Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit


Home » Music Business » Working Musician

Working Musician

  -  Member Local 78 (Syracuse, NY)

There’s no end to the ways you can make money playing a musical instrument. Getting paid really well, however, is a little more tricky. You’re a professional musician. You belong to the AFM. You spent a long time learning your trade. Your paycheck for playing should reflect your qualifications. It’s one thing just to wait for the phone to ring with somebody who wants to book you or your band. When somebody calls you, many times they’ve already decided to book you. They probably have an idea of what you charge and it’s just a matter of date and time, and if your calendar’s open.

But sometimes going out to get work— better paying work—can be a hassle, a grind, and, occasionally, a lesson in facing rejection. However, if you want to expand your horizons beyond local bars, the occasional wedding at the local American Legion, or the people who say: “you charge how much?,” you might want to think about going where the money is.

You know how it goes. You try to get a gig at a local club that uses live music on the weekends. The next thing you hear is “your price is too high.” Okay, they’re entitled to their opinions. But, what if they’re right?  Maybe your price is too high for that joint. Maybe they’re used to having bands play for next to nothing, play for exposure, or for whatever they can take in at the door. Maybe they can only afford so much, because of the size of the place, their overhead, or their cash constraints. So, if you want work that actually spins off really decent revenue, this is probably not the place for you. There are a lot of places to get work, if you don’t let your ego stand in your way.

There’s a pianist in a major suburban market whose niche is in playing private parties. She goes after people who have expensive homes, hold regular social functions, and own horses. In fact, she plays a lot of parties before and after horse shows. She says that these people are used to spending large amounts of money for entertaining. So, when she quotes her substantial fee, they don’t flinch.

I have a friend with a small group who works community venues in smaller towns throughout the summer. It could be at a local park or auditorium. The city or town kicks in part and he gets sponsorship to add to the revenue so his fee is way up. It could be a bank, grocery store, or drug store who wants to support the community that kicks in some money. He puts it together and caters to a family crowd. One successful gig repeats itself the next year. After a while, the summer calendar is full on an ongoing basis. Sure it takes some effort, but the results are worth it.

If you’re set on getting way over scale at your local clubs and venues, you had better come up with some reasons they should book you and pay your fee. You might have to think about marketing yourself better, and selling yourself differently. Maybe you have a new CD release that’s starting to get airplay. Maybe you have your own e-mail list of people who will come to hear you. Maybe you can offer to do e-mail blasts and personal promotion for the club to ensure that the place is packed. Of course, for this, you charge bigger bucks. When club owners know there will be wall-to-wall customers, the odds are in your favor of getting what you think you’re worth.

Find out what some of the places you’re thinking of playing have paid musicians and groups in the past. If they haven’t paid more than scale, and you’re looking for much more, chances are they’ll pass on you or your group – unless there’s a tremendous benefit to them. And that benefit has to be in the cash register.

So if bigger bucks are what you’re looking for, start looking where the bigger bucks are being paid. It’s kind of common sense, but if they can’t afford you, you’re spinning your wheels. Many private parties, charity functions, one-time social events, political programs, and major corporate events will pay way over scale. You just have to search them out, sell yourself, and ask for the money.

And to do this, you’d better look pretty slick on paper and on the Internet as well. That includes a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge website, a well put-together promo kit, great business cards, a decent demo video and CD, current press releases, significant references, local and regional endorsements, and promotional pictures. You want to let people know where you’ve played, where you will be playing, and a few positive comments from people, clubs, and organizations who’ve booked you in the past. Then the money starts to roll. One good gig will get you two more. The trick is to get the first one that pays and do really well to get the ball rolling. They’re out there. You just have to figure out where to look.

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