Many times I am asked by other musicians and/or managers “Why is ‘leader pay’ more than ‘sideman pay?'” The short answer is quite simple: The leader has more responsibility in preparation for the gig. The long answer goes into more detail about actually leading the group by setting the tempos, dealing with contracts, communication, booking other musicians, confirming rider and stage plot and other technical information, music selections/requests, clothing requests, directions, transportation, menu selections (including dietary restrictions), location requirements, insurance requirements, etc.
In many cases, the leader is also the contractor and has to deal with ALL of the above items. Sometimes, the leader is so fortunate as to only have to show up with the music and his instrument. Obviously, I prefer the latter situation. When I work with Disney’s Fairytale Weddings, I am already given all the confirmations in writing, including the song requests. I still have to do some work before the event. I have to organize and provide those music selections for ease of transitions between songs for EVERY person in the ensemble. Then it is my responsibility to watch what’s happening to “lead” the other musicians and call out the selections so that we are all on the same page at the same time. When I am performing solo, every selection must be performed from memory, and it sure helps that I have a huge array of memorized pieces from which to choose when the guests request something. I am an employee (or “Cast Member”), so I am covered by their insurance when working there, plus I know the standard clothing/attire for each event. The locations are easy to find as they are regular locations for these events, and I don’t have to worry about stands or lights since they provide them. The manager handles the communication and the hiring of all the musicians on the gig. It really is a wonderful situation, as long as I have a good manager and wedding coordinator handling the event. Fortunately, Disney is wonderful about making sure this is the case with everyone involved.
When I am the leader AND the contractor, I have to first get all the necessary information to create a contract, send/revise the contract, secure deposits and dates, book the musicians, send out written communication with all parties involved, including directions, dress requirements, etc. I also have to make sure the rider and stage plot are both included and actually executed at the event. I have to send insurance certificates stating our coverages in the event of an accident. I have to follow up with the balance of payment(s), as well as pay each of the musicians involved. I have to also pay pension, benefits and work dues on all musicians involved. When a meal is included, I have to make sure the timing of the meal does not interfere with the performance times, and I have to make sure each musician is fed (including adhering to any special dietary restrictions). Sometimes, I have to deal with audio/lighting technicians, and making sure our sound systems are compatible. I also have to organize the music for each musician for ease of transitions during the event. Plus, I am usually bringing stands, lights, books, sound equipment with mixers and a whole van load of other equipment. I set up all this stuff (sometimes alone, sometimes with help) before the other musicians arrive. It’s like wrangling cats. And all this is BEFORE the first note is played.
Yes, there is a reason that leaders usually make a higher wage – they have more responsibility. If the gig is not perfect, the leader is the one blamed. As a sideman, I just show up in the appropriate clothing with my instrument and I’m ready to play. It’s good to have the opportunity to play each of these roles.