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What Do I Charge as a Performer and Why?

Oct 27, 2020

What you charge to perform is a huge topic and one that can be confusing.  As a Specialty Act in Las Vegas for corporate events, I have great insight on this subject.  People call and ask me what I want to make, and if I answer wrong and charge too much I can lose the job, likewise if I charge to little I can lose the job, but the biggest concern are those who undercut other artist's pricing to get the job.  It hurts you and the industry.  Let me tell you the various reasons why.  


First consider this. When you get a job, you are making a connection and it's hopefully a connection that will bring you more and more jobs in the future.  As gig workers we meet a lot of connections.  We have to make sure those connections continue to thrive and bring us work because that results in more and more connections and more work in the future.  

Levels of talent

Here's something to consider and why it gets confusing.  All of us are at different levels in our careers, and also consider that an event planner may also be at different levels.  Example: An event planner working out of their house planning birthday party entertainment vs. planners finding major talent for corporate events.  These two levels of planners will hire different levels of talent.  So, there is work for every artist and there is talent for every job.

Price points explained

All price points and levels of talent can be utilized in the entertainment market.  The  event planner for backyard birthday parties marketing to neighbors might not afford top-name talent, where the Destination Management Company that puts on million dollar parties for billion dollar companies wants to get the $100,000 talent.  Both scenarios are different and therefore it's true that the pool of talent will be different and for that reason price points are different.

Starter jobs - placement

When we're starting out we can charge less and do the starter jobs like the backyard party planner hires for, or you might work for free to get a shot to do it, if you have no chance otherwise.  But realize that Free jobs should stop after one or two times.  You are there to gain the experience, but not to take up your time that you'd have available to perform professionally.  Once the experience is gained, and if we're decent at it we become worthy and skilled enough to get paid.

As we become better talent, our price goes up from there until you're skilled enough to do the big corporate events making 100k! However, sometimes entertainers fall into desperation charging too little and undercut other artists purposefully. They do not understand their worth or the industry standards, which can hurt the industry and ultimately hurts the artist themselves.

Here's where the problem comes in, and why there's a huge ethical question about what to charge and why and it's important to charge correctly.

What low pricing reflects

Don't get stuck charging too little and here's a reason why.  Let's use this example. If the two of us as entertainers can charge $600 for an event, and the agent is willing to hire each of us at $600 for an event, and the client is willing to pay $600 for an event, the only thing that you will do by charging $400 for the event is to make yourself look and seem

  • Desparate
  • Unqualified
  • Unworthy 
  • Untalented

Why?  When lowering your price beneath the others it makes you look inexperienced.  The other 3 artists that were asked to do the same job all requested $600, and you requested $400, so you are the only one who looks desperate or "new".  With this simple act, you just told the agent that you're unqualified. Now they know they're hiring someone inexperienced or not very good.  You are a newbie and they may not want that.

Yes, you may get lucky and get a job or two at $400 because they might want to try you out, or they may be greedy, or they may not care about their client.  They may even be hopeful that you are talented and they discover you. However, it's not certain that they will look at you as a professional ever again. they will expect you to charge them that lower fee. We don't get many chances to make a first impression.  Next time they call, they will offer you less than everyone else is getting, that's if they want you.  But, if they don't hire you, you'll be available to take more of those backyard parties, (you know, the ones that only pay $150, $450 less than you should have charged).  The choice is yours.  Put yourself in a higher category.

Agents have reputations too

The Agent has a reputation with the client, and the client expects a $600 talent.  However, since you charged less, they think you might not be up to the task. They think you might actually show up and be embarrassing, or worse yet, appalling, thus ruining their relationship with a billion dollar client.  So in reality, the agents don't want to risk that billion dollar client for a $200 saving.  

You'll need to get educated on what people pay for the job and only then will you figure out what to charge.  I don't want to go into much detail on this, but briefly explain that you'll consider which Agent you are working for, then consider the amount of time needed, and the occasion and duties required. Each aspect needs to have careful thought and pricing consideration, (for instance if there are rehearsals required in advance of the event, that would require extra time, and you'd need to charge for that).

