Pricing Your Show
Fee Strategies For Entertainers

This topic comes up again and again. Every entertainer asks at some point:

How Much Should I Charge For A Show?

And chances are, when you asked the question, you received different responses.

Pricing strategies for performers vary.

What entertainers charge for a gig depends on a whole range of options.

  • Some price based on their own perceived value.
  • Others price according to the markets they work.
  • Many charge according to their own personal needs.
  • Professionals tend to structure their fees like a business.

What is the right method?

Is there only one way of doing this?

And can’t I just tell you what to charge?

First, you’ve got to remember these facts:
1. I don’t know your skill level.
2. I don’t know how entertaining you are.
3. I don’t know how much experience you have.
4. I don’t know your expenses.

With that in mind, I’m going to offer several insights into one of the most challenging questions in show business. By the end of this article, you should understand how to price your act with confidence.

Few entertainers start out with paid shows.

They have no experience. Without experience you won’t know what your act is worth.

Free performances and open mics are fine during this time. As long as the free shows do not infringe on someone elses’ opportunity to earn a living.

I give this example:
A new magician wanted to do free shows at county fairs. His feeling was that they had no budget. (At least, that is what they said.)

I surprised him when I explained that some performers make a good living playing county fairs. His “free” shows would have prevented a professional act from getting that gig.

The quality, since this magician was just starting, would have been lower. That would lower the expectations of entertainment’s draw. Over time, fees would drop. Why pay for something that can be had for free & didn’t produce attendance results?

But free shows are important!

It is during this free show period that your act begins to evolve. As you get better, someone will approach you and finally ask:

What do you charge for a show?

Now that you know your act has some value, you’ve got to establish a fee.

I realize at this point in your career, you want that show!

Most entertainers undervalue themselves. It is a common paranoia that a high fee will lose them work, or that clients want the lowest price.

Well guess what – not everyone shops at Walmart. A low fee can lose gigs too.

So I’d like you to drop that lowest fee concept at the start. It just is not true.

Doing Your Homework …

Many acts pick a fee without doing their homework. Guessing doesn’t always work out well.

It is always a good idea to study what similar acts are charging. There are ethical and unethical ways to do this. Please don’t dip into the murky waters. You wouldn’t appreciate it if someone did it to you.

One magician “guru” used to advocate calling your competition and acting like you wanted to book a show.

This is wrong on so many levels – do not do that!

It is also rude to ask someone what they charge. Especially if they view you as competition.

If you ask an act, chances are you will get a lie. Why? It makes them look better.

I remember when GigMasters.com first came out. The act had to put a price range on their listing. What many didn’t know was that there was a small button by their profile listing. People could click that to see their last 5 quotes. I found it very revealing. Acts who claimed they charged $1,000 – $5,000 were bidding $100 to $250.

So how do you get those prices?

Starting with sites like Gigmasters.com or GigSalad.com will give you an idea of fee ranges. (Even if some inflate their true value.)

You can also check out entertainers’ websites. Some place their fees on their site. They figure it saves them and their prospects time. I disagree with that, but if it works for them there is no reason you can’t take advantage of the fact.

And that said, never try to undercut another act just to get a show. Being the cheapest will lower you in the eyes of your client. Cheap acts seldom get treated with respect.

Some of the larger talent agencies list price ranges on their websites. Agents need to know your pricing. They don’t have time to call around and ask when working with a client. Chances are, those agent ranges are very close to what the act charges.

Caveat: Agents take a commission. Most go anywhere from 15-25% You may assume the acts don’t actually charge that much. But a true professional has a rate. If a client goes to an agent, and then tries to contact the act directly, they SHOULD be quoted the same rate. This is a topic for another day though!

While you won’t start in the budget on the talent agency sites, it is worthy to set those fees as a future goal. It gives you motivation to continue to improve your act.

Making friends with other entertainers is the best place to get information. Once you have established a relationship, then ask for their help on pricing. True friends will offer advice.

Before You Answer “How Much Do You Charge …”

Remember: No two shows are the same. Even if your act doesn’t change, the events will.

They will vary by:

  • Number of people.
  • Age range of the audience.
  • Type of event.
  • Reason for event.
  • Location.
  • Technical requirements.
  • Time length (of event & program).
  • Dress code.
  • and Expectations.

You can’t give a quote without understanding exactly what is going on. That would be like a doctor prescribing medicine before you even tell him or her your symptoms.

Most clients have never booked entertainment before. They don’t know what they need. They just know they want a show.

Because they do not know what to ask, price is usually the first thing they think of.

It is part of your job to help them determine if you are the right act for their situation. This step will raise you above the average act and serve you well.

Please never forget this – always know what you are going into before you ever quote a price.

Methods For Pricing Your Act

1. What is your budget?

This question scares most clients and acts. It shouldn’t. I’ve been a professional entertainer for over 30 years. This question saves time and frustration for both you and the client.

From the client’s point of view, they are afraid you will charge them more than you usually do. They want to hold that number close to their chest so you can’t see their hand.

From the artist’s point of view, it helps determine if the client can afford them.

I usually ask the question: What type of budget do you have for entertainment – AFTER I get all the other information on their event. The prospect at this point is used to answering questions and will often tell me.

If they refuse, I explain that knowing their budget will help determine if my quote will be in their price range. A real estate agent isn’t going to show a million dollar house to someone with a $500,000 budget. If my quote is going to be over their budget, perhaps I can offer suggestions of other acts they might talk with.

