Earlier today I sat down and emailed a potential client about a job and was asked if I could do it for about half the listed cost. I ended up having to send an email specifying why it was that cost and why that cost would not change regardless of what they asked. I realized after that a lot of people don’t realize why I charge what I do.
The following is a couple of the reasons that I charge what I charge and why I generally don’t back down on it without a good reason. It’s also food for thought for those who are looking at hiring an entertainer (You can always hire me as well to firstname.lastname@example.org) or for those who are attempting to figure out what they are worth.
#1 So much more time goes into what entertainment than what you think.
I charge the same amount for a fifteen minute performance as I do for an hour long performance. My hourly rate does not actually “kick” in until after I have been doing an hour’s worth of stage work. This is usually the first thing that people ask if I can change for them. The notion seems to be that I am “only working” for a brief period of time. The reality is a little different. For anything larger than someone’s backyard party being on time does not mean being there 15 minutes before your scheduled to go on. It means being there about 45 minutes before your scheduled to start performing; as you need to make sure everything is set up & working with enough time to take care of any last moment emergencies.
If you’re doing any sort of pre-show work you need more time to add on top of that. So if you are doing a fifteen minute set for a corporate or convention crowd you have already spent at least an hour of your time working the event. Now on top of this is also the fact that you have to load up your car, drive to your show, drive back, and unload. I don’t charge additional money if the client is less than a half hours drive. But that means that there is about an hour to two hour time frame that the client is not getting charged for again (sometimes this time frame can be stretched across multiple shows in one day if your smart about packing).
So overall I have just spent three hours of time getting ready and prepping for a show and I am only charging you for the time that I am “spending” on the stage.
#2 Not all shows are created equal.
What is the difference between mentalism, knife-throwing, and fire performance. To most of the non-experienced people whom I give price quotes to there really is not much and normally the next question that I am asked is
“Why are you charging me an additional hundred per hour for the addition of fire or doing this pincushion thing in a show? It’s just entertainment.”
Have you ever been on the “wrong” side of a gun and looked down its barrel. Some people I know have described it as the longest moment of their lives. There is no difference between being on the end of a gun barrel and a knife point? The reason why you pay more for knife throwing is because that other performer has to stay still, never move, never react outside the manner in which they are scripted to act.
Have you ever given yourself a deep shot like say a “cortisone” shot in which the needle is placed directly into muscle tissue. It feels like an electric shock; but unlike an electric socket you have to keep your finger in the socket until you are done. Imagine holding fire in your hand, and not only having to keep on what you do but also keep an eye on your entire audience to make sure no one does anything stupid. I know I do.
I once wondered why performers would often make jokes about their fire torches being CGI until I was actually asked if the fire i was using was “real”. We are so used to danger on television that many of us don’t actually perceive it as being real. So I do apologize if I come off as rude on this one, but if a knife can stick an inch into wood what is it going to do to a person.
These acts become incredibly difficult and extremely dangerous. This is why the amount I charge for them goes up. Because I am the one who has to deal with and live with these things and their consequences
#3 “Why is it that this other entertainer only charges me 40% of what your charging for the exact same thing.”
There is a group of fire performers that I have work with in the past who recently attempted to reconnect with me and offered me some work. This work was at far less than even my lowest rate. I know from previous experience that often business will go with the lowest contract between two individuals with are the same; or whom they perceive to be the same.
This is the reason that I no longer fire perform at events because a “comped” ticket is not cash and it is not worth it. But I understand that for a promoter a ticket does not cost them anything at all it’s just a question of what makes them the most money versus how much it costs. This same trend can be seen across the industry. A decade ago Six Flag’s had a 16,000 a summer budget for entertainers before they “realized” they could just pay minimum wage to teenagers. Thankfully this trend is starting to disappear.
Another aspect is that many performers don’t have the mindset that comes with entertaining. Deep down what they are doing is still very much a hobby. One summer at ren faire when I was speaking with a vender we spoke about this. They practice, stitch, and craft usually when they are doing something else (such as watching television). The notion of time invested costs of materials don’t really occur to them. In the same way many fire performers (I distinctly separate fire performers from entertainers) don’t see the long road but the momentarily spotlight, lifestyle, and such. In doing so they offer their services cheaper and don’t mind taking the comp ticket.
But there are other aspects to this mentality that cause problems and concerns. The group that I mentioned in the very beginning had a very lovely weekly job at a very nice place. But the lead performer did not believe that insurance was a necessity and also did not “test” new recruits. A rookie fire performer ended up severely burning herself in the middle of her act and had to be sent to the ER. Needless to say that they were not invited back. Thankfully from the very beginning I separated myself from them professionally so I wasn’t hurt by their lack of professionalism; but it was a close call.
Statistics show that you do get what you pay for, whether it is a “wonder” car on craigslist that lasts a week or a fire performer who does not understand the basics of safety and ends up purchasing “kerosene” out of a gas station (even after you’ve offered to pick up the necessary lamp oil…..guess what same performers). This is not to say all hobbyists are bad; I know several who are amazing at what they do. But these are not hobbyists who are playing at being professionals (which at the end of the day makes them far more professional than they realize) they are hobbyists who are quite clear when they describe themselves as hobbyists.
This is the one that get’s me. Someone will offer me work at a rave promising “press” ;and that I will get my face out there and be seen. That somehow I can use this “gig” as a launching pad to doing further and further things. I will be blunt, unless someone takes my card when they videotape me, they ask for my number at the end of the show, or a performer says “We should talk”. I don’t have press.
Press is when a news photographer snaps a candid photo of you at a show and puts it in the paper. Press is when there is an event and your face is on the poster for it. Press is when someone takes a video of you and puts your name and email in the video description. That’s press, anything less than that is an insult.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a difference between someone offering you “press” and someone offering you a venue to practice material at without getting hounded or getting into trouble if you mess up a show. It is incredibly useful to have a place that you can practice new material and ideas without having to worry about what happens if you screw up. But that’s a different article.
I end up having to create my own press. I have to spend money and favors on people who specialize in recording video, creating set pieces, editing and adding audio who actually understand what I am attempting to do. I end up having to purchase advertising on gigmasters or in a paper somewhere. I have to purchase tablecloths and business cards and specialized car signs. I might even have to put money into youtube so my video’s come up first when people look for material. Because, real press costs someone money. That someone is me and that money has to come from somewhere.
Food for thought
One Reply to “Why Entertainers Can Be So Expensive: Four Reasons Why I Charge What I Charge”
Very well said.. I too as professional magician and Illusionist get the same thing way to often..