everything and loading it into the car, driving home, and unloading and unpacking in your house. Even if the church or venue is 10 minutes away, all of this is going to eat up about 4 hours of your day.
2) The cost of doing business: harp, sheet music, strings, amplifier, car, car insurance, gas, clothes, web site, business cards, health insurance.
3) Office time: the time you spend dealing with getting jobs, writing contracts, banking, talking to potential customers, working out wedding details.
4)Being able to put aside enough money to take a vacation every year, to put money away for retirement, and basically earn more than just make end meet.
There may be more but that’s what comes to mind at the moment. Start by figuring out what all of these things cost or how much time they take up. Then ask yourself how much money you realistically want to make a year playing the harp. $50,000? $60,000 or more? Then decide how many gigs you need to do each year to earn that amount. For a gross income of $50,000 on weddings alone, you’d have to play 167 weddings at $300 each to make that amount. If you charge $400 per wedding, you’d have to play 125 weddings, or one every three days all year long.
Looking at it from a different angle, you’d have to gross $1,000 every week for 50 weeks to make $50,000 and have a 2 week vacation. You want $60,000 a year gross? Then you’ll have to gross $1200 per week, or play 150 jobs at $400 each to make that number.
Now, who feels like playing a wedding for $250?
In the area where I live (Shenandoah Valley…near Northern Virginia and DC but not close enough to charge “city” prices), I have to be very careful about keeping my fee reasonable enough for people to pay for a professional rather than an amateur or student. There are plenty of students and amateurs taking gigs and teaching gigs at an obscenely low rate ($50-100/event) which really hurts my ability to make a living. And unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about it. In this area some people don’t really understand the difference between professional and amateur/student….they’re looking for the cheapest price.
My wedding fees are structured in the following way:
My flat rate for a wedding which includes 1.5 hours of my time (30 minutes to arrive and set-up, 15-30 minutes of prelude music, and 30-45 minutes of ceremony music [length for ceremony depends on how long their prelude is]) is $325 for an indoor ceremony and $375 for an outdoor ceremony. If I know the wedding will be long (for example, a Catholic Mass), I encourage the client to purchase an extra 15-30 minutes in advance to save themselves possible overtime charges which are clearly laid out in my contract. My overtime rate is $100/30 minutes (rounded-up) but they can purchase extra time at $25/15 minutes and up. For every hour after the ceremony I charge $100/hour (this applies to cocktail hours and receptions at the same location as the ceremony). If I have to move locations there is an additional fee of $50.
I also charge mileage for events over 60 miles round-trip. The rate is $.45/mile over 60. For events over 100 miles round-trip I add an additional traveling fee of $50 to the mileage charge.
My hope is to raise my rates soon but I will wait for the economy to get a little better before making that jump. I also know of several other area professional harpists who are looking to raise their rates soon. When speaking or emailing with a client I lay out all of my fees so that they know exactly what I am charging them for and what they’re paying for. I find that most of my clients appreciate this….I feel that it’s the same as wanting to know the breakdown of price from a caterer for napkins, forks, glasses, etc.
I have never had anyone complain about my rates but I do occasionally lose gigs just because they’ve found someone willing to play for $50. Usually they’ll try to guilt me into “matching” rates but I refuse to lower my standards. If a client doesn’t care about the quality of the perfomer than they get what they pay for. I’ve actually had brides come back to me and tell me that they wish they had paid for me instead.
-I’ve actually had brides come back to me and tell me that they wish they had paid for me instead.-
The trick Jessica is to get them to realize this BEFORE they hire the other person.
Your post is great and illustrates perfectly the dilemma that all professional harpists are in. Changing public perception is difficult and convincing each prospective client that the quality of your work is so much better than a cheaper harpist is the challenge. Good luck.
I have heard the figures of $500 and up to $1,000 in certain parts of California. It seems reasonable, but I know it is also lower in areas of the Midwest, where people are used to cheap personal services.
I think for a major metropolitan area with a good-to-high level of musicianship, $500 sounds good. But then you also have the effect of it that becomes the norm, then some players expect that for any gig, like it’s a minimum wage.
I would love to make Carl’s mathematics work.
-When some one comes to me and ask what I charge for a wedding, I give them my price and the price range they can come to expect to hear in my area. I also tell them that they are being grossely over charge if they hear of $500 to $1000 in my area.-
Onita- Aren’t you doing the same thing in the opposite direction? I commend you for stating your price and also the range of what a bride can expect to find if she calls around. But then your commentary should stop there. If you are bothered by the word ‘cheap’ being used on other musicians, you should also be bothered by ‘grossly over charged’. Let the bride figure out what she wants to pay.
-If you let the bride figure out what she wants to pay, I guarantee you a low fee! –
Karen- I didn’t mean that the bride should pay you what she feels like paying. What I meant was, present your best case-how you play, musical samples, variety of music available, etc. and then let her fish around among the other harpists and see what’s available price and skill-wise. Then she can pick the one that she likes and can afford.
As I write this, I’m tempted to suggest that, as you talk to the bride, you present as your best foot forward what you have to offer. In other words, the variety of music you can offer, the gorgeousness of the arrangements(which not everyone is able to play), your skill at following cues and playing the right music at the right time, the beautiful look of your particular harp, etc. Whatever is going to be of interest to the bride. I would not bring up, as the reason for your fee, the distance traveled, the cost of being a harpist(clothes, harp, insurance, etc.) the amount of time it is going to take to learn Home on the Range or whatever special request she has. She doesn’t care about those things.
I can’t believe that any wedding budget can not accomodate $500 for the harpist in this day and age. They are most likely spending thousands on everything else. For those who are keeping it simple and inexpensive, that is still reasonable, if they are only hiring an officiant and a place. The music is one of the most meaningful and memorable parts of a ceremony and should be. Certainly, some areas are more impoverished, and half that is reasonable. You know your own area. But I don’t see any reason for anyone to be defensive. Some harpists play many weddings, some very few. We all deserve a chance to cover some of the horrendous costs of being a harpist.