Circus News

Negotiating an Artist Contract, a Complicated But an Essential Skill

As a self-employed artist, you have already negotiated many contracts but have you done it correctly? Did you forget to add or negotiate points and regret it afterwards? Did the employer ask you for more things afterwards than what was negotiated and not paid for? Had you really thought of everything? You will probably answer yes to at least one of these questions. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone, even the most experienced professional! 

First of all, it must be understood that a contract of employment is the pillar of an agreement. Whatever happens, it will always be on this document that we will come back to if something does not work. There are several types of clients, but overall, there are really only two, either a long-term commitment with a specific show, or a short-term commitment for one or more private performances. In both cases, this requires a good evaluation from you.

Scenario with a Long-Term Commitment with a Show

Usually the artists are involved in the whole show and not just for the presentation of the act. The artists’ fees are essentially the same, with a few differences. The pedigree of the act, your years of experience on stage and your involvement in the show (if you present 2 disciplines in the show or if, in addition, you play music for example) come into play. The price also varies if the commitment is for 1 month or 2 years, if the employer guarantees a specific number of performances (for example, Cirque du Soleil usually guarantees 300 performances per year for its big top tours), if the employer provides in addition to per diems, accommodation, transportation, which is often the case for tours, or if the employer only gives a fee, which is often the case for fixed shows.

Scenario with a One-Time Commitment

In this case, you are asked to come and present your number either alone or as part of a small representation of 3 to 5 numbers. Many factors come into this scenario: the Wow factor, is the act a solo, duo, trio? For example, a solo number may sell for $2,000, a duet for $2,500 and a trio for $3,000 for an evening performance. Then come other considerations, such as the market. The European market is more generous than the North American market. It is easy to sell a 2,000USD issue for 2,000 euros (2230USD) and even 2500 euros.  To the amount of the fee we must also add essential elements, transport, the number of days of rehearsals, if you are an aerialist, will they provide you with a rigger, accommodation, etc…..? If you are contacted for a project that requires 5 days including travel and rehearsals, you will not be charged the same fee as a performance given in your own city that requires only one working day. I recommend calculating about $200 per day more after three days.

Rule number 1: Ask as Many Questions as Possible

Prepare a simple form to be filled in with:

  • Are you dealing directly with the employer or a middle person ? If it is a middle person, they usually add a commission when then finalize the engagement or they can ask you for a finders fee.
  • Where the performance(s) take place
  • How many performances
  • How many rehearsals per week – how many hours per day, how much rehearsals are paid for
  • What is the per diem (life costs quite a bit more in London than in Kansas City)
  • Accommodation – single or double rooms, in apartments (In North America, the size of a double room is equivalent to three single rooms in Europe!)
  • What insurance do they provide you with (if the project is in another country, will they provide emergency travel medical insurance and liability insurance ?)
  • What is the show, its duration, the number of artists, the context of the performances – indoors, outdoors.
  • If the commitment is long-term, what happens if you are injured and cannot work for several weeks
  • Are there any non-resident taxes, will you need a visa?
Rule Number 2: Make a Clear and Detailed Estimate to the Client

This part is more applicable in the case of a one-time commitmentin a private function. One thing I’ve learned in 30 years of experience is that customers hate unexpected costs. So, the more information you have collected, the more accurate you can give an assessment. I strongly recommend to make a detailed estimate to the client with the amounts indicated (basic fee, transport costs (plane, taxi), extra luggage costs, additional day charges, rehearsals etc…). This must be clearly presented with verified amounts.

Rule Number 3: Everything is Negotiable

It is important to understand who your interlocutor is. Is it the client directly or is it an intermediary who has the mandate to do a casting, is it the interlocutor who makes a pitch?

The important thing is that the agreement is a win-win situation. We can negotiate some points, but never forget that you have your value, that it took you years to put on your act, and train daily to present it perfectly every time, that you have paid dearly for coaches or schools to train you. People will very often try to negotiate you down, but, please, it is better to take the time to explain to a client why your work is worth such a price than to accept a very low proposal. Yes, there is sometimes an urgent need for rent, debt or other, but in the long term, you will always lose.

Rule Number 4: Validate Your Proposal

Once the agreement has been reached, recap it all by email and require the client to respond with a written confirmation. Or, that the client send you a confirmation detailing the entire agreement.

Rule Number 5: Have an Adaptable Standard Contract and Know How to Read a Contract

When dealing with an employer for a series of representations, they usually have their own contracts and their legal counsel will adapt the contract according to the agreement made with the other party. It is therefore necessary to read each clause carefully, hoping that it will not be a legal gibberish and that everything will be understandable. This contract will be the reference for the commitment. If the employer then asks you to go beyond that, you’ll have to sit down and talk about what else they offer. Sometimes they are just little things, but in the long run they can accumulate and it becomes irritating.

When dealing with a private engagement, most of the time, the client does not have a standard contract or if he has one, it is rarely made for a circus act. The ideal is to have your own standard contract. The difference between your contract and the customer’s contract is that yours will protect you better while the customer’s contract is mainly used to protect him.

In addition, a technical specs sheet with all your needs (detailed performing space with measurements, dressing room, catering, rehearsal time etc…) is imperative and the best thing is to have it signed by the customer.

Finally, you must always keep in mind that you are a self-employed worker, in other words, a micro-business. Like any business, you have income and expenses, training fees, costume, makeup, physiotherapist, website maintenance, accounting, taxes and so on. It is also all this that determines your price for one or more performances.

Good luck in your upcoming negotiations and I hope that this article will help you to improve your negotiating skills.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
Vincent Messager
Educator, Agent -Canada
Vincent Messager has been working in the field of arts performance touring and arts marketing for the last 31 years for circus, music and contemporary dance. He has collaborated with Cirque Éloize (Canada) for more than 12 years on international tour development and also as Director of the Special Events department where he produced more than 700 performances throughout the world. Vincent now runs Dolce Vita Spectacles, a touring agency specialised in contemporary circus companies. Besides his experience in touring, he also teaches career management at the Montreal National Circus School since 2013 and is an arts performance marketing consultant.

Vincent Messager

Vincent Messager has been working in the field of arts performance touring and arts marketing for the last 31 years for circus, music and contemporary dance. He has collaborated with Cirque Éloize (Canada) for more than 12 years on international tour development and also as Director of the Special Events department where he produced more than 700 performances throughout the world. Vincent now runs Dolce Vita Spectacles, a touring agency specialised in contemporary circus companies. Besides his experience in touring, he also teaches career management at the Montreal National Circus School since 2013 and is an arts performance marketing consultant.