Quick note: This post only covers a fraction of what we can talk about on the ‘Don’t work for free’ subject. I’ll be covering this subject more in my upcoming book The EDM Dancer’s Little Business Handbook.

The Exposure Problem

Let’s start with a story: You train for years, working hard every day, dreaming about becoming a nightlife performer. The time has come for you to go out into the world and start getting gigs. You reach out to local clubs and a few days later you come home to find a new email from a promoter in your inbox. You’ve been invited to perform!

They want you to come in and be on time, you’ll be providing your own costume, and you’re expected to dance for six to ten 15-minute sets in front of hundreds of people who all paid to get in the venue. Everything looks great minus one major detail. There’s no mention of pay. You reach back out to the promoter about the missing info.

A few hours later, the promoter gets back to you: “We don’t have much of a budget for performers. Things are tight right now. Don’t worry though, you’ll get great exposure!”

Disappointed with this outcome, you push back and ask for more. You’ve seen other dancers there. You know the local rates for performers. There has to be some sort of compensation for your time…

The second response: “The best I can do is get you a +1 and 2 free drink tabs.”

You’ve just been asked to work for free.

Learning To Say No

Reality check: If you’ve been in the situation above and have still said yes to performing for exposure, you’re creating a problem for dancers and other professional performers in your local scene. You’re lowering the value of performers. Working for free is a race to the bottom, it lowers the bar for other working professional dancers and sets a pre-conceived notion that our art holds no value. It teaches the promoters and clubs to undervalue our craft.

Start saying no. If someone offers you a gig and wants to pay you with exposure, credit, fun, free drink tabs, not having to pay to get in, future possible opportunities, etc. Walk away from the gig. Thank them for their time, send them your rates and tell them to keep you in mind for future shows. Then move on. You’ll go further and faster in your performance career if you teach other people to treat you like a professional.

Know Your Worth

A professional doesn’t work for free. People who ask you to work for free do not value your time or your art. Knowing your worth is the first step in asking for pay.

So, what are you worth? Make sure to factor these things into your costs when you give local clubs and promoters your rate:

  • The local nightly rate for dancers in your area.
  • The costs of creating and maintaining your costumes and performance equipment.
  • The amount of time you spend and have spent training for performing.
  • The costs and time it takes to get to and from the venue.
  • How much you would have to make to break even for the event.
  • How much you need to make to pay your bills.
  • How much you need to make to continue training for future shows.

Once you know all of the things listed above, set your rate and start applying to shows. Commit to not working for free.

Don’t Work For Free Bonus Video: Mike Monteiro: F*ck You, Pay Me

Every freelancer, contract worker, designer, creative, and performer needs to watch this video. Take a few minutes out of your day and check this out.

How To Get Exposure

I’ll be covering this in my upcoming book: The EDM Dancer’s Little Business Handbook. Make sure you get on the email list for the book so you don’t miss any of these posts.