It depends on the venue and clientele. I have friends who make $500 week playing at restaurants and can command several hundred dollars for a solo piano gig at a wedding or corporate party. There are others who play in piano bars and do battle with the drunks and fools every night for a lot less money. If you live in a relatively moderate to large city, I'd think you should be able to do fairly well.
It will also help to get to know the people already doing that type of work in your area so they can use you as an occasional sub or recommend you for gigs they can't take.
Most bar and restraunt pianists I know also give lessons, play in Jazz clubs, do weddings and birthdays and a dozen other things (like almost all pro musicians). Its sort of a tough career choice actually. The same songs over and over, drunks that expect you to know songs even when they don't, etc etc.
But it can be rewarding as well. (Especially when someone like me comes in who will leave a ridiculously large tip if you play a couple of good jazz standards). You get to play piano alot; most of the time no one is breathing down your neck about what to play, and if you're in one of those really nice restaraunts you get really good food for free.
I would say get to know someone doing this type of stuff and see if he's turned anything down because of his schedule. When you're not taking money out of his pocket, most of those guys are glad to help you out. contacts contacts contacts. That's the key.
Oh, and I think the dream gig for these guys is to work for one of the larger cruise lines. At least when my buddy got to do that he quit his jazz combo in a new york minute.
A question to ask is "where do you live". That would determine how much money you can charge. For instance, if you live in New York City, you have all these people that come from other parts of the country, to play music, and they don't care if they don't get paid. There are so many people like this in town, that trying to get a paying gig is a joke. why should a club owner pay when they can get someone to play for free. So yes, location does matter.
Originally Posted by Thomas J
I'm thinking about expanding my repetoire of standards and getting a job as a cocktail pianist at hotels, etc. (No sing-along - strictly instrumental).
Does anybody have an idea of income potential? What are cocktail pianists usually paid? This would be a side job something to supplement my income.
Any current or former cocktail pianists out there??
Thanks, all, so much for the tips. Randy, I didn't know where the phrase "don't shoot the piano player" originated. I always thought it had something to do with the old westerns where the bad guys walk into the bar and shoot the place up and demand that the piano player play something fast. I think in all of those old movies they used the same actor for the piano player - a forlorn looking fellow with a stupid looking hat.
Hi, Thomas--Right, wild drunken cowboys making trouble in the old Western bars, taking pot shots at poor hapless pianists. And what I was passing on is that it was from during his tour of America in the 1880's that Oscar Wilde noticed that sign in a saloon, was amused, and passed it on in his reports about the tour.