Some organizations just don't have a large budget, yet they offer great concerts, wonderful experiences, and provide wonderful resume-builders for singers. And we should, for all reasons, sing them and bring music to people. That is, after all, the whole point. So let's look at a few ways that organizations offer and singers accept gigs that are perhaps lower on the pay scale but high on education, respect, and worthiness.
a/k/a How to ask a singer to sing your concert when you't have much money. And for singers, how to accept a good gig that's doesn't pay a whole lot.
a/k/a Rules to live by.
When you're offering:
1) Don't ever call it "exposure." Just take the word out of your vocabulary. See my previous two articles for reasons why. If you're still not sure, read them again.
2) Be up-front: when you ask a singer about your concert or service, give them the who, what, when, where, and how much. It's rude to make someone ask "What is the fee paid?" and it puts the recipient in an awkward position. So just lay it all out on the table right away. This sets a great precedent for being upfront and goal-oriented; clear communication makes everything quicker and easier.
If you're emailing the offer and not calling, send all of these facts in ONE email with a descriptive subject line like "Handel Messiah on December 15 in Ourtown, OurState?" It's so much easier to refer back to one email with the facts than to have to search 8-10 emails and put everything together.
When you send a confirmation letter or contract, you can copy and paste the information between the email and letter/contract, which saves you time, too.
3) Keep things hard-and-fast: stick to your rehearsal times and keep your emails succinct and to-the-point. This keeps everything productive and efficient for everyone involved.
Then if you send an extra reminder email or you need to notify everyone of a change, they will take note simply by the fact that you've sent an additional email or perhaps you've sent this email with urgent status.
4) DO offer what it is: experience, possibly new repertoire for the singer, education for everybody all around (since we musicians really can't afford to stop learning) and a great time together making beautiful music.
Music is a small world and if you like to work with someone, or think you will enjoy working with them, then ask! There are so many reasons for performing and creating great music together. We cultivate our working relationships this way and quite literally: you reap what you sow.
5) If your budget is tight right now but will be more generous in the future, only offer future gigs when you know you will follow through.
This happens when organizations are just starting out or when they're transitioning in their own set-up or mission. If you need a favor, call it in from someone you know, trust, and would be open to hearing it. If you can honestly say that you'd be happy to offer them something in the future, go ahead. But don't make empty promises. You'll reap that fairly quickly in return.
When you're accepting:
1) Watch out for red flags like wording that insinuates that you're young/inexperienced/need the work. Exercise caution if things aren't spelled out in the first email; AVOID ACCEPTING right away. To get more information and better insight, ask the questions you need to know. Ask who, what, when, where, and how much. Ask why if it's a fundraiser--which organization is receiving a donation from the event?
2) Be very clear on why you’re singing it. Whether it's a new piece, another line of experience on your resume, a piece you've always wanted to sing, "easy money" for a piece you've already performed, networking, or an excuse to wear your new suit or concert dress, know why you're doing it. This is for you and only you.
Remember it can be as simple as "Because I want to."
3) Turn it down if you don't have time to do it well. It's still work, so if you can't do it well, don't accept it. (Or you can learn this lesson the hard way. ;) )
4) Frequently building a career is akin to creating a mosaic. There are lots of different parts to it and in music, those different parts pay different amounts. Be sensitive to the fact that the organization offering you work may be on a strict budget. Remember, music is a small world (a very, very small world). Treat others with respect unless you need set a boundary and be assertive, and still do that with respect and class.
If you would like to work with someone, or think you will enjoy working with them, then accept! There are so many reasons for performing and creating great music together. We cultivate our working relationships this way and quite literally: you reap what you sow.
Is there an echo in here?
5) Treat every singing event as if it were paying you your ideal fee. While you never know when one gig might lead to another, you're still meeting new people and making new connections at every concert; showing up ready to do your best is one of the best ways to create a solid, respectable reputation. It's like the theater adage, "There are no small roles, only small actors."