When to say No to a gig

I know that most of you will never want to turn down a gig, after all, who doesn’t love performing? The adrenaline, the adoration of your audience…..Web Happy's 2007 1

However, there are times when you should weigh up all the factors and decide if proceeding with the gig is really in your best interests.

Here is when I would consider saying no to a gig:

When the price isn’t right

“I would like x10 15 minute shows over two days, and my budget for the lot is $100”

Guess what my answer was?

I’ve talked a lot in recent weeks about undercutting and perceived value of performances and performers, so I won’t repeat myself. However turning down a gig because the pay isn’t fair is something that takes a great deal of maturity and confidence. It is unfortunately something that you will undoubtedly have to do in your career as a performer, and it is something that should be done tactfully but firmly. Have the confidence and self-assurance in you and your product to not take gigs that are below your worth and that may damage your perceived value and reputation.

BAE Systems gig 2013When safety is compromised

Safety refers to that of both you and your audience, and is a particularly important consideration with both aerial and fire acts.

For aerial acts, you will want to ensure that there is an appropriate place to rig your equipment (you may want to call in a professional rigger to inspect the venue and/or hang your gear for you) and that you have clear space underneath you, not above people. If it is a long “hang about” type gig, make sure that you get sufficient breaks for you to rest and recover your strength between sets.

For fire, I always insist on having an assistant present, on standby with wet towels and a fire blanket. You will want to have a designated area, such as a stage or podium, where your audience can’t get too close, especially if that audience are going to be kids or drunken people.

If these considerations can’t be accommodated for whatever reason, consider offering an alternative (LED instead of fire, for example), but if the client isn’t interested in this alternative, have no hesitation in saying no.

When it’s for a company/political party/not for profit with questionable leanings.Trapeze NICA 2005 2

I touched on this briefly in the post on performing for charities, but you may want to apply the same scrutiny to corporate clients. Make sure you do your research. Does the company have questionable ethics or environmental practices that you don’t want to be associated with? Then you don’t have to. Decide in accordance with your own moral code.

When I say this, this one can be a tricky situation to navigate for several reasons. Firstly, oftentimes, you don’t have the luxury of vetting the companies that you are going to be working for beforehand, especially if the gig is booked through an agent.

Secondly, you don’t want to get too pernickety with this, otherwise you’ll never take another gig again. No corporation will be squeaky clean. Decide what you can and can’t live with, according to your morals.

Thirdly, if you’re like most artists, cash flow may be an issue. You’ll have to weight up how much you’ll be getting for the gig vs how reprehensible you find the practices of given corporation. I know I’ve taken gigs for companies that I’ve not approved 100% of their practices because I’ve REALLY needed the money.

It’s always a difficult decision to turn down a gig, but at the end of the day, you need to do what’s in your best interest.


Charity Case: should you be charging?

At least a couple of times a year, I get a request in my inbox from someone looking for entertainment for a charity event. Now, I know you think, if ever there was a time for a professional artist to work for free, this would be it right? I mean, it’s for a good cause, and it’s got to be good for the feels is nothing else, Right? RIGHT??!!

Whilst it may seem heartless to ask a charity for money, remember that you are offering a professional service. You don’t want to agree to a performance when it may cost you time, money and heartache that you may not be able to spare. Here’s how I suggest navigating this situation.

What are other professionals doing?A Guide to the Journey of One's Mind 1

Whilst the whole idea of a charity event is to raise money and awareness for a given cause, you may want to find out how other professionals are being recompensed for their services (try not to be too brazen about this). Are people such as the venue, sound and light techies, caterers ect donating their time and services? What about the other entertainers? If they are all discounting or donating their services, then it’s probably appropriate for you to do so too.

Do your research on the organisation.

Sometimes, a charity that looks as good as gold may spend the majority of the money donated to it in good faith by well-meaning people on CEO salaries and unspecified “admin fees”. Others may just straight up be a front to give corporations or wealthy individuals’ tax breaks. As cynical as it sounds, you don’t want to be offering these type of organisations too much of a discount if any at all. They can afford your services.

Other groups may have a dark side that you do not want to be associated with. For example, a religious group that provides services for the homeless may be ravening homophobes, or a self-proclaimed “animal rights” group may advocate and enact euthanasia of healthy animals. In such cases, not only may you not want to donate your services, but you may not want to perform for these groups at all, depending on what aligns with your personal beliefs and moral code.

Discounting and donating a performance.Contortion Autum Sun Festival 2005

If a charity checks out, and is in aide of a genuine cause, but is not necessarily something that I would readily donate money to, I would offer my services at a discount, usually between %50 and %20 off from my corporate fee. The only time I donate a performance is when the organisation is one that I would consider donating money to anyway, if I had money to spare.

In either case, I still send the client an invoice for the full amount, with it either amended with my discounted rate, or “Fee voluntarily waived” added to it in the case of a donation. Why do this? Well, it comes back to that perceived value thing that I talked about in a previous post. If the client understands the market value of your act, then you are less likely to be taken for granted, and the value of your performance will be more appreciated.

As always, leave me a comment to let me know what you think.

Is it ever appropriate to work for free?

Is it ever appropriate to work for free?

I’m so very glad you asked! As a performer, you career will be filled with people asking you to perform your act for free. I have prepared this handy-dandy guide for you to determine whether or not that would be an appropriate action for you to take.

