In 2016, Adele allegedly signed record deal worth £90 million. According to Business Insider, this is “the largest record deal for a British artist and the largest amount for a woman, beating Whitney Houston and Madonna”. This huge amount of money won’t have been agreed quickly. There will have been months of hard, grueling negotiation before everyone involved was happy to settle on that figure.
Another great example of negotiation comes from Avicii’s manager Ash Pournouri. In the documentary True Stories, we see Ash negotiating a deal with EMI. Their starting offer is €150,000, and he negotiates with them, raising the offer up to a mind blowing sum of €500,000. Ash role models how to secure a huge deal by confidently and concisely asking for what he wants and keeping his cool.
Collaborative negotiation is the decision making tool of choice for many, and it’s easy to understand why. It helps us to achieve great outcomes, to save money (or make more money), to feel like we’ve been heard and to avoid unnecessary conflict.
How can negotiation help you?
- You only ever get what you ask for
If you only ever charge £50 for each show you play, then you’ll only ever get £50 per show. The same goes for £500 or £5000. This makes sense, because when you’re playing those gigs you’re exposed to other people in the same financial situation. As soon as you start playing gigs for more money, the bar is set higher and the people you’re exposed to are more likely to book you for more money too.
Everyone is out for themselves
Ultimately, record labels, management agencies, even someone that wants to book you to perform at their wedding is out to get the best deal they can. Which of course they should be, as they’re all trying to make money (or spend as little as possible). But this means you’re responsible for looking out for you, and asserting what you need in terms of pay and terms.
It’s very easy to be seduced
There are lots of exciting opportunities within the music industry… Lots of them may seem fun and interesting, but not necessarily good for your career. That’s why it’s so important for you to understand what your goals are for your music career. If your goal is to make an album, then consider how this offer would support you with that mission. If the offer is a low paying gig, and your goal is to practice performing live then that will work for you. If your goal is to make a living from music, however, then it just won’t work.
There’s another scary, but very real consideration when it comes to performance negotiation specifically…
You may have to turn down gigs
This is a really important step and I’d even say it’s essential in some cases. I reduced my hours at work (the day job) to focus on music more, and then filled up my calendar with gigs. Every weekend I was singing at a pub, club, wedding or other event. This sounds great, right? Just what I wanted? Well not so fast. A lot of the gigs I’d accepted were low paying pub gigs, taking up a lot of my time and energy, with very little benefit to me. The knock on effect of this, was that when the high paying gig offers came in, I couldn’t take them… Because I was booked to sing at the local pub for £50. And I was the only one to blame! Lesson learned.
When it comes to negotiating in the world of music it goes without saying that it’s not easy. Here are some tips to practice, which will help you build your tool kit of kick ass negotiating skills.
People skills are essential
Be authentic, be you, and build a personal connection. If you build a strong foundation at the beginning of any negotiation, then they’ll like you and will be more open to listening to your ideas and thoughts. This undoubtedly puts you in a stronger position. Show your emotions, be passionate. Negotiation is a more emotional than logical process so show that you care. Listen, really listen. You can only provide another option if you’ve heard theirs to begin with.
Keep your eyes on the prize
What do you want long term? Does this agreement support your longer term goals? Keep laser like focus on what you are looking to achieve, to assess whether this offer will help you on your journey. Check out our article on setting your musical goals to ensure you’ve got great goals in place, and you understand what they are.
Prepare in advance
Do your research, know what you want, know the facts (e.g. what others are receiving in terms of pay or any restrictions they’re bound by) and understand what a good outcome would be for you. Also try to understand their motivation, as this is a powerful starting point for any negotiation. If you can highlight that you understand their position, but your suggestion is better because x, y, z, then you have the power.
Master the finances
Speak to musician friends / colleagues and trusted advisers to find out what’s reasonable. If you’re unsure where to start when negotiating finances, or need support, then check out the musicians union. They provide tons of advice, and also minimum performance rates for musicians that are very useful.
Go in at your max
Then be willing to negotiate down. If you’d be over the moon with £1500 for a performance then tell them that, you can negotiate down from there. Be clear in your mind about what your minimum price would be (keep this to yourself).
Remember: they want you
KNOW YOUR WORTH! They want you, which means you have a lot to offer and you may also have the upper hand. Know what you’re willing to negotiate on, and what you’re not. Your music contract or agreement (performance, management or otherwise) should be as unique as you. So stay true to what you need and be assertive in getting it.
Take your time and ask for advice
The MU once again is amazing for advice on contracts; performance terms etc. and they even have a number of contract templates for when the contract needs to come from you. Don’t rush into signing a contract of any kind without fully understanding all of the implications, and agreeing that this is going to work for you… Not just them. Hold your nerve and take your time. Think about it, and show you’re not afraid to walk away if you need to.
Over to you… What have you found most useful when negotiating? We’d love to hear your thoughts. We’d also like to see more examples of amazing negotiation in the music industry… Have you come across any other powerful examples?
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