How to Make Money and Get Gigs as a Wedding Musician
I’m pleased to announce the release of my second book,Giggin’ for a Livin’: How to Make Money as a Musician Playing for Weddings and Special Events.
This is the book that I wished I could find years ago when I knew I wanted to play the piano for wedding and parties but had tons of questions, not the least being, “How do I get a gig?” Back in those days, I searched piano forums, wedding forums, blog posts, and looked for books on Amazon. It was surprisingly difficult to find much information about becoming a wedding pianist or a cocktail pianist for parties. The few books that I found were somewhat helpful, but few on them talked about having an on-line presence as a local special events musician, which is becoming more and more important as the years go by.
Did you ever hear the expression “write the book that you want to read”? Well, in this case, I wrote the book that I wished had existed years ago, with the information I wanted to share with other musicians, especially the ones just starting out.
Even though I’m obviously a pianist myself, the book is intended for any kind of musician (even wedding DJs will probably find it helpful), which is one of the reasons we put a violin on the cover.
Giggin’ for a Livin’ is for you if:
- You’re a college music student or music teacher and want to make good money on the weekend while practicing your craft;
- You like the idea of playing music for weddings and parties, but don’t know how to get started;
- You’re currently working as a wedding musician, but want to get more gigs, better gigs, and raise your prices so you can make more money in less time;
- You’re a wedding planner, photographer, DJ, florist, or other wedding professional and you want tips on networking, surefire ways to respond to leads, and booking more wedding jobs with your ideal customers.
How Does a Wedding Musician Get Gigs?
Years ago I wasted tons of time (and postage) mailing out resumes and sample CDs to wedding venues and wedding planners. That’s what you should not do! And whatever you do, don’t waste hundreds of dollars on a magazine ad. (Fortunately that was one mistake I never made myself.)
So what does work, then? Well, a good website, for starters. Personally, I get the vast majority of my wedding jobs from this site. If you Google “Atlanta Wedding Pianist,” you’ll see that I’m listed twice above the fold on page one! So it’s not surprising that I get a lot of leads that way.
One of the best way to have a wedding musician website that ranks well and gets you leads is to blog. I know — to some of you, that probably sounds awful! But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds, especially if you have already have some decent photos and videos of you playing.
Of course I cover this in more detail in the book, but if you want to just get started learning some basics about SEO and how blogging can help, check out this guest post I wrote describing 4 Steps to Get Your Wedding Website to Page One of Google.
Another thing that helps you find wedding jobs, not surprisingly, is networking. But there is a trick to this, and it’s easy to get it wrong if you’re not careful. A lot of people think networking is just handing someone a business card, telling them what you do, and hoping they refer you to someone some day. But when I network, I’m always more concerned that I get business cards then that I give them.
Why? Because if you give someone your business card, the next step is out of your control (and, frankly, probably won’t ever happen). But if you get another person’s card, you can follow them on their Facebook business page. You can send them an invitation on LinkedIn. Best of all, you can send them a friendly email telling them that you enjoyed meeting them and, if at all possible, send them an article or video that you think they might find helpful.
If you’re brand new to whole wedding scene and have no idea how or where to start, I suggest checking out your local chapters of National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), Wedding Internation Professional Association (WIPA), or the International Special Events Society (who, not surprisingly, just recently changed their name to International Live Events Association, or ILEA).
Another way to begin networking is to make an appointment to briefly visit a local wedding venue where you’d like to play (which, in my case, usually one that has an awesome piano). I know, it takes some guts to approach people like this, but I’ve done it and it’s kind of fun.
Make sure that you don’t spend the time talking about yourself and what you have to offer. That may sound like a strange thing to say, but it’s very important. Instead, ask them about what makes their venue special and what kinds of couples they tend to attract. (Don’t forget to go into the visit having already done some research yourself so that you have some specific questions in mind.) Take some photos to later tag them on social media or, better yet, write a blog post about your visit and send them the published link. Follow up with a handwritten thank you note with a business card, follow up with a little note or card just saying hi in 3-4 months, and you’ll likely be on the top of their mind the next time they get asked for a referral for a pianist (or violinist, or bagpipe player, or whatever it is that you do.)
How Much Money Do You Charge for a Wedding Gig?
When I started out, I had no idea how much money to charge. Should I charge per hour, or per event? Did a pianist charge the same as, say, a harpist or classical guitarist? Was the going rate the same as when a musician played at a restaurant? (Spoiler: it’s much more.) Did I need a contract, and if so, what on earth should it say? And the question almost every new musician asks at some point: Should I play for free to get exposure?
I would highly recommend charging for the job, not by the hour. First of all, I think charging by the hour cheapens your services. But more practically speaking, it’s trickier to do and can get you into trouble.
