Are You Charging Too MUCH?

Posted by: on July 19, 2016

Photo by DSTATH Photography. Ellie HUSTLES, and knows the biz inside and out. A pleasure to work with!

Brace yourselves – I’m about to stir the pot. Maybe. But, hear me out, people!

Here in NYC, we’ve had the problem established circus folks seem to be having everywhere – trying to make sure newbies (and hell, sometimes oldies) maintain professional standards of pricing in the biz. This is a good thing! Undercutting career wages within our communities leads to a sad and untimely swan song for our industry. BUT (you totally sensed the “but” coming, didn’t you?), some of you may be taking pricing parameters a little TOO rigidly. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself!

Ms Allison Williams wrote up this piece, and it’s chock full of conversations worth having, and thoughts worth thinking about.


Show Me Less Money, by Allison Williams

Now that I’m retired from performing and booking gigs for other artists, I’m experiencing an interesting dichotomy.

Performers send me their video, their resume, their pleasant introductory email. They nudge every so often to see if any work is available. And when I have a corporate event, it’s very easy to book them.

But when I have a gig in a college venue, or at an outdoor festival, or a small-town Fourth of July, they’re unaffordable.

Yes, we want to be paid fairly and keep the price up for everyone. It’s only been in the last two or three years that professional aerialists looked around and realized, “If I want newcomers to raise their prices, I have to tell them what the price is.” Artists got a lot less secretive. We still don’t have to say “I made $1200 for Company X,” but it’s useful when we read on Facebook, “Hey, if you’re in Atlanta doing nightclubs, the going rate right now is in this range.”

It’s good to communicate, and it’s good to get paid as much as you can.

But.

Not every gig has a zillion dollars.

Corporate pays big bucks. Plus hotel. Plus travel. Plus food. Sometimes plus per diem.

Most colleges, on the other hand, have $1700-3500 for a show—not per performer, the whole show—plus hotel. You handle your own travel inside that fee. You might do two 45-minute shows in one evening, or three acts in one show.

County fairs are in a similar price bracket, per day, for up to four shows. For a longer run, the day-rate may be lower, but worth it to work ten days in a row and travel once. Outdoor festivals tend to be at the bottom of this range or even below it, but you can often pass the hat on top of your fee.

Colleges, county fairs and outdoor festivals have different expectations. The performers need to engage with the audience, maybe even be funny. Booking these gigs, you must be willing to set expectations kindly—and determine your make-or-break needs. Maybe you’ll be dressing in a meeting room or a locker room or an empty storefront. Maybe you bring your own sound system. Maybe ask for a buyout instead of a meal because the only onsite food is deep-fried and on a stick.

Lower-dollar gigs aren’t any less work. Corporate is time-consuming, but it’s usually pretty easy—show up, do some rehearsal, reassure the client it’s all going to go well, do a five-minute act and then eat whimsical hors d’oeuvres until the party’s over and you can take your rigging down. It’s a long day, it demands high skill (can’t paper over a sloppy move with a joke) and you’re usually worth what you charge—in fact, you won’t get much respect if you’re the cheapest item on the budget. College, fair and festival gigs range from ‘do everything yourself including crowd control,’ to ‘five student lackeys filling your every need.’ I’ve dressed in a room that previously held sheep. Not very much previously. Working outdoors often means rain, heat, or wind. I’ve worked on straw, dirt and snow.

Why do these gigs?

Because we aren’t all fully employed all the time. Because taking home $400-800 each for a day’s work and a half-day’s travel is still more money than a lot of people make in a week.

Because you usually have substantial artistic control over what you present, how you’re dressed, and the tone of the show. It’s a nice change from “we need five girls dressed as bees and please make sure they’re all Barbie bodies. Oh, and our CEO loves Yanni, so use that for your music.”

Because a lot of college shows are on a weeknight, and you can get UnREAL on Hulu when you get back from the gig.

Because at lower-stakes gigs, you can break in new performers in front of a forgiving audience. A student with a solid routine but little experience can learn how to behave at a gig without risking your company’s reputation. If you do three shows in a day, you can give her notes and watch her improve each time.

Because doing your show for different audiences makes you better at doing your show. It keeps you fit and your brain ready to go. It’s more fun than doing your act in the gym. It lets you know what audiences like, which we all know is not the same as what impresses other aerialists.

Because it feels good to work all the time, to say when people ask, “Yes, this is my full-time job. No, I don’t do anything else.”

Because at colleges you get to make stressed kids laugh and at county fairs you get to admire quilts and pet the sheep and bring what you do to a less-jaded crowd, the people who still “only ever saw that on TV,” and part of being an artist is bringing your work to people who need art in their lives, regardless of their ability to pay.

So think about your price. Think about your fair price for seated filet mignon and open bar and professional light and sound at the Marriott. Think about your fair price for 30 college students on a Tuesday night in Utica.

Think about how much you want to work.


Allison Williams is the former Artistic Director of Aerial Angels, and now a full-time writer and journalist working in a variety of price ranges. www.idowords.net 


It’s me again!

THANK YOU, Allison!

At the end of the day, it comes down to a few things IMHO –

  • Do you WANT to perform at this event?
  • Is this a slow time of the year or a Sun-Thurs? Are you likely to have to pass up high-paying work if you accept this gig?
  • Is the pay reasonable, if it’s not good? Does it feel fair/adequate to you? How does it measure up to your losses or expenses if you take the gig?
  • Will you be resentful if you take the job, and wind up part of the Bitter Business Bureau?
  • Do you need to get some performing experience under your belt? Or understand more of what goes into putting up a show?
  • Does the company doing the asking also do a lot of higher-paying events? Are they good people, and fun to work with, or will you want to hang yourself after spending the day with them?

 

Just because the number isn’t “corporate” doesn’t mean you’re undercutting if you take it. Look at the whole picture, weigh your options, and, if you take it, go into it with everything you’ve got.

Have something to add? Lemme hear ya! Comment below! Dare to imagine, Laura

 

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Comments

  1. Allison says:

    Really insightful article – good points!