The Profitable Musician | Matt Santry | Well Paid Musician

 

Who says musicians can’t make bank? In this episode, Matt Santry joins our host Bree Noble for a stimulating conversation on breaking free from the scarcity mindset prevalent among musicians. Together, they explore the notion that being a well-paid musician is not only possible but achievable, particularly through avenues like private events. As the founder of Well Paid Musician, Matt shares strategies and experiences on how he not only succeeded in this endeavor but also empowers other musicians to do the same. Step out of the gigging grind and into a world of fulfilling musical opportunities!

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Tune In To Success: The Well-Paid Musician’s Guide To Private Events With Matt Santry

Music Journey And Breaking Into Commercials

I am so happy to be here with Matt Santry from Well Paid Musician. We’re going to be talking about making money from music, my favorite topic. Matt and I have a lot of similar ideas about how we can get rid of this scarcity mindset when it comes to musicians and know that you can get paid well for your art. We’re going to be talking about that, how he’s been able to do it, and how he helps other musicians do it as well. Before we jump into that, I always love to hear the backstory because it helps set the stage for everything that we’re going to be talking about.

Matt, I’d love to know your backstory as far as how long you have been doing music. How did you start performing? I know your voice has been on some pretty cool commercials and things like that, and then how you got into private gigs and how you started helping musicians do the same thing. That’s a lot. If it takes you a while, that’s fine. Let’s unpack it.

All right. First of all, thank you for having me here. I love talking about this stuff. This is a treat. I’m going to try to be as brief as possible, but as far as performing, I guess it was when I was in college and I started playing in bands and making money. There was a point where I had a part-time job while I was in school and I was making more money with this band that I was in.

We were doing bars and fraternity parties. We were always working. I was doing solo gigs, acoustic guitar, and singing. I said, “You can make money doing this.” I graduated with a degree in Psychology. I went into social work and I did that full-time for five years, but I always felt like I wasn’t pursuing my art or didn’t have enough time and energy because it was a physically and emotionally demanding job to be a social worker.

I was specifically working with children and adolescents, behavior disorders and the latter part was with kids on this autism spectrum. Anyway, there’s a lot and the same thing happened. I started doing bar gigs, and it wasn’t long until I made more at night than I did during the 8:00 to 5:00 day. In my twenties, getting up at 6:30 for work was not fun, especially after doing a bar gig the night before, so I took a leap of faith and went all in with music. As we know, that is a very difficult thing to sustain if you’re trying to make a living. You have to have side hustles. I would teach music lessons. I even taught driving lessons at one point, which came in through my social work. One of my colleagues, her husband, had a driving school.

I did whatever it took so that I could keep performing. Anyway, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to do and if you’re not completely in love with what you’re doing and you’re not making the money you want, it can lead to frustration and burnout. I eventually got to a point where I was pursuing my own music, and some cool things were happening, but it was not enough to keep me self-employed like I wanted to be.

That’s when I decided to explore the private events because essentially, what I was doing the same thing at the bars. I was doing it for a lot more money for better audiences. That would give me the time to do other projects like I wanted to release music. I had songs placed on HBO Max, which is now called Max and Peacock Network. I’ve done a lot of commercial work like jingles for NBC’s The Voice and Dollar Shave Club.

Having to play bars 5 or 6 nights a week, my voice would have been completely fried, and I would have been able to do other commercial work and other things like that. I hope that that was concise enough. I always knew that performing could be a thing that I could make a living from, and a lifestyle that I wanted. It wasn’t until I discovered how to turn that into private event work that it made a huge difference in my career.

Let’s dive into that. First of all, I want to say that the driving lessons idea is so good. We were talking about this because my daughter got her permit, and I was like, “I have to book her a driving lesson.” My husband’s like, “Maybe I should go into that.” That’s something that never ends. They’re always needing new people to teach driving. That’s smart for musicians. It’s something you could look into.

Yes. It was good money. I already had clearances from working with kids in the background. You talk about a stressful job. I don’t recommend it long-term.

First of all, I want to find out how you got those commercial gigs and stuff because I’m sure musicians are reading this going, “That’s awesome. I want to do that.” How did you get into that line of work?

