A semblance of negotiation

We’re back for 2019…please stay tuned for more details on the 1Q DOM Recording Contest, but in the meantime we’ll be resuming some of our unsolicited band advice, and at a very appropriate moment in American history…


Whether you realize it or not, you are probably negotiating every single day of your life.  Sometimes you are negotiating with family members, co-workers, and bosses and sometimes with bandmates, venue owners or agents…and sometimes with yourself.  You’d better be nice!

And that’s the first principle of negotiation: it doesn’t cost anything to be polite.  Remember that no matter what you want, there is no acceptable reason to treat others with disrespect, and the fact is, you will get further in your discussions when you know how to leave everyone’s dignity in tact.  

“Please” and “thank you,” said authentically, are two of the most powerful words in the universe.  The most powerful word is the name of the person you are speaking with, especially if you are asking them what they want.

Shown here, the band Osaka Punch demonstrates one form of negotiation. (photo by Lachlan Douglas – learn more about the band at http://www.facebook.com/osakapunch)


Needs Assessment

Principle #2 is: take the focus off of yourself and try to discover what the other person needs.  You’ll want to be genuine here as well, and take some notes. The greatest human need is the feeling that we’ve been heard and it’s pretty easy to do if you’re willing to listen.

So as a musician looking to book a room, have you ever tried to speak with the venue owner, in person, about her/his needs?  What are their expectations? What don’t they want to see happening on their property? What are their basic rules and regulations?  Try to get deep into their needs.

Know what you want (#3)

If you know what you want, it becomes that much easier to ask for it, right?  And you will probably also know your minimal acceptable outcome.  Maybe you will even have an optimal acceptable outcome to discuss.  But if you have a vague idea of what you are trying to get, you may end up with just that.

Does that sound fuzzy?  It should. If you don’t know what you want you will probably get something very vague and unsatisfying.  For instance, if you don’t know your prevailing wage as a musician you won’t know when it’s time to say “no, I’m sorry but we won’t be playing your establishment.”

Know what they want (#4)

At this point, if you don’t know what they want you probably haven’t done a proper Needs Assessment (see #2 above).  Hopefully you asked them appropriate questions and listened to their replies and now understand what they need. Let’s go back to the Venue Owner example.  At a minimum, here’s what she/he may need:

  • Samples of your music, perhaps a press kit
  • Examples of places where you have played
  • Referrals from any satisfied customers
  • An idea of what you expect to be paid
  • An idea of your performance needs (sound system, stage size, and other special needs)
  • Ideally a Performance Agreement that will clearly lay out the terms of the transaction (we’ll cover this more next time)

In an ideal scenario, where everyone is truly coming from a point of respect and thoughtful concern for the common good, you will be able to appreciate each other’s needs and come to some reasonable conclusions.

One Caveat

Sometimes you will meet a negotiator that thinks they can run you over to get the single-minded thing they want.  They may start at the extreme end of the negotiating spectrum (like offering food or “exposure” in lieu of pay). They may take drastic measures to get their way – they may even take hostages.   Never negotiate with terrorists. Sometimes the best way to negotiate is to just walk away…

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