Money and Musicians

Dr Andrew Filmer and Stephen Johnson-Tseu

On rates:

“Learning how to define yourself financially… telling people: ‘this is our price’ but knowing there’s a bottom line you won’t cross.” Stephen Tseu

“On the idea of a finder’s fee… I think the clue in that is in the name: don’t let it be a surprise when your partners find out about it – make sure your partners know.” Andrew Filmer

“I give a slightly higher amount so there’s a buffer – so if someone haggles, at least we get paid at market rate.” Stephen 

“My friend found out that if he set the fee at 82 dollars instead of 80, people thought that you must have figured out this price carefully and people don’t haggle with you.” Andrew 

“Expectations are not only tied to how much you pay for lessons – but how much the student is ready. Sometimes there is a lot of pressure for exam and competition results, and the idea of expectations is complicated.” Andrew 

On helping students:

“When I have students who work really hard but can’t afford the lessons, I charge the market rate but occasionally I give a free lesson. This way, I don’t upset the market rate, but I still help students who need it.” Andrew

“What I do is I buy books for students and don’t charge them the full amount… especially 

when you have some students who are working to pay their own lesson fees and it’s not paid by the parents, you do have some empathy for them.” Stephen 

On gigs:

“The person who holds the sheet music holds the power of the rates because you know when you hire this person for a quartet, it comes with this set of music – which becomes the real asset.” Andrew

“One of the best things to do is subscribe to a sheet music site for one year and mine it for all the gig arrangements for one year: you will get your money back.” Andrew

On asking people for money:

“Musicians are taught and know very well on how to perform – full stop. Today, it’s important for all musicians to know how to write funding proposals.” Stephen

“When you’re writing proposals, it’s like writing a thesis – you need to know when you’re going to finish this, when you’re going to do that. If you really know how to wind your way into writing a proposal, getting money is not going to be a problem.” Stephen

When do we do things for free?

“If you’re a struggling artist and you can’t afford to do things for free, don’t. But if you’re doing alright, then it depends on the cause – if you’re doing something for charity, and you really care about it, then I don’t mind associating myself to that.” Stephen

“There are certain charity concerts that aren’t really for charity, and you have to be careful about that – you may not realise that the organiser may be only giving 30% to the charity. The organiser and the charity may be two different things.” Andrew


“Play more, read more, get more knowledge so at least you know what you like and especially what you don’t like: if you at least know what you don’t like, you can put that aside and know what you want to do for the next twenty years.” Stephen

“Do you ask enough questions of your students? What your students or parents want may surprise you. Knowing what they want will better serve your market, rather than just running on your own agenda. If that’s your unique selling point, I think everyone should have it, even if it makes it less unique.” Andrew

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