I wish I could tell you the how-to. I fell into it. I was playing at a private party. I was at someone’s house with my band and one of the guests said, “I love your voice and I have this talent agency and it’s for jingle work. Would you be interested in that?” I said, “Yes, definitely.” A week later, I signed a contract. That was to a lot of demoing.

You get paid to demo and it’s not very much. Union scale is $282.75 or something for two hours and then they take 20% off the top. That’s not a lot, but if you land it, meaning the production company lands it, they wind up using you, here’s the carrot on the stick. You get all this extra money that makes a big difference. I fell into that from performing at private events.

That is the how-to. You were in the right room with the right people. Doing private parties is going to put you in the right room with the right people or if you’re doing any kind of private events where people are in attendance and they’re like a captive audience thing, I think that is where you meet the people that could give you the ins like that, that you couldn’t get on your own.

I don’t go into it that way, like thinking that, but absolutely. Especially if you’re in a good frame of mind, which I wasn’t in a lot of times. Towards the end of my bar career, I did not want to be there and it showed. I think how you present and show up, and how surprised you are at how many different opportunities will present themselves when you are in a better frame of mind and serving your audience, you’re there.

The Profitable Musician | Matt Santry | Well Paid Musician

Well Paid Musician: You’d be surprised how many different opportunities will present themselves when you are in a better frame of mind and serving your audience.

 

Booking Private Events

Yes, getting paid what you feel you’re worth is going to put you in that better frame of mind and open you up for other opportunities. That’s where I think the private gigs come in. You’re feeling like, “I’m getting a decent wage here. I’m not thrashing my voice. I’m not feeling burnt out because I’m having to do this six nights a week. I’m getting paid enough that I only have to do it this many times a month to pay my rent or whatever.” How did you start getting into those private gigs?

I think most performers get approached at the bar, “We’re having a party.” That’s a good way to get started. I knew specifically what I was at. There was a restaurant that I would perform at about twice a month, and someone approached me about performing at a private event. They said, “We found someone else on this site called GigSalad.” I was like, “What’s that?”

I signed up for that one the next day and, through that, I essentially discovered the customer journey. If I’m going to hire someone for an event, there are two ways I’m going to find out about them. I’m going to either ask people I trust and know for a referral, or I’m going to get online and research it that way. It’s a lot easier sometimes to jump on Google and look.

If you follow that path, then you can see what these types of marketplaces are that I could be a part of, which will give me visibility for these types of customers. I think that’s what it was at the beginning, like, “This is how to get in front of the right customers. I get it. Okay, this is starting to work.” That was the beginning of it.

Was it just a matter of getting on that site and you immediately got the first gig? How do you make yourself stand out on those sites?

Marketing and presentation are things that I was studying anyway. There was a point in time when I was considering getting out of music because I was so frustrated with what I was doing at the time, playing bars.

We’ve all been there and that’s why I love to hear that on this show because everybody that’s reading has been there and you’re on the other side of it. They’re like, “Maybe I can get past this rough patch.”

At that point in time, I got into running. It was something to help clear my head. I also was tired of listening to music while I was running. I’m like, “All right, let’s start listening to podcasts. I don’t know what these are about.” Maybe one of you guys is running and listening to these podcasts. That guided me towards more marketing stuff because I always liked as a Psychology major. I learn about how we operate, how our minds work, and why we behave the way we do.

That started leading me towards marketing stuff and through that, I was like these are “Big businesses.” I don’t know. They were making more money than I was making at the time. How can I apply this stuff to my music career? I started thinking in terms of that. I think that’s what helped, too. Thinking of myself as a business versus me, the guy who’s the musician, it’s easier, like a separation. If you don’t like the product, that’s okay. It’s not for everyone, versus you don’t like me, I have to take it personally. With that in mind, as a business, how can I attract the right customers who are going to enjoy what I do already? I think getting better at making videos was one thing.

Honing in on the right cover songs for these types of events. Here’s the story about that. A friend of mine got me in with The Voice. Ironically, I didn’t make it to Hollywood, but later, I wound up doing commercial work for them. He got me in a private audition and that year, Chris Stapleton’s cover of Tennessee Whiskey was blowing up. I was like, “This is a cool song.” Country is becoming popular in the mainstream. I started to see it in people who grew up on rock music and then the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s started to get into the country a lot. Chris Stapleton was the perfect gateway into that genre for a lot of people. I covered the song and I recorded it for the sake of practicing for my audition for The Voice.

