Your Work is Worth Something, Get Paid for your Side Hustle
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In the world of art and entertainment many of us find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of constantly getting asked to work for free. Most of my experience with this is in comedy, which unless you’re nationally famous, people still think is not “real” work, even when they are directly asking me to do it. Most people hate talking about this yet still find themselves stewing over it, I made a list of reasons of why I won’t work for free. This can feel hopeless in a big city that is oversaturated in entertainment, which is why the most important thing you can do is value yourself.
In the generation of side-hustles, passive income is one of the most slept-on strategies. This is basically money you could have by doing shit you already do, like using a rebate app or getting a credit card with a cash-back percentage. Take it a step further and imagine what you can do by thinking of time and talents as potential investments. You risk a lot in the beginning with the time and effort it takes to set up. By putting the work up front (honing craft and paying dues), you’re in fact creating a skill that can bring in income some of the time. The first step to normalizing the money conversation is entitlement.
To a degree, yes, we all need exposure, and depending on your experience level, exposure can be a worthwhile form of payment. That is for you to decide. If you are inexperienced, almost any stage time is going to be valuable. If you’ve been doing it at least a year and someone is asking you to perform, it’s because they chose you out of a plethora of people they could have asked. Is it SO crazy that you should ask if you will be compensated for the time that was just requested of you? IS IT?
Here are a few ways I justify my entitlement to get paid for my work:
Do other people want me?
If you get solicited for shows on a consistent basis, it’s because you have something people want. Ideally it’s your talent. Either way, your presence is desired. Back that up with some ego.
Do I have to travel?
Do you have to go far? Will it require an extra public transportation, gas or car rental expense? Consider it like someone asking you for a small donation. If someone asked you to perform at their show and also pay $20, would you do it? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Do I know this person?
In the comedy world, we often share a community of bar shows, a hunger for stage time, and if you’re lucky, friendships. If comic you like or respect is running a fun bar show with a great turnout and everyone’s telling jokes for drink tickets, that’s fucking great. On the flip side, you get asked to do a show by someone you’ve never heard of and they’re charging $10 admission. You run the risk that a person with no experience is putting on a shit show that will not even be fun, and they plan to pocket the money they make and never pay you for sitting in a weird bar for 3 hours thinking “WTF” on a loop, until you have a bad set at 11pm following punk band that is now breaking down their stuff behind you onstage.
And speaking of cover charges…
Are People Paying to See This Motherfucking Show?
If you are directly asked to perform on a show that people are paying to see, you should absolutely be paid. Without performers there is no show, thus, no product.
Yes, there are nuances to this. Sometimes the money isn’t going directly to the producer. Sometimes it’s a fundraiser. Sometimes they are only paying the headliner. If this is the case, you still have the right to know if they intend to pay you. You should ask, and the person who asked you to perform should not think this is weird. This way you can make the decision knowing all of the information going into it. For me personally, transparency goes a long way.
Note on Fundraiser Shows: A lot of people feel uncomfortable asking about money for a fundraiser show. Think of it this way: Is it a venue where rent is being paid? Are bartenders, caterers and other service workers being paid? Are the food and drinks being purchased? Why then, are entertainers always expected to work for free, as a default? This is not a popular opinion, but give it a think about why people feel entitled to us over other workers.
Am I Being Requested to do Extra Work?
Do they want me to host the show? Headline? Do I have to cater my set to be clean for this audience? Do they want me to do a lot of time? Am I being asked to be there way before the show starts or going up very late?
If there is a list of requirements beyond what is normal it feels less inclusive and more like helping a friend move. Except it’s not your friend, but this guy you know from Facebook. Asking me to do a ten minute set is one thing, demanding I cater to you for an entire evening means dollars, sorrynotsorry.
Am I being commodified?
Are you getting hit with the weirdest backhanded compliment of all? For example, someone wants to book you because they’re looking for more women because they want “diverse” shows. Or they are putting together an all woman lineup and clearly marketing it that way? If someone wants to book me because of my gender, it’s for one of two reasons: They need to look like they care, therefore I am valuable to their reputation. Or because their audience actually wants to see more female/femme comedians (imagine that!), and I am valuable to their target demographic. Either way, my gender is being marketed, which feels innately sexual, and thus worthy of putting a price on.
And speaking of selling sexuality, is it a dirty show? Does the theme involve something sexual or risque? Especially if you’re a woman or if the dirty show specifically features women, someone is literally using your identity to sell sex. For the record, I love a dirty show. But if someone is using me to make money and not compensating me, it feels like the bad kind of dirty.
Side note: if this makes uncomfortable in general, you should always feel comfortable saying no.
Got the gig but didn’t get paid
We know the horror story, and many of us have lived it. You were told a gig paid a certain amount, you do the time and the person who solicited you mysteriously never mentions money or “forgets” about it. Sometimes this is because that person is never going to pay you, and let that rage fuel your ego.
Sometimes it is because they do plan to pay you but they’re not prioritizing it. Remind the hell out of that person. Ask when you should expect the payment. If that date comes and goes, bring it up. In the realm of side gigs where no one is on a payroll, you have to advocate for yourself.
Comedy is the easiest example for me to use, but I’ve also started applying these concepts loosely to other random side hustles that may not be as clear-cut. The hardest part for a lot of us is simply getting the nerve to ask. Even if money is not involved, making the informed decision to do something without having to wonder makes a world of difference.
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