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Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Why Performers Are Worth Their Fees

by Judy Pancoast
Educational Entertainer and Creator of KidPop

A multiple award-winning singer/songwriter, Judy Pancoast has entertained tens of thousands of children and their parents from Maine to Tennessee. Judy’s performances are highly energetic and filled with many styles of original, upbeat music. With several recordings to her credit, her Candy cassette won the prestigious Parent’s Choice Award. She also won the International Children's Music Web "Best Song for Young Children" for her songs, 'Swimmin' in Jello' in 1999 and for 'The Potty Dance' in 2000.

My name is Judy Pancoast and I make my living as a family entertainer, songwriter, musician and independent recording artist. Recently, I attended a meeting of a local community service club where I am simply a member, not wearing my performer ‘hat' (although I have volunteered my services in that capacity for the organization in the past.). The entertainment committee chairperson was offering the information she had gathered on available magicians for our upcoming Community Halloween party. She was listing their fees, which, for the most part, sounded reasonable to me, when one of the other members shouted out "He wants HOW MUCH? Holy Moley, I must be in the wrong business!" Everyone chuckled, as I kept my lips tightly zipped. Frustrating as it is, this is not an uncommon reaction, and it raises a good point. Why DO performers command such high fees?

The answer can be found in looking at the three ways performers make themselves worth it.

Performers spend countless hours, often from the time they are young, learning and preparing their craft in order to put on the best possible show. While many people in non-performing professions are paid for on-the-job training, no one is there to pay the performer as he or she learns and practices.

Here are just some of the ways I spend my "non-paid" hours in order to keep myself in business and available to perform for your function:

  • Practicing my instrument
  • Writing new songs
  • Recording new songs
  • Researching and developing new program themes
  • Training my dancers
  • Making phone calls to search for gigs
  • Writing letters to search for gigs
  • Developing publicity materials, including, but not limited to, press release and web-site maintenance
  • Planning each individual performance to meet the particular presenter’s needs
  • Researching and buying new equipment
  • Traveling to and from shows, dance rehearsals, etc.

    A performer must constantly write new songs, develop new routines or learn new illusions to keep their shows fresh and unique, and the more time spent on these practices, the better the performance, and the happier the audience. The performer’s fees don’t just reflect the hour or so that they spend with the audience, but all that preparation time as well. If you were to divide up most performers’ fees by the hours they spend working behind the scenes, you’d learn that many of us are barely making minimum wage!

    When the average person goes to work, most of the tools he or she needs for the job are provided. Not so for the self-employed entertainer. The expenses are many: sound systems, instruments, cords, magical illusions, performance clothing, stage decorations, vehicles, vehicle maintenance; the list is long and varies with each individual act. The more elaborate the show, the more exciting the performance, and, once again, the happier the audience. The more complete an act is (bringing their own sound system, for example) the less worries for the buyer. I know of one magic act that performs at countless fairs. They bring their own stage (which they offer to share with other performers), sound system, and even offer a racing pig act to the fairs where they do their magic show. They have a lot to offer the buyer and the audience, and their fees reflect that. They must be worth every penny, because they never lack for work. But I can’t even imagine what that traveling bus/truck/stage rig set them back, and I know they’re still paying it off!

    What would you expect to pay for a world famous performer, Celine Dion for example, to perform at your event? Lots of money, no doubt! But think of the people she would draw! Now, you probably don’t have Celine’s fees in your budget, but you are most likely looking for a performer who will not only put on a great show, but will draw people to your event. Someone with "marquee value." Someone known and loved in your community, in your state, in your part of the world. How did that entertainer get to be so popular? Was it all because of their natural talent?
    Not usually. Even the most talented performer had to start somewhere, and that means doing a lot of free shows. Some people perform on the street, others do lots of charity events, but whatever they’ve done, you can bet they’ve done a lot of it for "the exposure," and then eaten lots of macaroni and cheese. If your budget is tight and you don’t care about "marquee value", perhaps you should look to hire a newer performer who is looking for a chance to prove herself. But please, don’t ask an established performer to work for free. If you tell them you’re a charitable organization, perhaps they’ll give you a reduced rate, or they may even offer to do the show gratis. But please remember that when a performer is doing a free show, they’re giving up the chance to work for money somewhere else, so don’t expect to get a free or reduced rate during the summer season especially. That’s when most of us make the majority of our bread and butter.
    In addition to doing lots of free work on the way up, you can bet that an established performer has spent a lot of money on publicity. Promotional packets, posters, creating and mailing press releases, professional photos, writing, producing and distributing recordings, doing community access TV (unpaid) all of these things and more are out-of-pocket expenses that a performer supports in order to make his or her name valuable to you. I purchase thousands of 5x7 photos every year to autograph and hand out for free after my shows. Some performers will also be able to provide you with a press kit to promote your event, including, but not limited to, radio and newspaper press releases, posters, professional photos, and produced radio and TV spots. This is all a value to you and must be taken into consideration when deciding whether a performer’s fees are reasonable.

    As with any profession, the more experience a person has, the more he or she should expect to be paid. When you are willing to pay a fair price for a seasoned performer, you re getting a person who has done all of the above and has the skills and reputation to prove it. A seasoned performer can walk into your venue ready for anything. Power outage? No problem. The principal wants the kindergartners at the assembly at the last minute? No problem. It’s Grandchildren Day at the nursing home but there are only four kids there and a room full of residents? No problem. A seasoned entertainer can take just about any situation and turn it into a fun and memorable time for all concerned.

    There are no guarantees in show-biz. How many times I’m hired is directly related to the effort I put into creating the best possible entertainment for your audience. Even then, there can be slow times. I may work daily in summer, but have only two or three gigs in January. Still, when I’m driving home through the ice and snow after my reduced-fee show and I think of the laughter, and the dancing, and the smiles on the faces of the kids as I gave them my autograph, then I know I’m in the right profession, and I’m grateful once again to you, for allowing me to make my living this way.

    Copyright 2002, Judy Pancoast. For more information, please visit Judy's website at http://www.judypancoast.com.

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