Undercutting. You aren’t really helping yourself!
An open letter for those entering the industry.
by Alex Hughes.
The Australian touring and events market is in a bit of a mess currently and, in my experience, it has been in steady decline over the last ten years.
In a recent Facebook post/rant I expressed my frustrations with the overall touring market after being informed via email I had been unsuccessful in obtaining a new touring client.
Now due to the small size of the market, combined with the sheer amount of good skill out there, this can be a regular occurrence and is just part of being a touring professional in general.
However, this email got my feathers especially ruffled as not only did they have the audacity to suggest my rates were unreasonable they also laid out what the successful candidate had offered. The email reply from the artists management can be paraphrased as follows:
“Hello Alex, thanks for your design proposal. Unfortunately, we don’t see the value in spending that amount and have located someone who has been able to meet our ideal budget. They have stated they are more than happy to provide a design, program and operate the show for $150 per day without any of these extra charges for travel or pre production.”
When I read that I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. Someone clearly doesn’t value their work enough, or have many overheads, if they can afford to tour and design for that rate.
The profession of technical and creative operation and design has a serious and steep cost of entry and it isn’t a smooth transition. I calculated that I have spent close to 15 grand in the past few years on design and visualisation software alone, not to mention insurance.
If you choose to be in the industry for more than a few weeks you simply can’t afford to undercut and undervalue yourself like this.
Artist managers will never tell you that you’re charging too little, and no matter what you might think, you aren’t securing yourself a gig for life by vastly undercutting.
While things may be good for a while, artists and management can be a fickle bunch, and given the chance to work with someone with a certain profile, they will quickly jump at the chance to work with someone who can provide them a certain level of production and design.
The money they save on you can be used to pay for someone later when the artist gets large enough, and they need to up their production game. All it takes is a festival where you are back-to-back with another artist that amazes the crowd and people will start comparing your work to that of others.
It also seems to surprise people when I tell them that I have public liability insurance despite being mainly a programmer and designer. The prime example I provide, and I could provide many, is what if a light that you refocused fell out of a rig? Or you decided strobing a crowd a bit too hard was a good idea and someone in the audience had a bad reaction?
You might end up being the first ever person to have a lawsuit levelled against you for causing an epileptic fit. Now the chances it would come back to you might be very small but why take the risk?
Have you reviewed your liability and level of insurance recently?
I think what our industry is missing greatly is a freelance alliance and booking agency that looks out and manages technical creative staff properly. I would be very happy to give up a percentage of my rate to have someone that deals with bookings and manages me in a similar way to an artist.
I would love to provide you all with a link to my new business that serves that purpose, but I am a creative that doesn’t have time or the skill to create such an agency.
It also strikes me as a shame that there is no proper union that covers those who work outside of venue work properly. You certainly wouldn’t see a plumber or electrician work for the rates that we are on regularly. Of course, I wouldn’t let one that charged so much under market value anywhere near my house!
I am aware that sometimes work slows down and you have to take whatever work you are offered to pay your rent or mortgage, but there is a big difference between dropping your rate to pay some bills and totally undercutting everyone.
In conclusion, if you are charging a low-end rate, just remember that those who are pushing the cases can earn what you are asking for in a three hour call. I am not suggesting they aren’t as important as the tasks you are undertaking, but they are carrying a lot less risk than you are and are still making more money.