I get to my private audition. They’re nice people. There are 8 of them standing around me with 5 cameras, “Okay, what are you going to sing?” “I’m going to sing Chris Stapleton’s version of Tennessee Whiskey.” “No, you’re not.” “What?” “No, you’re not. We’ve heard this too many times today.” This was 2016, and I’m like, “Okay. That’s my money song. What am I going to do now?” I played something else and that was that, but what came of that is I put that video up on YouTube and I shared it on my Facebook page. I got all these great responses and comments.

The next thing you know, I’m using this video in my presentation for private event clients, and every time I get to the gig, “We love that version of Chris Stapleton. Are you going to play that song tonight?” I’ll say, “Yeah, sure.”It kept happening over and over and over again. It’s a byproduct of something that I thought was going to work out in my favor in a completely different direction that I didn’t see coming.

We do tend to get known for a cover song even. I feel like there are a few cover songs that I sing that I am known for and it’s requested for. Finding those money cover songs is a great way. I love that. When you’re booking for private gigs, are you booking solo? Are you bringing a band, or do you have different options that they can choose from?

Yeah, all the above, but I like to focus on what I’m best at. It’s solo acoustic. I do well with that. I say that not to pat myself on the back. I’m talking about my customer reviews and feedback that I get and the fees that I command. I do the band thing and I love playing with the band, but it’s a different animal in that if someone’s hiring a band, the expectation is that they want to party, they want to dance and they want to be on that dance floor the entire duration of the event. You have to know how to do that.

That’s something I learned through doing private events. I wouldn’t say that’s my strength. I can do it. I have corporate clients that hire me every year for their annual summer events or holiday parties. I know what I’m in for and I can put that together and we always do it. It’s so much easier to show up with my guitar, Bose, plug it in, modular system, and in seven minutes, I’m ready to rock. That is so much easier than showing up two and a half hours ahead of time with the PA and hiring a tech to assist me in doing all the things. My point is yes, you can do a lot of different stuff. There’s a lot of different opportunities.

For instance, people think of private events as weddings. I don’t do weddings. I did, but I don’t do them anymore. I stopped because it’s not my thing. I make more money showing up with an acoustic guitar and singing at people’s houses than I did when I was doing weddings. There are lots of different opportunities, but yeah, go where the market’s telling you to go. For me, it’s solo acoustic and this country crossover rock style.

There are many different opportunities. Just go where the market is telling you to go. Share on X

Music For Weddings

What you said about weddings, I love being a ceremony singer. Is that still a thing? Do people hire for that, or is it all about the DJs and the dance bands at the reception?

It varies. You could have a backyard wedding, and I’ve done those. It’s me for everything, or you could have a bigger production where they have a string quartet for the ceremony. They have a jazz trio for the cocktail hour. They have a DJ and a band. There are so many different things that you can do, but yeah, if you wanted to do the ceremony, we have members of our community who are solo instrumentalists who get hired for that stuff all the time.

What about originals versus covers for these kinds of events? Do you assume that everybody wants covers only? Do you ask, do you throw some originals in there and hide them in the mix?

I want to be very clear about that. These people are hiring you to create the vibe for their event. You have to think of the customer and their needs. They don’t know your songs. It’s not that they wouldn’t be open to it, but you want to go forward with a list of popular songs in the genres that you’re comfortable with.

The Profitable Musician | Matt Santry | Well Paid Musician

Well Paid Musician: These people are hiring you to create the vibe for their event, so you have to think of the customer and their needs.

 

I save my original songs for my ticketed shows, where people know they’re coming to hear Matt Santry songs. That’s not the same. What will happen is cool is that you’ll have, at least in my experience, repeat customers that become fans of my music and then request my music at private events. That’s a cool thing or they’ll come to a ticketed show. That’s cool, too. I would say, first-time client, their event, you cater to what music they want to hear.

Custom Playlists And Vocals

Do you work with them to create a playlist or do you ask, “What stuff you like and I’ll come up with it?”

Your presentation and your demos are re-qualifying your customer. If someone’s coming for an R&B dance party, they see my reel, they’re not even going to talk to me. I don’t do that. They already know the gist of what I do, but what customers love, I’m using customer and client interchangeably, is when they reach out for a quote, I always say, “Would you like to see my song list?” They love that because, to answer your question, I guess in their mind, they feel like they can be part of creating set lists and stuff. I’ll send them the PDF and it’s pages long with 300 songs. They’ll make all these notes in a circle like must play, don’t play.

