What should students charge?

Posted In: Performing

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    kimberly-rowe on #62382

    OK, I’ll get these forums started with a nice controversial topic! I’ve just been asked to send a group of (mostly high school) students to do a concert at a retirement community. A resident of the community heard them play (she came to one of my student recitals), and wants them to do a similar concert at her event. In the past they’ve had a choir from a local school and made a donation to the school. It’s not background music–they want a “concert” after dinner–and they probably wouldn’t be hiring a professional since they’ve already set a precedent of using student groups. Therefore, what should I ask them to pay, and who gets the money? I did quote a professional rate, which was more than they were expecting.


    katie-buckley on #62383

    This is such a toughie! You don’t want people hiring students because they are “cheaper”, yet, they aren’t at the level to be considered professional. I’d like to see what people think on this one too!!

    diane-michaels on #62384

    In a very grey area like students performing in professional capacities, I like to look for any traces of black and white, starting with the notion that any time a person receives compensation for their time/talent, regardless of the pre-existing status as a student or amateur, in that situation, they are professionals. A donation to the school as compensation for a performance by the student choir distances the performers from the money, but the venue itself chose to value the performance monetarily, so they appear to be willing to show a similar valuing to other performers.

    We all make decisions about what a professional wage is for any given situation, and you’ve probably read my thoughts on this in previous forum postings as well as in the Harp Column magazine – I’ll lay off of that today. I think it is both responsible and reasonable for you to have quoted a professional rate. I also think an argument can be made that they are not permanently locked into hiring only students – they did spend money on the previous performance. But that issue will only become relevant if you look to be hired to perform there on your own in the future.

    I played my first harp ensemble concert when I was 8 years old and had been playing for about 6 months. I was paid $10. My teacher had a floating scale for what the student/amateur performers received based on age and level, but I do not know if she chose to receive payment, and if so, how much.

    Sylvia on #62385

    First, I will say I do not teach, but I want to address some of the issues involved here.
    Is it just one harp, and all students take turns playing? Whose harps are being played? Who is moving the harps? Who pays the insurance on the harps? Who is providing the vehicle (vehicles) to move the harps? It sounds like a whole lot of work and transporting of harps for somebody…. unless the students themselves are providing their own harps and transportation.

    As for playing experience and expertise, we all started at the beginning….I remember quite well when I started going out many years ago. I had no experience and very little idea of what to use for rep. I was probably pretty pathetic, but you don’t learn to skate if you don’t put your skates on and get out on the ice.

    However, I had worked to buy a harp, insure it, extra-string set it, buy a vehicle to move it with, and buy a bench, tuning and amplification equipment. I had no idea what to charge, and I think I didn’t charge enough. If anyone had told me I shouldn’t charge much because I was new at it, I would not have felt friendly.

    As for new, inexperienced harpists who are out there learning, they have a lot of work ahead of them, and I don’t mean just learning appropriate music…they have to learn about getting in and out of difficult venues, travel time estimations, what to wear for each type of occasion…allowing time to set up, tune, change clothes (if necessary), etc. … IMO, they should charge whatever they can get, but it won’t make much of a dent in the expense it takes to get them there. I don’t worry about any new harpist starting in my area or what she/he might charge… because I was that girl once.

    Eric Allison on #62386

    Do some or all of the students want to play for the event? Do they understand the logistics involved? Do they have a preference for consideration to be donated to a specific cause, used to secure equipment for the studio, or some other idea they have? It seems like a great teachable moment to guide them through the process of ironing out these details as a group.

    galen-reed on #62387

    My experience has been with coaching student string quartets (fun!). I started the fees quite low (students initially being in Jr. High), and I also went along to all performances to ensure all went well. Over time as they got older, musically more able, and also able to negotiate the protocols of the situations they were playing for (think weddings, where there is no room for failure), I kept moving the price up and also eventually stopped going to their performances. They always got all the money (divided equally), and never got up to full professional fees but certainly got up to where they felt about on top of the world and that their efforts were very tangibly paying off.

