You have probably been to a wedding where a soloist played the cello as the happy couple walked down the aisle, or a pianist provided background music during the wedding reception. But have you considered the countless ways hiring a solo musician could improve one of your events? Solo musicians are affordable, they bring life and conviviality to a party, they set any type of mood you require from somber to sultry, they entertain your guests, they require less space and equipment than a full band, and they are often able to play acoustic performances in smaller spaces. All this and you get the opportunity to support the arts! Soloists can perform many musical genres: classical, pop, contemporary, jazz, devotional, rock and roll, blues, wedding, singer/songwriter, folk music, and more.
Hiring a professional musician makes any event extra special. You can have a solo performer play at your cocktail party, a wedding, a special surprise anniversary dinner, a corporate event, a kids' party, an elegant or upbeat dinner party, a backyard barbecue, or a bat mitzvah or sweet 16. A soloist can serenade you as you get down on your knee for a surprise engagement, make a holiday party extra merry, or help you say a sweet goodbye at a celebration of life. You can also hire a solo musician to round out your band if you need an extra drummer or backup singer for an upcoming performance. Solo musicians aren't confined to instruments; you can hire a vocalist, or someone who both plays an instrument and sings. Professional musicians can tailor their playlists and performance to the nature of your event, to maintain the mood and set the overall tone. You can request that your solo musician wear a suit for formal events, or wear their best casual Hawaiian shirt to play beach tunes for your summertime luau.
Hiring a solo musician can be easier than hiring a band, as there is only one performer's schedule to work with instead of requiring multiple performers to be available on the same date. If you do need more than one musician for an event, often solo performers have colleagues they can collaborate with to turn their solo cello performance into a three-piece string group. The cost you will pay to hire a solo musician can vary. The date of the performance will affect cost, as weekends and holidays are often in higher demand. The length of the performance affects cost, as you are paying for the musician's time. Other factors include the distance the musician has to travel, the musician's skill level and how in-demand they are as a performer.
If you are ready to get the party (or wedding, or fundraiser, or graduation) started, here are the cost factors for hiring a solo musician.
Many musicians charge based on the length of time you want them to play. The longer you would like a solo musician to perform, the higher the likely overall cost, but longer performances may also provide an opportunity for savings. For example, Tucker Dale of Redondo Beach, California, charges an average of $200 for up to two hours and $50 per hour thereafter. Scotty Paulk offers a variable hourly rate, typically between $50 and $100 per hour, depending on the event and how long it will last. Paulk can offer lower hourly rates when the gig is longer, as the increased hours balance out the cost of arrival, setup, etc. The artist can advise you on the optimal length of the live music performance, based on the number of guests and the type of event.
In addition to time spent playing at your event, additional time spent learning new music that you request can increase costs. For example, Lee Strumski of Lee Strumski Productions explains that special requests are common and he always anticipates having to learn one or two new songs to play for an event; however, if a client presents an entire list of obscure songs for him to learn, he could need to spend 5-10 more hours learning, practicing and perfecting all the songs, which will increase the total cost of the performance.
Type of event
Some musicians' costs vary depending on the type of event. For example, Scotty Paulk of Austell, Georgia, charges $50 per hour to perform at restaurants but $100 per hour for private parties and weddings. MarkOHarps of Arlington, Virginia, charges $100 for a small 45-minute dinner party and up to $350 for a large wedding and reception.
Often, the more skilled the musician, the higher the cost. Keep in mind that some musicians who are just starting to perform can be less expensive but quite talented. Listen to music on a performer's personal website, SoundCloud or Bandcamp site to find someone whose style fits your needs. Many solo musicians have trained for many years in an academic setting or as performers to get where they are, and their pricing can reflect this.
Solo musicians with a lot of experience playing at events tend to cost more. Many customers are willing to pay the extra cost because they know they are getting someone who is demonstrably successful at his or her craft. A solo performer may have a Ph.D. in music and have dedicated their life to playing their instrument or singing. If this is the case, their rates will likely be higher than someone who plays music only on the weekends or as a hobby.
