Starting Out


Who will I be dealing with as a working musician?

When embarking on becoming a working musician there are several people that you will encounter and, from this, a number of relationships that will need to be formed in order to establish regular performances or ‘gigs’. When first setting out to organise a gig, most musicians tend to contact venues directly and negotiate an opportunity to play with the hope that this will then lead to an arrangement for ongoing work. The key people who are involved in establishing a performance are the musician(s), venue and sometimes an agent who will liaise between the two. For advanced musicians who are performing on a regular basis a manager may act on the musician’s behalf to find and negotiate performances. It is important to consider before approaching these people exactly what their roles are and particularly what your responsibilities will be when dealing with them.



Venues can be defined as the site where the performance will take place; this may include a pub, club, restaurant, hotel or public area/event. These venues will either have a manager or will use a venue consultant to organise entertainment which is suitable for their clientele. You will need to contact these people if you are interested in performing at a certain venue. Before approaching them it is important to think about whether your music is suitable for the venue. Remember that when you start negotiations, the venue will have certain expectations of you. You are also entitled to have expectations of them especially with regards to the fee for the performance and when you will be paid.

The venues expectations may include:

  • Details about load in, set up, set times, volume, dress, music style, advertising and promotion, ticketing, production and crew (sound and lighting)
  • That you will have regard for the venues patrons. Ie. soundchecks are best done when the least amount of people are in the venue. Also keep soundchecks short, don’t use a soundcheck for a rehearsal and only play your instrument when required
  • Be professional

What you should expect from venues:

  • A safe working environment. (Is there a dedicated stage, power supply, adequate crowd control, etc?)
  • To be paid



For musicians performing on a consistent basis there may be occasions where you need to deal with an agent. An agent will either represent a musician and seek to find, negotiate and confirm work for them, or more commonly, they will represent a venue and seek musicians to perform in that venue. It is important to understand which relationship exists when dealing with an agent. Where an agent represents you they will collect their fee by charging you a commission for each engagement. This commission should be no more than 10% of the gross fee. This arrangement creates an incentive for the agent to negotiate higher fees for you as they in turn also benefit. Where an agent represents a venue they will collect their fee from the venue and are more likely to try and hire you at the best price for the venue.

It is illegal for an agent to charge you a commission and collect a fee from the venue in the same contract.

If you are going to deal with an agent it is crucial that you specify the terms under which you and the agent will work together. Most importantly, payment should be provided to you within forty-eight hours of the completion of the gig, unless other terms have been agreed to between you and the payer.

Remember in either situation the use of an agent will add to the venue’s cost of hiring you.



The role of a manager is to organise the affairs of the musician or group, this may also include marketing the artist. Before engaging a manager you need to ask yourself whether you can afford a good one. It is important to understand that a manager makes their living from you. A good manager deserves to be paid for their work. Before engaging a manager you should ask yourself whether this person can guarantee enough work for you that you can pay them a fair wage for the hours of work they will need to devote to you? It is also crucial to understand that because managers are usually paid a percentage of the deals they negotiate on your behalf there are some occasions where your manger’s interests and your interests might not be the same.