Over the course of my “professional” career as a fire spinner and performer, I have had the opportunity to entertain groups both large and small. Music Videos, Concerts, Headlining, and Private Parties are where it’s at as far as this line of work is concerned. And yet, there seems to be a great deal of confusion and miscommunication everyday on all fronts. And I believe it is time for all of the entertainers out there to begin standing up for ourselves and demanding respect.
Firstly, there is the issue of being taken seriously. At many events, fire spinners and hoopers are expected to attend, perform and provide ambiance “pro bono”. Free admission is dangled in front of us as if to say, “Of course we knew you’d want to come to this event anyway, but let us compensate you somehow”. Free drinks are usually thrown into the bargain, without thought or regard for the safety aspect of having drunken fire performers. And while there are some events that I would and have performed at for free because of the event, those are usually the ones which are coordinated by friends of ours in the Burner community. Which is to say, I will perform for free, for friends. But the assumption that we are merely “ravers” or “party go-ers” is not correct in all cases. Certainly there does, and always will exist, a contingent of the community whom will attend and perform at all sorts of parties for free. But this does not mean that we should simply lower our own expectations. Here’s a few major arguments in favor of us, as performers, being fairly compensated:
1. Think of all the countless hours many of us spend honing our craft. For some, it is more than others, and more than likely there is a great deal of love involved. But that does not make the energy put into the skills any less. Dancers do not dance purely for money. Actors do not act purely for money. Musicians do not play purely for money. There will always be love and caring for one’s craft involved, but you cannot allow that mentality to guilt you into taking gigs for little or no money. By accepting compensation for your work, it allows you to further your own pursuits. For many of us, money is scarce, and while we do this out of love, our real jobs can and do get in the way. With adequate compensation, we can afford the time needed to practice, perform, and purchase the best tools for the job.
2. There may be the counter-argument that the bands don’t get paid that much, and why should we be paid more than the headlining band? This obviously is in reference to smaller gigs, ones where the bands are usually not compensated much, and even that is divided amongst however many members of the band there are. But an argument can be made in favor of us as performers, that, while the band may not be making as much individually, they are getting publicity, fandom, and the opportunity to perhaps get “found” by record companies, managers, etc. Fire Performers don’t make albums. We don’t go on tour headlining large venues across America. We can’t sell T-Shirts, or Merch like a band can. All we have is ourselves and our performance. And while there are varying degrees of performance level, each show is singular in it’s own monetary value. The highest level of success for performers like us may be that of Michael Moschen, and that’s nowhere near the level of success that U2, ACDC, or any other great bands can achieve. And for many of us, private parties, corporate gigs, and larger scale public performances are the best there is. Essentially the comparison between ourselves and the band is not a valid one. And you can’t allow that to dictate your pricing.
3. People may try to entice you into taking lesser paying gigs by convincing you that this gig will lead to many more in the future. They might even tempt you with the, “I’m a booking agent” line. But, at least for myself, I have found that many booking agents are working for the client, and not necessarily the performer. Meaning that they will take what they can, within the client’s budget. This inevitably leads to underpaid performers, and many times, lack luster performances by people who may not have been performing very long. This will lead to both the client’s and the agent’s opinion that, while having felt the rate to be high for the performer, and then leading to less than adequate shows, they were right all along with the assumption that performers shouldn’t be, and aren’t worth what they are being paid. When in reality, the idea for many performances is that you get what you pay for. So if you pay the bare minimum for a performer, and only one or two people take the offer, more than likely, they are the less experienced performers, who are simply trying to break into the scene. Which is great for the new performers, but can end up leaving a sour taste in the client’s mouth when they were possibly expecting something a little more grand.
4. That same mentality of taking this gig for less, and having it lead to others is used when convincing the performer to take less on all of their gigs in order to create a higher volume of shows. This may work to some degree in the performers favor, but then you must understand that if you agree to lesser paying gigs, it can create an atmosphere where people feel that this is what you are actually worth. Imagine a scenario where a performer originally wants 150-200 for a gig. Details and performance level aside, this is what they are asking for. And that person is then convinced to take 75-100 per gig, with the expectation of increased volume. This sounds great in the long run. But over time, people forget that you were originally valuing yourself at 150, and instead see your value as 75. Eventually that will trickle into the community at large, creating a price point for all performers of 75 as that is what they are used to. Soon enough, people are convincing the newer performers to do it for even less, say 40-50 dollars a gig, at which point, you, the original performer, may be considered expensive by many standards. What then do you do? Others are stepping in and taking the gigs they can get at the now market value of 50, in order to increase the volume of gigs. You can no longer imagine a situation of getting back to your original price of 150, except upon special occasions, and you may be unwilling to perform for 50. This has been a Long Term Sacrifice for Short Term Success. And it affects everyone.
5. If you were to think of your performances in terms of being on a purely professional basis, then you must actually begin to figure out how much time you are spending on each gig, beyond actually being at the show. There are some performers who charge “per spin”. This may be easy to calculate, but it will lead to underpaid performers. A spin lasts 3-6 minutes. And in this case, how much will anyone really want to pay for 3-6 minutes? 15 dollars? 25 dollars? 50 dollars then begins to seem steep. And if you only spin poi, or hoop, or staff, then you are limited in the number of spins the client may want to see. So, say a client wants to see 2 spins from you, set an hour apart, paying you 25 dollars a spin. That’s 50 dollars for the gig. And there is no way, under these terms to ask for more. The client only wants 2 spins, so what more do you have to offer? But in this scenario you are actually spending at least 1.5-2 hours at the venue. From arrival, to preparation, to performance, to break, to second performance, to finally break-down, and This turns into a 2 hour gig. And while 25 dollars an hour may seem like good pay, remember that this gig may have conflicted with other gigs you could have gone to, and you most likely will not be working 40 hours at actual gigs a week. Maybe 1-2 gigs a night over a three day weekend. Which translates to roughly 6-12 hours at 25 dollars an hour, equaling 150-300 for a full weekend’s work. That’s not enough to pay the bills. And more than likely you will not have 2 gigs every night. All in all, if this is what you want to dedicate your life and livelihood to, then you must charge more, and charge by the hour, not the spin, to make a living. This will end up including practice time, travel time, advertising and promoting time, etc. To do this, and only this professionally, it is a full day’s work. And we should charge accordingly.
This may make this line of work seem entirely unappealing, and at times it feels that way. But then I spend time hanging out with all of the wonderful and talented people who do this both for fun and professionally, and I remember why I started all of this in the first place. I wouldn’t feel this strongly about these issues if I didn’t love what I do. I wouldn’t feel so strongly if I didn’t want to do what I do everyday.
I’m sure there will be people out there who do not agree, perhaps even strongly disagree with me. Everyone is more than welcome to their own opinions. And please feel free to provide constructive criticism to this article, but refrain, for the sake of professionalism, from simply bashing me and badmouthing me.
With love to all the spinners out there