Determining your Day Rate

Finding your day rate isn’t easy for anyone at first. It’s a math problem that includes, working with some of the most complicated and random variables. You have to ask other professionals in the area, do the research, and worst of all – assign a number to your worth as a professional. Let’s walk through it together.

Here are a few things you need to take into consideration before deciding your bare-minimum day rate:

  • What is the minimum wage in your area?
  • How much do meals cost on average in your area?
  • What does the gig entail?
  • What is your the position?
  • Are you expected to Load in & Load out?
  • Are you being hired only as an engineer?
  • Show Size?
  • Hours – 16 hour or 3 hour Show?
  • Corporate? Concert? Theatre?
  • What do freelancer’s with similar experience make in your area?
  • Will you need to travel at all?
  • Will they feed you?
  • Is there a Per Diem?
  • What is size of your client? (how many people does the company employ? Or the venue’s occupancy cap?)
  • What’s the absolute lowest you’re willing to make per hour?
  • How much experience do you have?
  • Does the gig pay hourly or a day rate?

Looking at the list, it is daunting. How do you even begin?

To start off, this is a skilled job. Not ANYONE can do it, keep that in mind. Even if you’re entry-level, do not undersell yourself.

There are very few gigs where you should accept less than $100. One of those exceptions would be if you were supervising breakouts for two hours. Then you take that $100. That’s a sweet deal. A good rule of thumb to use is no less than double minimum wage per hour. Around here, (Kansas City) minimum wage is around $7.50, so that would be $15/hr. For a 10 hour day, you would make $150. Not bad. But do not settle for LESS.

Let’s run through a few different scenarios to determine your minimum day rate. We’ll use the above-mentioned minimum wage of $7.50 for our calculations.

Scenario 1
A local 4-piece rock band wants to have a dedicated sound human with them at all their gigs to keep consistency high between clubs and bars. They don’t ask you to help unload any of their stuff, but you are responsible for unloading and setting up all audio reinforcement gear. You deserve 1/5 of the full gig pay minimum. If the entire band makes $50 for the night, you’re doing it for the love of it so make sure you love that band.

Scenario 2
A local production company wants you to come sub in on a theatre production because their FOH person caught the flu. You’ve got the script, gone over it and feel prepared enough to pull the trigger. There’s no load in, no load out – you come in, run FOH, and leave. In this scenario, preparation for the gig should count towards your work hours. The show is two hours long, and you spent two hours preparing in advance. $30/hr for a two-hour show would not be absurd here since you are not being compensated for your two hours of prep time. Other factors, such as venue size, estimated attendance, the size of production, and others may cause you to adjust your rate in either direction.

Scenario 3
A medium-sized corporation in the area has an end-of-quarter staff party. They need audio support for a jazz trio and MCs with presentations. They want you to load in all the equipment, run the show, and load out: a 10 hour day. The organization is well established, so I would revise my rule of thumb and make it triple the minimum wage. $21/hr times 10 hours is $210. MINIMUM. Another thing to consider in this scenario is meals. Will they feed you? If so, then don’t worry about it. If they aren’t feeding you, add the price of two meals into your quote (usually one meal for the first eight hours, plus another meal every four hours). In Kansas City, $10-$15 will feed you in the entertainment districts, so if meals are not included, I’d ask for $30 to cover meals. My personal day rate for this gig would be around $300 minimum, based on my experience level and the hours involved.

Here is a starting point for general minimums:

1st six months – minimum wage
2nd six months – minimum wage +$2
One full year – minimum wage plus $5
1.5 years – minimum wage plus $6
Two full years – minimum wage plus $8
3+ years – Dealer’s Choice

This is a starting point to determine your day rate. It does vary region to region, and even within the different types of gigs, corporate, touring, church, etc. Of course, sometimes you will be offered a gig – with a set rate. And sometimes you will need to accept lower pay to get the experience. They key is not undersell your yourself.

If you’ve been working your tail off for the first year and you can out-mix anyone and know how to direct a large setup, by all means charge more. This is about the bare minimums we’re willing to accept as professionals. These are starting points. What’s most important is to be compassionate, but not to undersell yourself. The more years of experience you have, the more you become aware of your value and the less skittish you are about charging more. If every single sound person only charges $15/hr per job, we’d all be in the poor house. It’s okay to negotiate. You can’t be steamrolled. You have your worth and you DESERVE it.

Say it with me: “I deserve to be compensated competitively and fairly.”

How do you determine your rate?


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