It’s fun for them to do, but in the end, I say, “Thank you. I’ll play the ones that you want to hear, but I also work for the crowd. I know what goes over, and sometimes what you think will go over doesn’t.” I don’t say it that way, but here’s the thing with weddings. There will be the ceremonies, and there will be key moments. Processional, the recessional, there’s first dances at the reception. For those key moments, you’ll probably have to learn songs for that.

When customers would make requests, “We want to hear these songs.” I’d say, “Your key moments, because all eyes are on you and everyone’s listening to the music, I have to make sure that it’s just right.” For cocktail hour, you guys are going to be taking photographs. You’re not going to hear any of this stuff. I’m going to play the crowd. I don’t say that explicitly, but I stress your key moments, the music will be as you envisioned and then for the other stuff, I’m good at reading the audience.

It makes them feel it’s a partnership, but also, you’re reserving a little bit of your thought process when you’re live.

Yes, because any time I’ve tried and I’ve tried to go by whatever the client asked me to play, it doesn’t work. I know it works from experience. I always let them know, “Yes, I’ll do these songs at a party.” I’ll definitely do them, but I also play to the crowd and guests love it. “Okay, yes, do your thing.”

I’m curious, do you think that this would work for someone who doesn’t play an instrument? If you’re a vocalist and you use tracks, is that ever going to be a situation where you can do private events or do you need an instrumentalist to come with you?

I don’t want to say never. I could say we typically see that you will have the budget to hire an instrumentalist. All you’d have to do is create a demo, a reel of some songs and have an instrumentalist accompany you. I don’t see it at events. It’s not that it can’t happen. I’m sure that there are some weddings. Ironically, I see the other way around. I see an instrumentalist playing the tracks, and that seems to go well.

There’s a popular thing right now with violinists playing over DJs. I see that especially at wedding, like a drummer over top of a DJ. I don’t know. It’s becoming a thing, but ironically, I do not see that with singers singing over tracks. That’s not to say it can’t happen. I just don’t see that trend right now. What I would recommend is if you are a singer who does not play an instrument, make a demo with an accompanist, and then it’d be very easy to hire one. I typically say if you’re hiring musicians for private events, $100 per hour is a pretty good rate that most good players will do that for.

Thanks for that tip. I know that many musicians are reading this right now thinking, “I’d love to do these types of events, but I don’t play an instrument.” That can be frustrating to vocalists and demoralizing and you feel like you can’t book gigs because you don’t have that support. In these types of events, it sounds like they can book gigs and get paid enough that they can afford to hire somebody. You are the business, and then you’re you’re hiring this person to help you. You don’t have to pay them exactly as much as you’re being paid.

No. It’s not a band. You’re not a partnership. This is a contractor that you’re paying. If you pay well, it’s easy to find. For instance, if you had a cocktail hour, I guess cocktail wouldn’t be enough because it would only be an hour, but for my $100 per hour rate thing. When I hire musicians, if I don’t know the musician, I can start with $100 per hour. It’s like a four-hour event, $400.

I like to pay more because I have the budget, and it also makes it easier for me to find great players. And then some of these musicians also play my original stuff. They’re my friends. If I can take care of them, I will, but as the business owner, I’m making more. I’m making at least double. I think that maybe that’s another formula. If it’s cocktail hour, you can’t go buy the $100 per hour thing. Make double what you’re paying the accompanist and then you’ll be happy. It’ll work out.

Launching Well Paid Musician

Yes. I love that tip. Thank you so much for that. After you got this dialed in for yourself, you started working with musicians and helping them to understand how to do these private gigs and get paid and set up their business and all of that. That’s where the Well Paid Musician came in. I’d love to hear how that got started.

I wasn’t planning on mentoring. When I was getting my band off the ground and I was getting a lot more work, I wound up working with someone who was in college at the time. He was a talented keyboard player and guitarist. I said, “If I can get this guy working with me.” At that point, the bar scene was extended out into casinos and beach clubs. There was a lot more band type of work.

