If you deal in the arts, no matter if it is acting, singing, comedy, photography, or drawing, you will run into someone that isn’t willing to pay you but will instead insist that it is an opportunity to get paid down the line. Let’s discuss how utterly ridiculous this is as a concept.
Now, before I go any further I think it should be stated that yes, there are times when you will have to work for little or no pay to get to the level you want to get. If you are an open micer and you want to start getting paid, you may have to go to a club and do a guest set (that is a free spot at a comedy show that is usually under 10 minutes). You might have to go do a show somewhere for less than standard fare or without other luxuries like a hotel room. The thing is you have to be smart about these situations. If you are already getting work with a booker it isn’t a good idea to drive 3 hours to do a guest set. The purpose of doing things like this is to show the bookers and promoters that you deserve to be getting paid for your services.
The inspiration for this article is twofold. One was a Craigslist post that a friend shared with me from some bar that wanted performers to perform for free for four hours. It wasn’t a festival or something like that it was just a bar that wanted entertainment and not pay for it. It was disgusting to look at. The way it was written was as if they were doing anyone a favor by suggesting that working for hours for no compensation was a good thing. I bet I couldn’t walk in there and get a drink based on them having the opportunity to sell me one later, so why did they think they could do that to artists? It comes down to a lack of respect.
See, people that ask you to do a show for free or on this whole “exposure” thing don’t respect what you actually do. They have an idea of what you do, and it is extremely simplified. For bands, people like this assume that you just plug some stuff into an outlet and rock out. They don’t take into account the equipment you have to buy and maintain and the set up or the fact that you have to learn how to play the instruments in the first place. For comics they just assume that you walk up on stage and just start being funny. That everything you do is just a by product of being funny. It is not taken into account that you have worked crafting these jokes to a nice shiny point. It’s sad.
It could also be because they are just trying to take advantage of you. A lot of people in the bar business have an idea that entertainment cost money, but they don’t give a shit. They want to get one over on you. Remember when I said earlier that the inspiration for this article was twofold. Well, the second fold (I don’t even know if that’s a thing) is with a theater in town called the Bing Crosby theater. A lot of comedy has been done there lately and with each show the comics have been getting less and less. Instead they are being told that it is a chance to get seen by a large amount of people and get more money down the road. What bothers me personally about this is that young comics eat that shit up. They believe that if they do a theater that they will somehow get known and get the bookings. I have turned down several shows there because it was heavy on the opportunity and slacking on the cash.
I have had so many people come up to me over the years asking me to do a show for them or with them and I have learned to spot when I am about to be feed a spoonful of bullshit. Most bookers will tell you right off the bat how much money to expect. If they say they don’t know how much you can get out of the show don’t accept it. Don’t tie yourself down and then get fucked. That happened when I did a show once. I just accepted the show and when I got there the guy gave me 30 bucks. If it is an organization, even a non profit, and they don’t have a number when they contact you that is a red flag. These places know how much money they have set aside for this. They are trying to get you for nothing. There is a non profit that operates shows at the Bing Crosby Theater. Every show they have put on in the past 2 years has been terrible for the comics and good for them. Just because they are non profit doesn’t mean they are altruist. Here is the big one. If the person putting on the show says that the first show isn’t making any money because the bar wants to see it and there will be paid shows later…balk on that. If you do the first show for free, then who is doing the next show for money? You may not be able to go back in there and make money off the show. This is also an indication that the bar knows that they are not going to pay for any shows in the future and they just want to put on a show and not pay the talent.
This is more about not getting taken advantage of then trying to be a cut throat capitalist. Do you want to do this as a living? Then you have to be willing to stand your ground and let it be known that your work is worth paying for. I have been in situations where I felt like a dick because I have turned down a group that was paying everyone except me because they thought they could get someone to do 20 minutes of yuk yuks for nothing. I have had to turn down shows with people that I consider friends because it didn’t sound good. I am not the best business man. If I were I would be getting way more views on this blog then it currently gets. I just try not to get screwed and I hate when people get taken advantage of. Don’t be afraid to say no to an opportunity. Unless it’s SNL or something. You hop on a train and do that shit.