Members of the American Federation of Musicians union have defined minimum rates. While this may cost you more than hiring nonunion performers, you will likely enjoy a highly professional experience.
Traveling to and from your party or event requires time on the part of the solo musician. To account for the cost this incurs, some musicians charge travel fees for events that are relatively far from where they live and work. For example, Aaron Copenhagen of Acoustic Guitar for All Occasions in Burbank, California, charges an initial flat fee for a set number of hours but adjusts that based on travel expenses and the gear needed to perform the job. He also charges by the hour for overtime. The Ocdamia Strings of Anaheim, California, sends musicians free to events within Orange County and Los Angeles County but charges $1 per mile in excess of 20 miles from Anaheim.
Before you book a solo musician with a (often non-refundable) deposit, it's always a good idea to meet with the musician in person or over the phone. This will allow you to plan the details of your event and set expectations. You can communicate about timelines, attire, type of event and any musical requests you have. The solo musician can also communicate their needs such as the space they require for their performance, ask questions about electrical outlets or how and where to unload equipment, and confirm details of their payment. This consultation should be a free service.
Some musicians require a deposit upfront to secure their services, which protects both the client and the performer. For the performer it means the client is less likely to double-book musicians for the event and cancel one of the performers at the last minute. For the client, a deposit makes the performer less likely to book a more lucrative gig and leave the client scrambling for a replacement. For example, The Ocdamia Strings requires a signed contract and a 25 percent deposit to book a date and time. The remaining balance is due on the day of the event, before the performance.
Other cost factors
Since playing music is so beautiful and fun, many people don't realize the true cost of being a professional solo performer. As clients, we know about the time it takes them to communicate with us to book a gig, travel and play at our events. But the supporting framework that holds up a solo musician's business requires time and money as well, all of which is reflected in their cost to clients. Here are a few of the "hidden" costs that solo musicians have to calculate into their performance fees to sustain themselves:
- Rehearsal time. Like all professions — from athletes to zoologists — solo musicians need to hone their craft, practice and invest in continuing education. This may be done through workshops, vocal or instrumental lessons, or hours of devoted rehearsal time, all of which involve some cost.
- Insurance. Solo musicians are their own employers. That means they need to pay for their own health insurance and their own liability insurance. Liability insurance is important to you, because it protects the performer and the client in the case of an accident during their performance.
- Marketing. A freelance musician needs to promote and schedule gigs, which means the cost of marketing and the time spent following up on leads. If they rely on an agent to secure work, they need to pay the agent's fees.
- Taxes. It's easy to assume that solo musicians pocket the entire $200 they made playing for two hours at your dinner party, but roughly 25 percent of that will go to taxes.
- Cost of living. In addition to the cost of running a business, solo musicians need to set rates that allow them to afford rent, food, utilities and more.
Hiring a solo musician
To find the perfect solo musician to make your next party a success, follow these tips. Before contacting the musician to discuss a job, listen to and watch the musician's performances online to learn what their performance style and presence is like, as well as make sure you love their music. Ask if they have experience working at your kind of event and confirm that they are comfortable and competent performing the type of music you would like. Consider the size and space requirements for their instrument; for example, if you want a harpist to play at your grandmother's celebration of life, you may need to section off a 6-foot by 6-foot space to accommodate the instrument, the player, and their bench, while a violinist will need far less space. Discuss what if any sound and amplification equipment is needed. Many solo musicians bring all their own sound equipment, but ask to make sure. If you are hiring a pianist and the venue has a piano or electronic keyboard, communicate the make and model to the musician so they are prepared. You should also confirm whether your venue requires performers to have insurance.
Lee Strumski of Lee Strumski Productions in West Palm Beach, Florida, stresses that you should sign a contract with the artist. He says he's known many performers who have canceled an engagement at the last minute using a flimsy excuse so that they can take another job for more money. A formal contract helps protect both parties and provides a record of your deposit payment, the musician's arrival time and departure, and the precise number of hours the musician will play.