Sunday, April 05, 2009

How To Charge For Festival Accompanying

A few days ago, Vashti asked the following question:
I don't know that this has already been covered somewhere, but I'd love to read a post on charging for Festival accompaniment. 1 song in 1 class vs. 5 songs in 1 class. I've always charged per class my hourly rate no matter how many pieces played, but would love to hear some other points of view.
Run by organizations such as local Kiwanis/Rotary clubs and chapters of organizations such as NATS or MTNA, these annual festivals provide performing opportunities for hundreds (if not thousands) of local young musicians with the opportunity to win scholarships, receive an independent evaluation from an adjudicator, and strut their stuff in front of parents and the musical community.

The vast majority of the classes for voice, strings, winds, and brass require a pianist to be there, providing the potential for a huge amount of seasonal work for those pianists who are willing and able to put in the hours required for this often strenuous work.

However, the issue of how much pianists should bill clients for their time can be daunting. Here are some of the billing possibilities for pianists:
  • flat rate per performer
  • hourly rate per class
  • single charge per performer per class
  • additional charges for rehearsals
  • additional charges for lessons
  • bulk rates for multiple participants from one studio
  • discounted rates for multiple participants in a class
There is often a fair amount of disagreement among pianists as to how they prefer to charge, and among teachers, performers, and parents as to how they prefer to pay.

Here is my recommended best practice for playing at festival classes:

Amount charged per performer = flat rate per class per person + rehearsal and lesson times as applicable

No studio deals, no hourly rates for festivals (which can be notoriously behind schedule), no bulk rates for multiple participants within a class or from a studio.

Here's an example: 

A singer asks a pianist to play for two classes at the festival. They agree on one and a half hours of rehearsal time. For this example I'll arbitrarily use an hourly rehearsal rate of $50 per hour and a festival class rate of $30 per person per class.  The amount charged will therefore be 2 classes @$30 each ($60) + 1.5 hours @ $50 ($75), for a billable total of $135.

If you're charging with this system, you have the option of fine-tuning your rates depending on whether or not you wish to offer lower class rates offset by higher rehearsal rates, or vice versa. I do not recommend an all-inclusive flat rate per person, as if there a particularly large number of rehearsals, the pianist can feel cheated, and if there is a negligible amount of rehearsal time needed, the performer will feel cheated. With the broken-up billing method above, it will probably result in different amounts charged to different performers, but at the end of the day, both pianist and soloist will feel that they were dealt with fairly.

This billing practice may result in pianists feeling out of sorts if they have to commute all the way to play for the festival for only one person. It may also result in pianists making a sizable amount of money if they are particularly overworked at festival time. I believe this is appropriate, as playing for festivals requires a lot of note-learning, rehearsal time, schedule juggling, time spent waiting around, personal interaction, and potential performance anxiety.

Earlier this evening on Twitter, I asked this question: "Pianists--how much do you charge for accompanying at festivals? Do you charge for the class + rehearsals or a flat rate?" Below are some answers that I've received so far (huge thx to @eusebius24, @JeffThePianist, and @musicformedia). What are your practices for billing at festivals, competitions, and workshops? Do you feel my recommendations are appropriate? Are you pressured into giving rate discounts? What do you recommend for pianists entering the field of festival playing?


  1. This stuff is a nightmare. I just lost my nerve and charged what I think was too little for a whole pile of singers, and of course got a quick reply back ("THANKS!") - lack of confidence, lack of knowledge of how other pianists do this - thanks for dealing with this stuff!

  2. Vashti2:09 AM

    Thank you for answering Chris, I'm going to put this to practice right away! :)

  3. i recently played for one instrumentalist in a competition an hour away from where i live and felt sorely underpaid by not charging for the "waiting around time." when my friend described the festival to me, i thought i would be away from home for about 3 or 4 hours and charged accordingly. once we were at the festival and played, i learned that i had to wait around for SEVEN more hours to hear if my clarinetist made it to the final round and we performed again. that made me be away from home for twelve hours this day.

    i made the most of it, went to a movie (he's just not that into you), and got some incredible deals on new plates at a going out of business oneida store... but i also learned my lesson: not only do i have to check carefully about how much time i will be at a competition, but i also have to make sure that the fee i ask makes the amount of time i'm there worthwhile to me. otherwise, the work is not worth it.

  4. I am a voice teacher and here's the system I've worked out with the pianists I work with:

    I have nine students singing thirty-five songs in twenty-seven classes at an upcoming festival. I hire a pianist on behalf of all of my students and usually negotiate a fee on a per song basis - regardless of the difficulty level of the song AND regardless of whether several students are singing the same song. So every students knows when they sign up for the Festival that they will be paying on a per song basis ...

    I give the pianist the music in advance (obviously) and arrange Performance Classes of about two hours in length that occur the week before the Festival. The are five to six students at each Performance Class and each student is assigned a certain number of their songs to sing at the Class. The class is the rehearsal time with the pianist as well as a chance to perform for peers. I assign approximately seven to fifteen minutes per song (depending on how much ensemble and performance things will need to be worked on), which generally works out to about three two-hour rehearsal times.

    So, the pianist gets paid for 35 songs at $25/song ($875), which covers about six hours of rehearsal and their time at the Festival.

    Keeping in mind that I always work with local pianists so that there's no travel cost incurred, and keeping in mind that the pianist is literally being paid for accompanying, NOT for coaching, how do you feel about this arrangement?

    It seems to me the best way to make sure the pianist is being paid fairly but also that the students can enter as many categories as they like without it becoming prohibitively expensive ...

    I'd love your thoughts ...

  5. Great comment, s@bd, and one which warrants a reply in a separate posting.

  6. s@bd, here's the response to your question:

  7. I have been considering modifying my model for festival playing. It can certainly be taxing.
    Luckily for NATS I get ample rehearsal time at an hourly rate through the college and the whole thing is done by hourly pay.
    I'm also going to a HighSchool Festival and playing for some great kids with high level repertoire and next year I need to have a better plan. Thank you so much for the resources!