3182 9456For a bank, law firm, fast food chain or well-known clothing brand:


All of these can be labelled as “corporate clients”. They definitely can afford your services, and any events or promotions that they throw tend to be extravagant. If they tell you that they have “no budget” to pay entertainers, tactfully suggest that this is absolutely something that they should have budgeted for. After all, you can be sure as hell that the venue, caterers, sound and light tech, room dresser, wait staff and cleaners are being paid, what makes them think its ok not to pay performers?

For a small/local/family owned business:

NONet Ginnett 2011 19

Whilst these clients may have less cash to throw around on entertainment, you are still providing a professional service and should be paid accordingly. You may need to explain, business person to business person, the costs involved, both financial and time wise, in preparing a performance. They may decide that your services are out of their price range, but you will not be selling yourself short or devaluing your performance.

For your Mum’s 50th (or similar family member’s significant event)


20 hours in labour and you can’t even do one act for your dear old mum? Sheesh….

In all seriousness, there is no harm in performing for your family or close friends. They wouldn’t have paid for you to perform anyway, and it may be an infrequent opportunity to show off to them what you can do, especially if you frequently perform at private functions or overseas. And believe me; you’ll never have a more enthusiastic audience.

Performing for your family’s work however, is another story. It’s not unheard of for companies to approach their employees to ask their friends to perform in order to try and secure cheap/free entertainment.

For a Community event


Look around you. Are there marquees with stalls from local businesses? Or people selling their arts and crafts? Does the other entertainment consist of the local school jazz band and performances from the local ballet school or karate club?

Then congratulations! You are at a community event!

Now the reason I put a “maybe” label on this one is that I’ve have community events that have been happy to pay my fees, and then there are others that genuinely have no budget to spend. In the latter case this is what I’d do:

I would tell the client that as I am a professional and that performing is my income, I am unable to give my product away for free, however I can offer one or more of my students to perform, WITH THE EXPLICIT UNDERSTANDING THAT THEY WOULD BE RECEIVING A STUDENT PERFORMANCE, not a professional one. This would be a great opportunity for students to be able to perform in public, a fabulous promotion for my circus school, and the client gets an amazing circus performance as well. Win-win!

Contortion NICA 2005 3For cabaret/variety nights or Fringe shows


Performing at cabaret clubs can be a great low-pressure environment to try out new acts or material, or acts that would be inappropriate for a corporate audience for whatever reason. They are usually run as profit share for artists or you may be offered a percentage of ticket sales. Oftentimes the venue itself isn’t making a profit from these types of shows.

Participating in Fringe shows is also an opportunity to jump at even though there may be no financial remuneration. Usually there are other perks available to artists involved in Fringe festival shows, such as free entry to other shows, cheap food and drink and exclusive parties and bars, if you’re that way inclined.

In addition to this, being part of a Fringe show will give you a chance to flex your creative muscles and step outside your comfort zone, an opportunity not readily available when creating work for a corporate audience.

You know what’s even better than participating in a Fringe show? Creating your own!

For a charity event:Coles Gig 2013 1


I started writing for this segment, and I realised that I have so much to say on this topic that it deserved its very own post. Stay tuned!

Anyone having the gall to use the line “It’ll be great exposure” or “It’ll lead to more gigs”


Charge like a wounded bull. These are two of the most toxic lines of bullshit that anyone will ever try to feed you. Firstly, in my experience gigs rarely lead to more gigs, and secondly, even if they did, once a client has received your product for free once, they are unlikely to offer to pay for it. Would you offer to pay for something that you could get for free? Of course not, and neither will anyone offering you gigs for “exposure”.

My favourite line to use when asked to perform for exposure is “People die of exposure”.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Leave me a comment!

What are you worth as a performer?

Most performers are incredibly cagy when it comes to discussing how much they charge, for fear of being accused of price-fixing or forming a cartel. However I believe it is important to start a discussion in order to educate young and emerging performers as to what is an appropriate amount to charge for their services, as to avoid undercutting.

3182 9435So what do I charge?

Back in 2005, when I was still a teenager and freshly dropped out of Circus University, the first corporate booking agent whom I met with told me that I should be charging a MINUMUM of $500 for ground acts and $1000 for aerial acts. Now that I am older and have considerably more skill and experience, I still use this as my MINIMUM rate when quoting for gigs.

Other things to consider:

There are considerable other factors that you may need to consider when quoting

-Do they have a specific theme that you will need a costume for?

If you are going to have to spend money getting a costume made, or spending time making one yourself, you will want to pass that cost on to your client.

-Do you need a rigger?Web Happy's 2007

Depending on the venue, you may need a third party rigger to hang your equipment for you.  Personally, I insist that this cost is covered by the client directly, but if it is coming out of your pocket, make sure you pass it on.

-Do you need to travel or stay overnight?

Again, I insist that flights and accommodation are something that the client pays for directly. If I need to drive to a gig, if it is over a 40km drive, then I charge an 80c per km levy, which is the maximum such levy allowed by the ATO.

-Is it on a special occasion, such as New Year’s Eve?

On such occasions, when you’d perhaps rather be enjoying yourself than working shouldn’t you be charging more? Most performers, including myself, charge extra for such days, up to double on nights such as New Year’s.

Again, if you are a performer and you have something to say about this, I’d love your input! Leave me a comment!