Once you know their budget, you need to consider:

  • What you have earned in the past. (If anything.)
  • What other acts charge for similar shows.
  • If you can physically do the show within their budget.

2. Pricing Shows To Your Market

Kid Show ventriloquist Mark Wade talks about getting an idea of what similar acts in your market charge. Laying those prices out from highest to lowest and selecting something near the top of the list.

Mark says: “You don’t want to be the highest priced act, but you don’t want to be the lowest price either.”

To do this, Mark made friends with clients in his market. One of them shared a whole stack of material sent by different acts. The true pricing and show information was right in front of him.

In the library market, many states have showcases. They usually print up a book or list of the acts and include pricing right there. The acts also get copies.

In the school market, some school agents & acts list pricing on their sites, along with travel charges.

Keep in mind that market fees tend to vary from place to place. The price a performer can charge in a heavily populated area may be more than in a rural area. This is especially true of birthday parties, libraries and school shows.

3. Show Pricing According To Your Needs

Mark’s suggestion for setting your market based fee is excellent, but it doesn’t take into account your needs. Your cost of living may be different. You may have a different lifestyle.

Other acts in the market may have “real jobs” and aren’t depending on a show to pay their bills.

Pricing comparative to other acts is a problem if you want to become a pro. So pricing according to your needs is usually the next step in the entertainer’s pricing evolution.

With this pricing strategy, you write down the amount you want to make from your show in a year. This gets divided down to the month.

Remember you will not perform every day. There will be days you are sending out promotional materials. Time spent making phone calls and hopefully booking shows.

You need to consider how many shows you may land in a given month. Divide this into that amount you need and you will find out what you must earn with each performance.

If you have savings, you may be able to adjust the rate so busy months such as the holiday season will make up for slower months.

Overall, this strategy is a good one, but it fails to take other things into account. That leads us to our final show pricing strategy:

4. Pricing The Professional Show

Instead of setting a yearly goal, this strategy helps you think like a business. You are the owner of an entertainment company. Now it is time to start thinking that way.

Ken Groves describes setting your fee in in detail in his book Breaking Down The Brick Walls Of Show Business. I will give you a glimpse of the steps here.

You need to gather your expenses. How much is your rent or mortgage? How much is your car payment? Electric Bill? Water & Gas? Internet? What do you spend on food each month? Any other bills? What do you put in the gas tank? How about health and homeowner insurance costs? Do you go out to dinner, clubs or the movies? Every expense you have during the year goes in there.

As in the last strategy, that is your bottom number. You need this to continue your current lifestyle.

Now, let’s discuss business expenses. Do you have equipment? That cost goes in there. You will eventually have to replace or update it.

Advertising? Liability Insurance? Business Auto Insurance? Printing? Internet expenses such as a website?

Think of every business expense you will have – phone, printing, office supplies, etc. Total these expenses and add them into your year. This is the amount you have to earn to stay in business.

(If you are part time, you may not feel like doing this. Trust me, it is worth it!)

Then there is the tax man. He will take a cut. And you haven’t even earned a profit or put away money for a rainy day yet.

So let’s add in retirement. What is your savings goal? You don’t want to be working for two weeks after your dead to cover the bills.

How about profit? Add that in too. You may want to get a raise someday. Maybe you will want to expand your lifestyle or business as you move forward.

With all of these numbers in place, we will do the same thing you did in the last strategy. You’ll need to figure out how many shows you can reasonably do in a month and divide this into your total.

Wow – you need to charge more huh?

Now you have an idea of what you need to get per show. If you work for less, you are hurting yourself.

But what happens if your market can’t suppport you?

Every market has a price range. You won’t get the same money for a birthday party that you will for a school. Campgrounds pay more than libraries. Fairs, festivals, comedy clubs, banquets, civic clubs, corporate, every market has a rate.

If you charge more than that market’s standard cap, you won’t work as much in that market. Plus, there is no rule saying you must limit yourself to one market.

I’m not telling you to be a jack of all trades. You can’t master everything. But people are not one dimensional. You can do other things and even explore other interests.

You can work library shows and corporate. I do. They are two different markets. They do not cross, my corporate clients are never exposed to my library marketing. Likewise the library clients aren’t subjected to information about my corporate shows. That would confuse them and make them question if my act is right for their needs.

These markets also have two very different price points.

How can I justify the rate change?

They are different markets. The programs are different. The service they receive is different.

You can have more than one fee.

What To Do If You Feel Your Fee Is More Than Your Worth

Remember that most acts undervalue themselves. You may be worth more than you realize. You can’t make a fee if you don’t charge it. (Although if you really aren’t worth it, you won’t work long.)

Of course, our minds can be insistent. Feeling unworthy can cause issues with nerves, affecting your performance. (Sorry if this part sounds like a Viagra commercial …)

In this case, you need to keep practicing until you develop the confidence to charge your fee.

If your audiences aren’t laughing constantly and coming up to book you after shows, keep working on the entertainment value.

There is no shame in having a day job during this period.

It may not be what you want, but it allows you the flexibility to charge less and continue to learn.

And that comment brings me to this:

Never stop learning and growing. Those two goals will help you to constantly improve and allow your rates to soar.

I’d love to hear from you!

I hope these thoughts and insights help you to price your act. Let me know! Or, if you have other methods I didn’t cover, feel free to share your ideas in the comments below!

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