It is a very common belief that it is hard to make it financially solely as a performing artist, whether you are a musician, actor, dancer or an acrobatic. Another tricky one is that the audience wouldn’t want to pay, unless you already have a huge audience of thousands. Believe me, I see this a lot – if it costs anything, it is a trigger for many people. Why should we pay for culture?
I’ve been performing a lot over the last years, mostly as an artist and a singer, but also theater and dance. I’ve always wanted to be on the stage, so much that when I got to study music into a conservatory I used every single opportunity to perform. I just enjoyed and loved it so bad. And I still do, it’s like a happy drug for me.
Now as performing artists we often encounter situations where we are either doing a concert on our own or we are asked to perform somewhere. Let’s first take the handle on gigs we are asked to do.
We do have a standard value in money for our performance.
Basically I think, you should always ask to be paid. Always. But, now here comes a wise but: some gigs just have other value than the money. It might be an amazing place to perform, gain experience, get new audience, create cultural and/or local value, sell your CD’s etc. That is why we usually negotiate the price depending on the venue. We don’t turn down ”free” gigs straight out or we don’t turn it down if it is not paid well.
We turn it down if the venue sucks.
The thing about asking to be paid for your artistic work shows that you value yourself, your work AND the audience. But you value yourself also by thinking where you want to perform or not. Of course you have to earn your price – you’ve got to have something to be eligible for it. Are you performing high quality, are you on the edge of your evolution?
You’re not the only one who gains value from paying the ticket: so does the audience.
Now I am going to explain this to you. Let’s pick an imaginary artist, who wants to do a concert, and is asking for the audience to pay for the ticket. When people make the decision to pay for your art, they are already coming in with a deeper presence. If they paid for it, it is sure that they also listen to it, from the beginning to the end - you'll be able to create an act that is a whole. And that also means that they are there because they might actually be interested.
When the performance is free, it might mean that the audience is more easily distracted. They can wonder in and out, not be so concentrated and not maybe even so interested. So basically, both the audience and the artist benefit from the ticket fee. The concert will probably be better when it is NOT free. Just think about it: HOW MUCH fun would you have if the audience listened to you with present ears?
Of course you have logic of your own, and you can understand that this can not be generalised. If there is a project that is funded in some other way, it might be wise to keep the entrance free. Or if it just simply ”is not there yet”. Free concerts are a perfect way to gain new listeners!
So it is up to you to listen to your wisdom with this subject.
I do firmly encourage you to believe in your worth as an artist. I LOVE performing and I do it even if I don’t always get paid, but I also believe that it is something worth to be paid for. You are giving of your time and energetic value, so it is a decent exchange of energy. Just think about the time you use to prepare yourself and create this amazing work! Value your art, use your wisdom and love your work.
Photography: Xavier Bambu Locquet Vandenberghe