This guy right now, he’s 8 or 9 years younger than me. Essentially, I didn’t even know it. I was mentoring and I won’t say that again. He credits me for this. Now, he has multiple six-figure businesses as a dueling pianos performer and agency owner, so he has a whole roster of musicians that he can send out for events and he also performs at many events himself.

He started as someone in my band. There was another performer who was a bartender at one of the venues I used to play. He used to keep me afterward, “Here, I’ll pour you drinks. Tell me how to do this.” That whole relationship and that guy’s killing it now. That was the start of it. I think it was like I was in a Facebook group of local musicians, and we would say, “Here are our trade secrets.”

We would talk about stuff, and I would start by saying, “You told me about these sites. I booked a ceremony and cocktail hour for $750. Thank you so much. I only get paid $175 to play these bars. This is so great.” I was like, “I need to prove this concept a little bit more and take on a few more people to help out.” The business began that way, and now it’s blossomed. I think we have about 400 members. We’ve got people from all over the country. That’s what I love about it because the biggest objection is, “This won’t work where I live.” It’s like, “Okay, if you live in Alaska, it probably won’t.” The economy is pretty constant and that’s not even what it’s about. It’s more about people’s perception of money.

Only rich people hire or spend a lot for weddings or parties. What’s true is the perceived value that you offer is way more important than someone’s buying power because if I’m Jeff Bezos and I don’t value what you do, I’m not going to give you much money for it. That doesn’t matter. I have examples on both ends when I was first starting, I let someone negotiate my price down and I got to their 10,000-square-foot house with Ferraris and Porsches and the whole thing.

The perceived value that you offer is way more important than someone's buying power. Share on X

I walked away. They didn’t value me. They didn’t value what I was providing. I had the opposite end where I showed up at a party and the neighborhood, I was scared, so I pulled in and I was glad I got a deposit but again, I made an assumption that I shouldn’t have made it because they were wonderful and they tip and rehired me the following year.

Don’t ever make assumptions about people’s finances and remember what people value is going to matter way more than their buying power because if it’s important to have live music, then that customer is going to find a way to make it work versus someone that has more than enough to afford it and it’s not their priority, they’re not going to spend the money on it. That’s what it comes down to.

The Profitable Musician | Matt Santry | Well Paid Musician

Well Paid Musician: What people value matters way more than their buying power, because if it’s important to have live music, that customer will find a way to make it work versus someone who has more than enough to afford it and it’s not their priority.

 

It’s hard not to let our preconceptions about what we’re worth creep in too. We have to remember that other people don’t think about money the way that we think about it. Usually, the way we think about it needs some work anyway.

That’s the biggest thing I could say about the private events. As an artist trying to put together a ticketed show, you’ve got no guarantee and then you have to sign a contract with the venue and they’re going to take this percentage out for these costs. It all makes sense, but you might lose money on the gig or the show or maybe you have a great night and you made $150, whatever it is. Look at it from the perspective of making thousands of dollars at a private event, “This is silly. Why am I looking at money this way? I’m worth what I’m charging.” It completely changed my perspective on the starving artist perspective on, “All right, yes, $50. That sounds fair.”

Musicians Vs DJs

I know you also work with DJs, which I think is interesting. How are musicians and DJs similar in this way, and how are they different in the way that they book gigs?

I think the difference is obvious, but the similarity is the events. We discussed weddings, like DJs and bands, they sometimes compete. It’s the vibe that you’re bringing. Typically, I think DJ was for higher energy stuff when people want to dance, but some solo acts are good at that, too. We’ve got musicians that do the live looping and the backbeat and the whole thing and can get people dancing with one instrument and a looper.

I started to cater to DJs because they’re doing the same events, and I meet them when I’m doing the events. We have some musicians who have learned to DJ because that opens up opportunities and that’s a great fit. If you’re focused on the wedding market, you can perform live music for the ceremony cocktail hour and then switch to DJ mode for the reception, which is a great skill set to offer. As a solo act, you make a lot of money doing that.

Do you encourage artists to try to do any upsells or add anything as far as offering something alongside their service, where they can give more to the event or is it more like this is a service and I pay you this much? I know as we’re doing our original music, we often do that, “Let’s add a green room experience, let’s add a bundle,” that kind of stuff.

