>I had a great day yesterday, once I got to my parents’. The ride down wasn’t so bad, considering I drove through 3 lots of roadworks and quite a few squally showers. Me and Mom went into Solihull and spent loads of money on shoes and clothes, and we had a nice snack in the Manor House tea room. The rain held off at least while we were in the open, but the ride back took a while longer as the first 15 mile roadwork section was heavily congested and traffic came to a standstill at least 5 times. I was shattered when I got home, so had an easy tea, slobbed in front of The Mentalist, and then an early night. The cats were out so I slept right through.

Today I came back to a bit of a debate on my guestbook regarding fees, and I can’t help but notice the similarites between music gigs and writing gigs. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin. There’s a similar story on The Scruffy Dog Review.

When I started out writing, I felt Very Lucky to get £100 per 1,000 words. This was, like, Rockafella money. Today, I still feel Very Lucky to get £100 per 1,000 words, 25 years on. Twenty. Five. Years. In those days, the “going rate” was probably closer to £35 – £75 per 1,000 words and you only got the higher, “premium” rate if you were a member of the NUJ. These days, if you expect any more than £50 per 1,000 words, you’re being greedy.

Pay rates for writers haven’t remained static, they’ve gone DOWN. Yet cost of living and inflation has gone UP, which means in real terms the wages have gone down yet further.

At the moment there is outcry because regular staff workers can’t expect an annual pay rise in the current economic climate. Can you imagine if they’d not received a pay rise in 25 years, AND/OR their wage had gone down? It just wouldn’t be acceptable and there would have been a major downing of tools.

When you’re starting out as a writer – or in a band – you would be forgiven for taking on the lower paid jobs. This would be part of an apprenticeship, while you’re getting your name known, building experience, and getting better. I have never, ever done a job for free, but I have done work for low rates just to get my foot on the bottom rung of that ladder.

As you build experience, gain a reputation, prove your worth, and customers start to come to you, you would be quite within your right to raise your fees or settle on a certain fee you wouldn’t go below, perhaps citing “we draw a crowd” or “you get a good deal for your money”. The ONLY exceptions to this rule would be maybe charity work or customers that genuinely can’t afford to pay you more but for whom you have the greatest of respect or affection, or if you would maybe like to repay them for helping to get you started, aka remembering your roots.

It’s a bit like pro-bono work for solicitors. Sometimes they take on a cause that’s close to their heart, or they do a favour for a friend, or they repay a debt, or so many hours are expected of them if they want to continue working for that company.

So too for writers, or bands.

If a charity magazine can only pay you expenses, and you have a lot of time for either the charity or the volunteers that work there, then you do it. If a pub or club can only pay a nominal fee of £100, if it’s a venue you love, if you feel you want to thank them for giving you a start, then you do it. And you don’t bellyache about it.

However, if a magazine or a venue is only paying a certain amount because they know they can get away with it, then you need to rethink.

Day job
Because of the alarming drop in fees for freelances, and because I needed a regular income in order to survive the breakdown of my 2nd marriage, I went “back to work”. I got a day job to give me that safety net, although I made sure it was a bloody good job and one that I would enjoy. But if there weren’t sufficient “enthusastic amateurs” out there content to do my job for nothing, I would still be freelancing now. And this is what writers and bands also need to bear in mind.

If you have a day job, or if you don’t NEED the income, how fair is it to do this work for free or on the cheap when there are people out there whose only income this is? In effect you’re stealing the cookies from their tables; snatching the food from their children’s mouths.

How would you like it if I came and did YOUR job for nothing, or if I undercut you by 50%?

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule, already alluded to above.

There are some publications, some venues, that can genuinely only afford to pay £35 per 1,000 words or £100 per gig, and it’s down to you, the supplier, to decide if you want to do it, and if you get more of a buzz from doing that kind of job than one that pays £150 – £300 per 1,000 words or £1,000 per gig.

But when it’s because they know they can find someone cheaper than you, they know they can get away with it, or they’re honestly being skinflints, if you accept it, then it weakens the argument for those of us that make a living from it, and it ensures things won’t get any better for you or any of us in the future.

I once had an exchange of emails with an editor of a magazine who actually said: “Why should I pay your extortionate rates when I have hundreds of enthusiastic amateurs willing to do it for free?” Oh, did he get a typically Diane-esque reply, which basically said: “If you pay peanuts, expect monkeys – and be prepared to spend a week knocking their submission into shape. If you pay my ‘extortionate rate’ (which at the time was £120), expect to drop the article into place untouched and it will fit exactly, so saving you all of that extra unnecessary work – and work out how much money my extortionate rate actually saves you in real terms.”

His reply was very apologetic, but he did say: “I didn’t realise I was dealing with a professional.” Well, IT SHOULDN’T MATTER. You should pay a fair rate for a fair job, whoever is writing it for you.

Guess what – the sky didn’t fall, I wasn’t destined to never work for that editor again. I got the gig, I got the £120, and I got more work out of it in the bargain. I also hope I helped get some of his “enthusiastic amateurs” a fair price too.

So, my advice is this. (For what it’s worth.)

By all means, when you’re starting out, accept whatever you’re offered – just don’t do it for free. But when you’ve built up a port-folio, experience and a good reputation, ask for and expect a pay rise. Then, when you feel really confident, set yourself a minimum rate. Mine is still £100 per 1,000 words. And if you decide to do cheaper jobs, do them for the right reasons, not because you’re being bullied.

Remember, how you act, what you’re prepared to tolerate, has a knock-on effect, both to others in the same field and to the future of the business you’re in.

Do a £100-gig if you’re starting out, if you love the venue, if you feel you owe them a favour, if there’s a good crowd, if it’s your home pub/crowd, enter your reason here. But don’t do it just because you’re scared they may never hire you again. If that’s the case, it ain’t worth it and there are higher paying gigs out there.

Have some respect for the work that you do and the service you provide.

Thank you for reading.