Do your homework, and next time they call you, you'll be more expecting of the proper price.  Besides, how would you feel if everyone at the event made $200 more than you for the same amount of work?  Wouldn't you feel like the idiot?

How undercharging hurts your reputation and the industry

Hopefully you can see how undercharging for the purpose of getting jobs is the wrong reason to do it.  It may be okay if you are literally starting out, green, or perhaps not very good you may not know what's expected of you.  Being a pro means that you show up on time, you do everything required even when not asked, and you follow the rules. Yes there are rules as an entertainer. Tons of them.  Don't forget you are working for those corporate clients.  It's a real job!  You may have to prove yourself before they'll pay you.

Undercharging also hurts the entire industry and ensures you will never make the great kind of money another performer does doing the same job.  See, for years we'd been getting $600 until you came a long and one or two other newbies who charge less; And suddenly you've single handedly managed to reduce the minimum wage by $200 all by yourself, by not expecting what's always been paid and expected.  If anything, we should be getting a raise, but you have made that impossible, even for yourself in the future.

So by charging the optimal fee you manage to come off like

  • A professional
  • Someone who's worth it.
  • Someone who gets other jobs that pays them $600,
  • and if you do, you might take that job instead (so maybe you'll get even more $ if they really want you next time).

When to overcharge and why that's good or bad.

People can also overcharge, but it's usually for these reasons

  • There's a greater level of difficulty with their act vs. yours or
  • They have proven longevity in the business
  • They have a name, and people ask for them  
  • They will get paid that elsewhere because that's what they expect 

Don't worry about charging too much, as explained above it does not pose a problem with agents or clients.  Why? Because the agent knows why, and is able to tell them it's because of these scenarios:

  • Well, yes, she charges more because she's in the top shows.
  • If the artist takes a night off it would make her lose money so it has to be worth it.  
  • The artist is worth it because their reputation is known.
  • The client asked for them because they would pay anything to have them.

But it will be years before you get to that level, so having the right price helps your business grow.  If you try to overcharge now, believe me a lot will be expected of you.  Also, there are a limited number of jobs that can support a higher rate, so ultimately if the agent doesn't know you, again it might make you look uneducated, greedy, pompous and you will probably not get the job if you overcharge.

Here are the reasons to consider for what you charge. 

If you charge the going rate, the agents understand this going rate, the agents sells the client on this typical going rate and there's not much to be worried about getting the job. All their artists can easily be paid the going rate or even a bit higher considering the above.  FYI, those overcharging artist will probably charge double or triple what you have charged, and guess what, the client pays for it because they're worth it, so again don't lower it beneath the going rate.

Appearance is everything

The entertainment business is truly built on appearances, so you need to appear amazing in all aspects, even with what you charge. Agents are hoping you're their next rockstar. Don't start your career being lesser than. Realize your worth, do your homework.  Know what's expected and do that so you come prepared.  This is something that my colleagues and I have talked about for years, so follow these tips to be considered one of the best, not one of the worst. By all means keep the rates where they are because those before you worked hard to get them to that level!  By doing so you keep your dignity and reputation in tact.  

In closing, don't lower their perception of you by lowering your rate, making yourself look desperate and unworthy, unless you are, and then you can charge as you wish.  Only charge a lower rate if you are not worthy and have a lot to learn, but be honest, don't be slim shady. If you charge less for the wrong reasons, you will not have longevity and you will always be paid lower than everyone in the room. I've seen it happen and that is the definition of the "C" Act.  You don't want to unknowingly fall into that category.

If you ARE new and unqualified, I understand.  We all started somewhere.  Work for it and if I can be of any assistance with my programs about Showbiz, let me know.  I have a monthly Membership page that teaches so many showbiz tips and Insider Secrets™ including new exclusive training every month.  Check it out!

Tip of the day** If you are too new to even impress someone, let them know that you are willing to work with their pricing and say it's because "it's our first time together, I'm hoping you'll try me out so I can prove myself and learn." If you get hired, great, but next time they call, if they do, hold them to the higher rate once you're experienced.  If they aren't willing to pay you that, move on, there will be someone who does, if you're worth it.

Dream, Dare, & Do it,

Coty Alexander

Is Yo Biz Sho Biz?®

mailto:[email protected]

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