    The other issue I addressed is money management, and I stuck close with the parents involved to be sure we were on the same page. By gradually easing the fees upward over time from a very modest amount, it, to put it in rather crass street language, kept it from going to their heads – they saw in a very real way how earnings were commensurate with effort and improvement over time. I felt this was valuable and had the freedom to do this in consultation with the parents involved; others might not have (or chose) that liberty.

    kay-lister on #62388

    I think you did well at quoating the professional rate. Just to stray a little . . . it really gets to me that nursing homes, retirement homes, assisted living facilities, etc. seem to EXPECT a cut rate for any form of entertainment. Well, at least that’s how it is in my area. We have some very upscale facilities for the above and they ALL seem to want a LOT for very little. REALLY, these places charge BIG BUCKS to the residents and their families to live there. The staff is paid well, I mean these places are like vacation resorts! SO, back on track – don’t let them squeeze you out of the professional fee just because your providing a concert using students. Rehersels are still taking place, practice, harp hauling, clothes . . . I would use the money for the school’s harp/music program with the students being made aware of this up front. Maybe let the students be involved in helping to decide how the funds would be spent for their dept. – maybe new music or something along those lines.

    niina on #62389

    I have to say that I disagree quoting a professional rate. They are not yet professional, and I think it belittles a true professional’s abilities. I am only 17 and have been playing for less than 4 years. I have done 16 free concerts, 7 paying ones (costs + about £35) and many others in concert halls for my school. I consider all this as part of my training to becoming a professional. If I were one of the students, I would be happy if they paid my transport costs and a £35 fee. If on the other hand, I were already in conservatoire, I would hope that my teacher puts as much work my way as possible, and makes sure I get a rate commensurate to my abilities.
    If the home keeps trying to cut the rate of professional musicians, that’s one thing, in this case, the home get a concert and the children (as they are still children) get some money and the chance to perform. Money is important (and nobody wants to deprive a professional of their proper rate), but it isn’t the only thing to consider. And the all the money should go to the students.

    kimberly-rowe on #62390

    Thanks for the input everyone! I thought I’d follow up to let you know I decided not to pursue this event with the students, largely due to the timing around the holidays.

    This is always such a tricky subject and I appreciate all the viewpoints. I should clarify that when I mentioned a professional rate, it was the rate for one harpist. My thought (courtesy of my friend Jan Jennings) was that the client could pay the amount they would otherwise pay a professional, but instead of one harpist, they would get several student harpists. That way no professional would be “undercut” and the students would still benefit and perhaps be able to split the money. Since this was a group of my own private students, there isn’t a particular school or organization the money could go to, as some of you have suggested, which would otherwise be a great idea. In this particular case, the time of year and the logistics involved (travel) made me feel it was not worth pursuing, since it would also involve a lot of (uncompensated!) effort on my part.

    Since this is a frequent scenario I hope we can continue to share more thoughts about the best way to handle it for students and professionals alike.

    eliza-morrison on #62391

    I know this is an older thread and the issue is resolved, but I just noticed it, and thought I’d throw in my two cents. I think it depends upon what is meant by “student.” If the student is a child or young adolescent –or adult– who has been playing the harp for a year or two, that is one thing. Something else entirely is when the student is working toward a master’s degree or artist diploma at a major conservatory. In the latter case, the student IS a professional and should be paid accordingly.

    kreig-kitts on #62392

    I was in high school show choir and we were usually paid a few hundred dollars, probably two or three, which went into our budget for music, etc. This was around 1989-1991, so the figures would probably be three to five now. They were usually retirement homes, local VA chapter dinners, and so on.

    The community band I play in has a few small ensembles that also do small events, generally where the budget wouldn’t have afforded professional rates anyway (several of our members are current or former professionals, often playing a different instrument than they do in their day jobs). I don’t know what they charge for everything, and sometimes donate their services, usually for local causes such as an animal shelter, or the roller derby league. I think the marching band usually performs for pay, again not a gigantic amount, though I imagine some events, like the Pride Festival, are part of our service (we’re an LGBT community band). As a non-profit we’re expected to be doing things for the community and try to do so in some of our playing, giving free tickets to various organizations, and so on.

    I think most of the events they play are ones where the sponsors couldn’t have paid rates anyway that really have tight budgets and have a lot of donated services for their events (i.e., the animal shelter). For student groups it’s legitimate to see what kind of event is going on and price accordingly.

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