How do you charge?

(Note: There is no specific pricing information here.  This page represents the structured approach that I use for solo performances: however, my personal rates are not included.  If you'd like me to play at your event, please contact me with the date, time, place(s) and your expectations.)

This subject can get way too serious, way too fast.  So here's something to lighten it here.

I do get questions from other pipers and from clients about how I set my rates. It's no big secret and here's the scoop: I don't charge by the tune, nor strictly by time. My fee depends upon the amount of time/effort I need to put in to achieve specific goals that you have in mind plus a fixed overhead. This allows me to be flexible and fair.  (Although not explicitly mentioned, it is through this structure that I try to support the expenses for my instrument (replacement cost of $7500 plus regular expendables, my uniform (replacement cost of $1500), plus lessons and taking time off from work and everything else that goes into keeping myself sharp and available!)

As an example:  Let's consider a hypothetical wedding service plus introduction at the reception: The service will be at 4:00 pm and should be about 35 minutes long with expectations of a prelude (20 min), processional, recessional. The service will be followed by a receiving line (200 guests -> 20 minutes). At 5:30 pm, the bride and groom wish to be piped into their reception (a brief intro). The church is 30 minutes away from my home/work, the reception hall is another 15 minutes from there and total driving will be about an hour and a half. There is a rehearsal the night before. It's anticipated to be a decent/warm day. I'm asked to play one song as a duet with the organist and will bring a second pipe to do this effectively with good tone for the rest of the performance. I can tune up at the church and also at the reception hall. My calculations go like this:

Activity Multiplier Rate Subtotal

Duration (hours)

(number) Cost per hour or cost per item (Multiplier*Rate)
Gig duration (time "on call") 1.5 (3:40-5:00 plus ~10 minutes at reception)   x 1.5x
Flat fee for dressing   1 y (flat fee) y
Driving Time (my estimate) 1.5   z 1.5z

Number of Locations (Tuning)

  2 t (fee per location) 2.0t
Rehearsal Duration 1.0   r r
Rehearsal Driving Time (my estimate) 1.0   z z
Hazards (smoking, temperature/snow, surprise, full regalia w/ plaid, second pipe, specific tuning)   2 (second pipe, specific tuning) h (fee per "hazard") 2h



Add up the subtotals and that's the amount.

(Note to other pipers: You have to set your own "rates" - i.e. how much is your time worth per hour? This can be agonizingly difficult and I will offer no help to anyone.  I also round times up in 15 minute blocks.)

Note that, in this model, dressing should be a flat fee and there should be a flat fee for tuning per location as well as a fee per "hazard".

I add in the "Hazard cost" if my outfit will be exposed to smoking (which means I have to dry clean it all after the gig!), if the temperature is below 45F (extra prep for tuning and drying out afterward) or if the gig is a "surprise" which won't allow for tuning at the facility (need to make secondary arrangements), if I'm expected to be a Highland peacock (which makes it harder to play), if I feel it will take two sets of pipes to play both indoors and outdoors, am asked to play on both GHB and SSP (twice the tuning and hassle), or need to match pitch to a concert tuned instrument.

If I can't take the gig, I'll refer the individual (no finders fee charged). In that case the client may ask "Can you give me a ballpark idea of a fee?" to which I reply "If I were to play your gig it would cost $XXX. That cost is based on the following assumptions...."

Now for the hard part... What if the client says "Gee, I can't pay that much" - the next move is a negotiation. If you are convinced that your rates are what your time is worth to you, you should offer to put them in touch with another piper. If you wish to have the exposure/experience, compromise and/or barter with the client. Realistically, that's about all you can do.   (Potential clients should read this.)

In addition to the straight-forward "musician for hire" event, there are also awkward social situations in which being paid would seem "tacky" when viewed from the outside. In those situations, I may ask that a donation be made to the local pipe band. I feel good about it and so do the clients.

Please contact me for more information on this subject.

Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016