Performing for free………only sometimes!

bc5d2219_stdI have been following several threads online that have been discussing, in a quite heated manner, the pros and cons of doing free shows. This has certainly been something that has been debated ever since I can remember—without any definitive results. I suspect that so many different conditions are involved in the matter that there will never be a clear-cut answer to the situation.

I feel that there will always be a place for magicians to decide they want to use their talents to benefit a good cause, whether one on one, or in the form of a fund-raiser for good charity causes. It is very satisfying to be able to contribute a show and know that you have done some good by your actions. Without wishing to be hokey, it can really make the world a better place.

Where the situation gets a little problematic is when you realize that you have been taken advantage off. For instance is everyone getting a salary except the performer, this is often the case and it definitely rubs me the wrong way. There does seem to be a culture of being dismissive in handling a performer due to the fact that the service he renders is primarily an artistic one. I don’t like this one little bit and feel no need to put up with it.

I have been asked to perform at events when it has been quite obvious to me that the inclusion of an entertainer was a last minute “throwaway” idea, and I find this less than flattering. It is usually also an indication that your treatment if you perform will be just as casually handled. If this is the case, at this point in my career I generally point out that I choose my charity shows carefully and am not in a position to help them. I wish them good luck, behave pleasantly, but do NOT suggest other performers who might be able to help them.

The red flag that I find the most disturbing in these situations is the tired old cliché they sometimes trot out that you will be able to benefit from bc5d2300_stdthe exposure offered by the event. This is almost never true. By making a statement of this sort I feel the potential client is just trying to influence you in a rather insulting fashion. Without making a big deal about it, I just point out to them that my goals in entertainment are a little more specific than the nebulous promise of exposure. It has always been my experience that free shows lead to more free shows.

There are also occasions when a very little enquiry leads you to realize that in performing a free show you may actually be taking a paid show from the hands of a professional performer who might actually need the show. I don’t think this is at all acceptable and it should never be encouraged or countenanced by any ethical performer. I really didn’t need to say though, or did I?

bc5d2243_stdIt is vital that we raise the communal standards of the magic world in our handling of these tricky issues of pro bona or barter performances. While every situation is different, I am usually amazed at the amount of nerve displayed by potential non-paying clients when dealing with magicians. It really doesn’t exist in anything like the same manner in most other professions. No one asks a comedian to do two hours of strolling magic at a charity event!

If an established charity or a truly good cause asks you to donate your services for an event then you have every right to happily agree to do so. However, if you are abetting a manner of dealing with the magic fraternity that in any way belittles or diminishes them, you need to be careful to show higher standards than the potential booker. Point out that you should be treated as a professional even if the organizers want to handle your booking as an amateur event. This is just common sense.

Make your decision based on the individual event and the way it is presented to you, however don’t look back and moan about it later if you get it wrong. The key information about these kind of events can usually be discerned when you are initially being asked to perform, so make sure you ask the right questions. Take the time to get it right. I never like to hear magicians deriding other entertainers who perform at charity events, however I do think those events should really be legitimate charity events.

~ by Nick Lewin on November 21, 2014.

4 Responses to “Performing for free………only sometimes!”

  1. When Anthony and I first started doing magic together, we donated shows to #1 get visibility and #2 get performance miles on our show. We soon found out that when you cost “nothing” you get treated like “nothing” and thankfully we didn’t have a strong need to solicit shows any longer, but we did feel a need to give back to the community. When a 501C3 (charity) requests a show for “exposure” or a “tax deduction”, we explain to them our CPA says our time isn’t tax deductible. We explain we can do the show for pay, and this is our rate. To keep everything good with the IRS and our CPA, they pay us “X” amount and we will they write a check to the charity for “X” amount so we do get the deduction and the books come out straight. If they agree to this, we send our rider. We get so many requests we put up a “donations” page on our website the request have boiled down to the serious few. Anthony and I have our own personal charities we believe in and donate to every year with our own money or labor. Dawn

  2. What a great response! I hope everyone reads it. You guys are doing it right!

  3. Nick, for many years I believed in the above response so that it was measurable—and you were certainly treated in a more respectful manner. The “exposure” offer can also work if they will discuss their promotional/media strategy with you. If they cooperate you can explain what kind of measurable exposure you need. That is to say, you will need an additional page on their event website with your photo and bio, you want to be mentioned in all news releases with a photo or action clip embedded. You want your name included on posters and in all print advertising for the event, plus a brief clip in TV and radio PSAs. And offer your services to be interviewed for TV/Radio interviews about the event. Your one-page media bio and pic should be included in any media promo kits–electronic or otherwise. You will also have an recorded introduction which can be played over the PA system or one that can be used by the emcee (This will make sure you get a professional introduction). Finally, if they are printing a program you need a page for your photo and bio (you can also agree to a half-page if necessary). And do you want one or more banners displayed?
    Now that is what I call “exposure” not some vague promise which usually amounts to nothing. There may be some other promotional opportunites like a promo piece on the back of the tickets or access to their mailing list. I believe that it pays to draw up a letter of agreement or contract clearly setting out what you need from them in return for your services as an entertainer. They will probably be doing this for the “Rock Group” or TV personality—this is how you get your fair share in return. You must also request a copy of their promotional materials so you can monitor the situation.

  4. Nicely said Clive. I am delighted you added that comment!

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