How much is your time, effort, dedication and hard work (regardless of the particular amount of sweat involved, if any at all) worth? I have asked this question to many of my fellow musicians as well as people from other trades through the years and found myself in some interesting conversations. This subject really touches a nerve in quite a few of us, as I have witnessed through some passionate and rather heated exchanges. It is a very subjective thing, stating your worth and colored by so many teachings, beliefs, fears, and a host of intangibles all deep within our psyche. Often it's not even in our conscious thinking until someone asks the question. As a self employed person, it is always on my mind and a source of inner conflict which has yet to be resolved totally. I can and HAVE stated a figure that feels right when I think of what I feel I should earn, based on my 40 years of learning countless songs, rehearsing for 100's of shows, practicing with more bands than I can remember and all the other things that go into being a working musician (trust me, you don't want me to list them all, but think of any business and what it takes to keep the doors open and the lights on). Being bold a time or two to see how it felt and with all the confidence I could muster, I put a certain figure out there only to hear the crickets chirping while getting a "deer in the headlights" look from someone who was obviously, well...shocked. What followed was something along the lines of " Really?... you get that much for 2 hours of singing songs?", as if I had insulted their intelligence, or was trying to pull a fast one, or even worse, as if to imply that "singing songs" was so NOT legitimate work. Needless to say, a few of those reactions and one tends to find some new approaches which end up wearing down the confidence and thus driving down the price.
Now, take that scenario and apply it to talking to the owner or manager of a bar or restaurant where the overhead is constantly eating into their profits and forcing them to bargain for everything they have to buy, including music/ musicians. At that point, you have two choices, stick to your financial guns and sit at home on your couch, full of bravado for standing up for yourself, or actually get some gigs at cut-rate pay. So, what it comes down to in reality is not what you, me, or the next guy thinks is a fair amount to ask for services rendered, but what the market will pay. having said that, I think it is also encumbant upon those of us who work for ourselves to educate those who hire us about the bigger picture of what it takes to do what we do. It is curious that we rarely expect the electrician, carpenter, plumber, or other professionals to defend or justify their rates. Granted they come in handy in much different ways, but in the end, we ALL provide a service and have had to follow many of the same paths and put in the same time and effort to build the reputation and level of quality etc. that allow us to be professionals. Just ask any of them to work the kinds of days and hours we do and see what kind of rate will be quoted.
I should probably say right here and now that I feel for anyone who works for minimum wage (even significantly above it, for that matter) and I know there are many, many out there who do. I will also say that I cannot comprehend how anyone can survive on such a pay scale. Though my line of work means there are ebbs and flows of available work and managing on such a roller coaster ride can be stressful, it is still better in my mind than to be on a treadmill of low wages and long hours. I must ALSO say that I admire all those who do put in those long hours at that pay and find a way to make ends meet and keep their sanity. It is important that you know that, even though I sound judgmental, as a parent and responsible individual, I would go to work for minimum wage tomorrow if it were the only choice I had before me and I too would find a way to make ends meet. Thankfully, I have options and choices and though I may not be at the place I would like to be financially perhaps, I have time and the power of intention, perseverance on my side and a belief which can still get me to the point where I can speak without hesitation what my talent is worth and get a respectful and enthusiastic "That sounds fair enough" in response. No, not today, but not in a far, far away time and place either.
We should ALL hold on to our worth (on many levels, not just with regard to the almighty dollar) steadfastly in our hearts and minds and make it known at every opportunity, whether we get heard each time or not. As long as we keep at it, somewhere, sometime, someone will hear it, accept it and open the door which will allow us to do more than just survive, but thrive, for a change.
Now, what is your time, effort, dedication and hard work (regardless of the particular amount of sweat involved, if any at all) worth? Got an answer? If you don't, it might be time to start thinking about what it is and engraining that in your thoughts. If you do, or once you determine it, if you can bend without breaking when it is challenged, You are bound to get what you truly deserve in the end.