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Friday, August 18, 2017's a Ga$$

You have no idea how much I do not want to write this article.  But, the time has come.  Like, five years ago.  It’s actually too late.  It was too late the moment the circus left the family business and became touchable to the few, the brave, the crazy.

Now it is touchable to everyone- and man, are they touching.  This is natural, normal, unstoppable.  So here’s what happens next.  Everybody and their cousin enters the market.  Nobody tells them what their work is worth, and they usually don’t ask.  They think $300 for five minutes of performance is amazing (it’s not).

So here we are.  This is an article about money.

I’m expensive.  Does this mean I’m the best?  Not really.  Does it mean I’m better than most?  Again, not necessarily.  My price is only marginally reflective of the quality of my work, which is always held to the highest standards of excellence by...myself.  Most clients don’t care how about the artistic excellence of my work.  They care if I show up on time, have clean lines, a big smile, am not drunk OR HIGH (looking at you Californians), own my own equipment, have insurance.  In short, what an agent generally wants from me is a level above proven competence and to not be a pain in the ass to work with.  If I can be actually fun, that’s a bonus.  And you know what?  The feeling is mutual.  At this point in my career, I work pretty much exclusively with those I am friendly and real with.  I know them, and they know me.  There aren’t really any surprises there, and after a lifetime of suddenly frozen dressing rooms, mysteriously disappearing costumes, and a suspicious scent of bourbon, we are pretty darn happy with each other.

Sell Competence...Deliver Excellence

So how can I be “expensive” and tell you frankly that it has little to do with the excellence of my work?  For one, my work is solid.  I know it is solid, I can stand by it, it can stand on its own.  That counts for something.  But the buck stops there.

So what does it mean that I can be “expensive”?  It means I know to expect a fair wage for my work, and most people don’t, and therefore they don’t get it.  As a result, a “fair wage” begins to look a lot like a “high-cost commodity” for good work.

This is how what “should” be a given- that good, competent work for a fair wage becomes a luxury; an albino deer in the forest.  You’ve never actually seen one yourself but you’ve heard of them.

Much of this could be avoided if we communicated better with each other; students, teachers, mentors, community leaders.  I’ve seen dozens of Facebook arguments bitching about being undercut, and the back and forth is truly popcorn worthy, but NO ONE LISTS NUMBERS.

What the hell are competing artists, emerging artists, and barely-hanging-on artists supposed to think coming away from pointless conversations like that?  The only message it manages to convey is whatever you do, do it quietly so the hordes don’t tear you into underscores our unwillingness to share our own prices for the totally understandable fear of being judged/shunned/scorned/voted off the island.

In some of my most prolific years, I could have easily doubled, and often tripled my income, if anyone had been willing to discuss pricing with an obviously ambitious new aerialist, and if I had asked more (and better) questions of my teachers.

Well guess what.

How to price your work- my method.

This is the method I use, and I invite you to use it as a means for comparison if nothing else.  It is not the only way and I feel you can probably improve on it, so for the love of the future of our industry, please do.  And then tell everyone that will listen.  You won’t regret it in the long run.

First we have to differentiate between the types of gigs commonly come across in local freelancing work:

Community Gigs:

Put on by your friend’s friend, or a local celebrity.  Low paying, regular, total love fest, do whatever you want on stage and enjoy your world.
Generally anywhere from $50-125 a show.  No one makes money off these shows, they exist for the sake of art and for the community.  They should be approached with respect to this end.

Club Gigs:  

Ambient affairs in nightclubs/restaurants- dependably regular, often questionable work conditions, all regular work pays less than a one-off and $150-250 is a pretty standard range for these gigs.  A nice way to bulk out a weekly income and try out new material/costuming.

Private Events:  

For the sake of discourse, this is what we will focus on here.  One-offs, including weddings and corporate events.  These are either self produced or you are the hired muscle.

Hired Muscle:  
Curated by an agent.  You show up, get into costume (possibly provided) makeup (also possibly provided) warm up and do your thang.  Get a check.  Go home and watch Frasier reruns.