Back to weddings, you can always do that. A great upsell if you were talking about performing at a ceremony, offering cocktail hour for an additional fee, is a great upsell. I don’t want to separate things like emcee services because that’s you’re doing that anyway for your wedding, but you can offer packages. What works well if you’re not doing weddings? Overtime. Set your rate at three hours and what will typically happen is if people are having a good time, the end of the music signals the party ending.

They don’t want the party to end, and most of the time, they drink. “How much to play for another hour?” “Guess what? We already worked that out when we signed the contract a month ago and we agreed on this.” It’s an easy conversation. “Let me check. Let’s see what we agreed on.” Grab your phone and pull up the contract. “Here’s the rate for another hour.” “Great.” “First, I want to use the bathroom.” “Okay, yes, do what you got to do.”

You take a little break, come back, and then you do another 45 minutes. The cool thing that happens after this is that they’ve already agreed to pay you more, so the next logical step is, “I should probably tip them, right?” “Yes.” They tip you. That is like a sideways upsell, but I have done 25% more revenue in a year by that. Restrict the hours to last three hours and then let them hire you for overtime. In my experience, 9 times out of 10, if they hired me for overtime, they’re going to add a tip on top of that. Yes, it’s the sideways upsell.

Guiding Musicians Step By Step

I love that and that’s true. It’s a good thing you want to keep it going and you’ve got that already set in place. Super smart. I know that in your Well Paid Musician program, you must help them because there’s a lot of logistics around this, figuring out how to book things, contracts, and all that stuff that maybe feels a little daunting to musicians. Maybe you could tell our readers a little bit about what you do in that program and how they can connect with you around that.

The way that people discover what we do is I have a webinar presentation. It’s about an hour long, and that’s easily accessible on my website and then the nuts and bolts of the program is essentially what you’re saying. It’s like the step-by-step process of how to do these things, but you also have to understand some marketing and psychology that we discussed.

For instance, like what I talked about with that sideways upsell, the psychology behind it, there’s a book called Influence by Robert Cialdini, which talks about the six principles of influence, and it’s like automatic responses. For instance, social proof. That’s a huge one. That’s the reason why reviews are so important.

If you have no reviews, you’re pretty much guaranteed not to get a gig from an online search. If you have a lot of fabulous reviews, then you are going to be trusted, and things like that, but for the example I was using, he talks about this principle of consistency and its small steps, like micro commitments, leading to bigger commitments.

If you think about dating into marriage, there are a lot of steps that go in between, and we don’t typically skip those steps. There are small micro-commitments. The way I look at that whole thing with the overtime and the tip is these are all micro-commitments. Once they sign a contract, they give you a deposit, and then you perform, and then they agree to pay you more.

When they agree to pay you more, the next logical step is to add a tip. That’s the stuff we talk about. When I say psychology, that is an example of some of the stuff that we teach. Marketing is, in my mind, closely connected to psychology, but yes, it’s a lot of practical how-to, and as far as booking gigs and getting customers goes, we go through that step-by-step.

How can they find you online? What is your website and also how can they connect with you on social?

Everything is Well Paid Musician. WellPaidMusician.com and then Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. I even have a TikTok but I’m not as active on that. /WellPaidMusician.

Did you get the same handle everywhere?

Yes.

When did you get that handle? I got to know because I did not succeed in this.

I didn’t even sign up for TikTok until 2021 or something. YouTube, you have to have a certain amount of subscribers until you can do that so that took a little while.

Thank you. You have provided so much great practical advice on this episode. I so appreciate it. I know people can read this, and they’ve already learned a ton and will be able to go out there and implement it, but I encourage you guys to connect with Matt. If you’re looking to get into this market, definitely look into the stuff that he teaches on his website, WellPaidMusician.com. I want to thank you so much, Matt, for giving your time, knowledge, and expertise on this episode.

Yes, this was fun. I appreciate you having me. I love talking about this stuff. I can keep talking about it all day long. Thank you.

 

Important Links

 

About Matt Santry

The Profitable Musician | Matt Santry | Well Paid MusicianMatt Santry is a performer and educator who’s voice has been featured in commercials with top brands like NBC’s The Voice, Dollar Shave Club, Febreze, and many more. As a performer, Matt stays busy with private events and travels the US to work with high end clients. He founded Well Paid Musician to help performing musicians and DJs earn a great living with private event performances.