For example, what happens if the wedding begins late for whatever reason and you end up playing 20-30 minutes longer than you had agreed to? Are you going to chase the bride and groom around after the wedding asking for the extra money they owe you, or are you going to eat that cost? Neither one is a good option. Or worse, what if things wrap up quicker than they thought? Sometimes people overestimate how long a dinner reception is going to last. Are they going to feel cheated, or expect a partial refund, because you gave them an hourly price quote?
Make it simpler for everyone and just charge for the event. Then you’re covered for all those scenarios.
As far as how much to charge for each event, there is no magical answer to this. You’re going to have to do some research to find out what other musicians charge (preferably not by contacting them with a fake name pretending to want to book them. Then consider things like your experience, skill level, and what kind of equipment you have to haul and set up.
Remember, your price isn’t set in stone. Don’t waste weeks and months trying to figure it out, and don’t just make up a number on the spot when you get a lead. (Not that I ever did that, cough, cough.) Make a decision, make it concrete, and see how it works for a while.
Should you Post Your Prices?
This is a really common question that is often debated among wedding pros. A lot of people don’t post their prices anywhere because a) it’s hard for them to give a quote without more specific information; and b) they want to “win you over” a bit before they give a couple a price that possibly shuts them down.
I think these are valid points, but I do choose to post my prices on my website, and here’s why:
First of all, my packages are pretty straightforward. If you want me to play for a wedding ceremony, there’s a price for if I have to bring my piano and a price if I don’t, and that’s pretty much it. So unlike, say, a wedding planner or florist, I don’t need tons of information from each couple in order to give them a personal quote.
Second, I’m actually happy to scare people off with my price. What I mean by that is, if somebody is going to immediately click away and never contact me because of my price, then we probably aren’t a good match. Why waste their time having them call me if my prices are completely out of their budget? I guess you could argue that during our phone call I could get them to like me and my music so much that they would throw their budget out the window because they decided that they just had to have me, but in my experience, people don’t usually do that. (Who knows, maybe I’m just not charming enough.) If my website doesn’t woo them enough to want to pay more than they planned, then I highly doubt that talking to me is going to change their mind.
Should I Play for Free to Get Exposure?
My answer to this is No, and Sometimes, But Only If You Do it Right.
Most of the time it is No.
But I have had some “play for exposure” experiences that worked well for me for a few reasons. I won’t go into them in detail here … you’ll have to get the book. 🙂
Can Bridal Shows Help Musicians Get More Wedding Gigs?
As you may or may not know, bridal shows can be both expensive (sometimes very expensive) and time-consuming. So you have to think long and hard about whether you want to make that investment … and then if you do, you want to make sure that you do it right so that it’s not a waste.
So what does “doing it right” mean? Basically, having a system for capturing leads, following up correctly, and using the opportunity for a networking extravaganza! For example, at the last bridal show I played at, I didn’t book any weddings, but I did get this fantastic photo from Derek Wintermute Photograpahy.)
What Music Do I Play for a Wedding?
It’s kind of sad and frustrating to me that spent four years in college getting a music degree, but had no idea what I could or should play for my friend’s wedding several years later. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had spent 10-15 minutes discussing practical things like that?
Figuring out what to play for the prelude and ceremony is not terribly hard, especially since there are a lot of music books specifically designed for it, like this one that I use all the time.
But if you’ve ever played for a wedding, you probably already know that 30 minutes of prelude music turns out to be a lot longer than you think it is … not to mention that’s it’s not terribly uncommon for a ceremony to begin 10-15 minutes late, which that 30 minutes of music has turned into 40+ minutes of music.
Playing for a wedding cocktail hour or dinner reception can also be tricky the first couple of times. For example, when I was first starting, I assumed, for some reason, that I had to play mostly jazz (which was particularly tricky since I’m not really a jazz musician). I was also completely overwhelmed at the sheer amount of music I needed to play for a three-hour party and how long it would take for me to learn it. After all, my senior recital at college had taken me over half a year to learn and perfect, and that wasn’t even one full hour of music!
Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it sounds at first, and it gets easier the more you do it. In the book I include a template for creating a “Starter Repertoire” that you can gradually from.
Want to Learn More?
If you found this post helpful, you would probably enjoy Giggin’ for a Livin’: How to Make Money as a Musician Playing for Weddings and Special Events. It’s available in both ebook and paperback.
What readers have to say:
“Grab a copy if wedding gigs are in your future. The book is generous, well-written, and full of great tips.” — Robin Meloy Goldsby, Steinway Artist and Author of Piano Girl
“Jennifer has paid her dues, and learned the ropes. Now she shares what she’s learned with the rest of us…Read her book and incorporate some of her ideas. It will make you more efficient and look more professional. And who knows, it may just help you land some really great gigs!” — Frank Baxter, webmaster for PianoWorld.com