10 Things to Consider When Paying Performers


Whether you are an individual looking for entertainment for a birthday party/corporate event or a business owner hoping to bring in more customers with an event, there are many things that need consideration when paying performers.  You may have a limited budget, but performers cannot work for minimum wage.  If you can’t understand why entertainers charge so much, you may not understand what goes on behind the scenes.

1. Type of Performance

The first thing to consider is what kind of entertainment you want.  A standup comedian or solo musician will not charge as much as a burlesque dancer or drag queen.  We’ll discuss reasons they charge more below, but to put it simply, if it costs them more to produce the performance, they will charge more.  A solo performer will charge less than an ensemble.  Also remember that you get what you pay for, so make sure the entertainment you want fits your budget.

2. Length of Performance

You might think if someone performs for an hour they should be paid for an hour of work.  This is one area where performers and those paying them have squabbles.  That 1-hour performance required several hours of rehearsal and preparation.  If they’re rehearsing, they aren’t working to make money.  You have to pay performers a little something for their rehearsal time.  I like to follow the “Performance X 4” rule.  Multiply their performance time by 4.  If it’s a 15-minute performance, treat it like an hour.  If it’s a 1-hour performance, treat it like 4 hours.  The performer will appreciate that you acknowledged all the work they put into their art.

3. Costuming, Makeup, Props

The concern here is whether they have extra stuff or not.  For a performer, these things are like assets for a business.  New costumes, costume repairs, new makeup (because it’s not reusable), amps and instruments for musicians, and many other things cost money.  If you offer a performer money that doesn’t even cover the cost of the makeup they use, they will turn down your offer.

4. Liability Insurance

Many professional performers purchase their own liability insurance just like a business.  If they perform often enough, they’ll have year-round coverage, but some may only get insurance on a case by case basis.  This is an important tool in the payment negotiation.  You can offer to cover the performer on your insurance and pay them a little less because now they don’t have that extra expense.  If they insist on using their own insurance, they will ask for more money.

5. Travel Expenses

Even if the performer lives in your city, they will need gas or a ride to your place.  In either case, they have to spend money to get to the gig. Out of town performers will have to take a plane, train, or bus.  This is no different from writing off mileage for a business.  Always include a small payment amount for travel.

6. Marketing, Advertising, Promoting

Are you marketing the show or is the performer?  Birthday parties don’t need any marketing, but a public event does.  Some venues expect performers to promote their shows while the venue does nothing.  The performer will do some promotion either way, but the venue should as well.  It’s a two-way street.  If you want them to do it all because you don’t know anything about marketing, you should pay them for it.  Another tool for the payment negotiation.  You can offer to cover all the promotion and pay the entertainers a little less.

7. Original Work or Copyrighted Material

What is copyrightable? Two things are required for a copyright. The work must be original, and the work must be written down, recorded, or otherwise fixed such as filmed, painted, typed, etc…  Some examples are books, magazines, newspapers, poems, songs, plays, photographs, paintings, sculptures, films, and designs.  Letters, speeches, and fictional characters are also copyrightable. Original work by an entertainer could be music, comedy, choreography, and even their costume.  If they are showcasing their original intellectual property, they should be compensated appropriately.  Likewise, if it’s not their original work, they’ll need a license to use it.  Licensing intellectual property cost money.  Will you provide the music license for their performance or do you expect them to get it?

8. Can They Draw a Crowd

If they’re a new, unknown performer you can pay them a little less because there’s a risk their performance won’t be at its best.  A seasoned performer that can sell out the house because they’re well known will charge more for their time.  People improve skills over time.  The longer someone has been doing something, the more they can charge for that service or skill.

9. Are They Selling Merchandise

Not all entertainers have extra stuff for sale.  Those that do may offer a percentage of sales to the venue.  You can offer to pay they performer less but take a smaller percentage of their sales or, vice versa, pay them more but take a higher percentage of sales.  If they have no merchandise, there’s nothing to discuss.

10. Are They Professional

I mentioned earlier that you get what you pay for.  A performer may not charge much but they could be a pain to work with.  It’s better to pay a little more for someone you know will be professional and courteous.  However, just because someone charges more doesn’t mean they’re professional. Even famous movie stars can be a pain to work with.  Get character references if you need to, but always know what kind of person you’re hiring.

These are just a few things to think about when agreeing to pay an entertainer for their time.  If you’re not willing to discuss all these things before agreeing to pay someone, you likely will have trouble hiring performers. Once you have a working relationship with a performer, understand why they may ask for more money for different performances.  Just because they agreed to one amount in the past does not mean they will always agree to that amount.

James Pack is the managing owner of VaudVil and a self-published author of poetry and fiction. Information about his publishing credits can be found on his personal blog TheJamesPack.com.  He resides in Tucson, AZ.

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