Self Produced:
You do the bidding, contracting, invoicing, casting, costuming, organizing, event coordination and on-site manager, and also perform as the muscle in many cases.  You will also be responsible for ensuring safe rigging and possibly hiring the rigger yourself.  
Would you charge the same amount for both of these scenarios?  I wouldn’t.

The Method

Built around an artist’s fee, for a day’s rate.  A day in muggle land is 8 hours.  In physical performance, it is approximately 4 hours onsite, as we cannot and should not be expected to perform for 8 hours at a private event.

That symbol means "does not equal" fyi

Whatever occurs in this four hours, generally either an act or 2-3 ambient aerial sets, is what I sell for an artist's fee.

How much is an Artist's Fee?

This is not an arbitrary number, it’s based on the perceived value of the goods in the local market at that time.  I prefer to charge on the higher end of what the market can allow.  At this time in my local market that number ranges from $450-750 with dependable regularity.  This is JUST TO SHOW UP and perform, and leave.  It includes nothing else, someone else (an agent) is doing all that stuff, and collecting their own fee for it you betcha.

Yes, that means if you are charging in this range to show up, rig the event, perform, manage the event, and contract the performers, you are not charging enough to uphold market value.  Stahp.

If you are curating (self-producing the entertainment) at an event you will need to allow for that extra work, or you’ll find yourself working 40+ hours for a 4 hour day rate.

Fuck.  That.

So wait, how much is it?

The numbers I just gave you are based in my market.  The market changes with locality, and also time, and you need to know what your market is like, at this time. Guess how you find that out?  You will have to locate human beings who have that information and ask them questions.  

Don't ask me how much to charge, go find out.  

When you've collected this information you can use that range to decide what within that range is appropriate for you to charge for your work.  Know your day rate, and have a range.  You'll come across non-profits and other low-budget affairs that will ask you for a discount.  If you already know the lowest appropriate number, you don't have to take a hit just because someone else asks you to.  You can discount to your appropriate bottom line.  That's as far as it goes.  

This should go without saying, but when negotiating a is poor salesmanship to start with your bottom line.

Don't want to be a salesman?  Then you're not a professional.  Profession=money for work.  Don't want to sell?  Then live happily as an amateur artist.  Nothing wrong with that.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  As long as you're not taking a paid opportunity and doing it for free, which in case no one mentioned it, is a completely shit thing to do to the rest of us.  Why?  Because once someone gets something for free, it loses it's value.

I don’t have to think about my prices when negotiating a gig...I’ve already thought about it.  There’s no “ummmmm, let me see” because I already see.  If you wait until you are being offered a gig to price your work, you run the risk of pricing based on your emotions...not the market.  Don't let this happen to you!  You end up getting panicked at the thought of losing the gig, and it's easy to practically give your work away.

copyright South Park

So knowing this, I can take a gig someone else is doing allllll the other work for, show up and perform, and leave for a $600 check and sleep well that night.  In some localities, this number is a paltry sum.  In others, it's a dream.

If I were in charge of the event, you bet your ass I’m going to need extra compensation for the hours upon hours of administrative tasks that it takes to pull off an event.

If I’m performing, I start with my artist's’ fee-  $600 approximately, and double it AT LEAST.  This is for someone with very little overhead; as in, you don’t have an office or employees, you’re just organizing an event.  An agent probably has to charge more than this to get you a fair wage and also cover their cost of doing business, so consider how much damage can be done to a local market if suddenly no one is considering these extra costs?

The Moral of the Story...

Do your homework ahead of time.  Have a pricing structure that is based on numbers, and that you can defend without the need to be defensive.

Pricing is not about your feelings.  It's about value, and should be based in mathematics...not emotions.  Have it in place before you get your first inquiry, ask for help from your teachers and mentors.

Your actions do affect everyone else.  Don't go it alone...we really are all in this together.  And you know, it's YOUR LIFE.  It has value.


I've gotten many questions about The Audacity Project, my 8-week mentorship program designed to get you off your ass and into the working world armed with the tools for the trade.  In case you're curious, I made an FAQ for ya.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Compellingly written, thank you for sharing.