What’s my Worth?

Self-valuation in the music industry.

I was having an interesting discussion a couple weeks ago with my music partner Kurt Hoffler. We were setting new rate sheets for some of our services, and I spent some time trying to work out new fair rates for my vocal production, session work and song-writing. I’ve often made it a bad habit of just rolling off the cuff with my prices which generally results in later feeling liked I worked too hard for too little and gave a lot away.

What Kurt and I discussed though was the difficulty creatives often have in transitioning from doing what they love for free or low-price to really evaluating their value and demanding what they are worth.

A couple of years ago I really had to push myself to take a look inward and valuate my music career. From singing in choirs at six, talent competitions at ten, learning from choir directors and soloists all over DC, learning Logic Audio at 15, to countless hours honing my craft and money spent because I just love music. At 29/30 I was giving songs away to pretty much anyone, I was doing sessions for free because it was fun… but I was feeling burned out and realized that I wasn’t getting a return on my investment.

The first problem though is actually deciding what you are worth and what you should be charging people for your services. It’s great that you want to charge $100 an hour for vocal production, but if you don’t have a serious discography that’s probably unrealistic. On the same token if you’ve been putting in the work successfully for 5 years and you take $30 for 2 hrs then you probably aren’t getting a return on your investment. Your undervaluing your work and as a result your diminishing your value in the eyes of your clients.

So how do you figure it what to charge? A great place to start is by doing some research on what others charge within the industry. Take a look at the work they have done and stack your resume against theirs. Do you have more experience? Maybe charge a little more. Less experience, maybe go under their number.

After you look at industry standards I believe there is another way to really gain a handle on your rate. If you were doing this full-time or if you are doing this full-time what do you believe your salary should be per year if you have consistent work 40 hrs a week for 52 weeks a year? Be realistic. Maybe you come up with $70,000 a year, that’s what you think your worth is as a session singer or vocal producer. Now take that $70,000 and divide it by 52 weeks in the year, divide that number by 40. Rounded up that would bring you to $34 dollars an hour. If that number seems too low based on your experience then maybe your worth more than you thought.

I use this method because every hour that you. spend giving someone your time and expertise is dollars. Time is money. Every single hour that you give away is an hour that you aren’t spending being reimbursed for something you’ve invested in. Sometimes giving that time away is worth it. Either because your gain is the growth of your career, maybe it’s a barter instead of cash, or because sometimes we help people simply because we believe in them and want to contribute to their success. You can make these decisions clearer if you always have the big picture in mind.

Maybe you will think twice next time before you charge $50 to do a vocal mix, spend 7 hours to fix bad mic placement and realize that you just did the job for 7.14 an hour. If you had to live off of that you wouldn’t even make $15,000 that year. Do you believe what you do is worth being paid well below the poverty level? Think about it.