In my last article, I looked at the issues surrounding how choir leaders are paid by their choirs. In this article, I want to discuss how choirs are remunerated by event organisers, which can sometimes be tricky to navigate.
To charge or not to charge
The vast majority of choirs are amateur, that is to say that the singers are not paid for their involvement. In choirs that exist solely for the enjoyment of the participants (as opposed to, say, church choirs), the singers probably pay to be part of the group. The fees or subs cover the overheads of the choir. Performances are undertaken primarily for the pleasure of those taking part. The question is, therefore, do you charge those who hire your choir to appear at their events, and if so, how much?
Think about the costs
My basic rule of thumb is that, if at all possible, my choir shouldn’t be out of pocket when it performs. If we need an accompanist, I want to cover that cost. If we have to hire or buy scores solely for that event, I’ll be looking to recoup that outlay. But then we get to the issue of my fees. I’m a professional choir leader, and all other things being equal I’d like to be paid for my time just as my accompanist is. However, because I run my choir as a business, there are other issues. I want belonging to my choir to be rewarding and enjoyable for my singers, so they keep coming back and so that we keep improving as a group. I am, therefore, quite willing to accept performance opportunities where I don’t get a specific fee, but where we have the opportunity to boost the choir as a whole.
In fact, this issue has arisen very recently for my choir. We’ve been invited to take part in a really exciting project. As far as I can tell, all the other musicians involved are professionals. We will be the only amateurs on the platform, but it will be privilege to take part and I’m happy to do it. If the project weren’t so attractive, I may very well have declined it on the basis that we will be out of pocket (we’ll have to have extra rehearsals) and everyone else will be making a profit out of the venture. Ultimately, it’s a matter of balancing the costs with the benefits.
Be cautious about paid gigs
Depending on the size and style of your choir, you may be able to secure bookings that pay significant fees, for example weddings or corporate parties. If these opportunities arise, be very careful about what you’re asking your choir to do. If the gig will be enjoyable for the choir, perhaps in a fantastic venue, or singing repertoire that they might otherwise not encounter, you may have a win-win situation. However, if you’re asking your singers to give up their free time for something not so enjoyable (a long stint of background music at a party, for example), you need to think hard about the benefits for the choir. You can’t ask an amateur choir to behave like a professional one without paying them. It’s just not fair.
Don’t be afraid to ask
The final point I’d like to make is that it’s important to be up-front about money. If someone approaches you to book your choir for an event, and they’re looking to make money out of the venture, ask for a fee. There’s no reason why you should be out of pocket when others are coining it in! This even applies, in my view, to charitable fundraising events. Most organisers will have a budget for their event. Why should you work for nothing? The catererers certainly won’t. Of course, you may very well want to support a charity by performing for nothing. That’s great, but let the organisers know that you’re donating your professional time.
My choir performs at lots of local events and I often don’t ask for anything beyond our overheads (usually hiring our accompanist). Organisers will sometimes express surprise that we’re asking for any money at all, at which point I simply smile and say ‘I’m sorry – I can’t afford to work for nothing’. They generally get it.