a VJ's guide to working out pricing (Part 2)

by Cindi Drennan - Illuminart.com.au

Part 2 of  “How to not go into debt doing what you love” – a VJ’s guide to working out pricing (Part 2)

© 2012 Cindi Drennan

Part Two: Pricing Contexts


So you’ve worked out the minimum amount you need to charge to just cover your costs.
(Or if you haven’t… visit this page to find out how)
What about actually setting a price?

To know what you can charge for your VJ show or live media performance, it helps to know what cost you must cover, and from there you can investigate what the different opportunities out there will offer you. Unfortunately at the low end of the scale, gigs are often paying less than what it actually costs to do them.

As yet there has been no conference among VJs and video artists to create a set of recommended fees, (although it will happen soon). In the meantime you can consider what people talk about as being the range of opportunities found to be most viable. Generally VJs charge $450 and upwards for a decent performance… anything less and you could be doing yourself and the artform a disservice. Events opportunities tend to be offered according to an operating budget etc so its up to you to find the opportunities and negotiate a fair fee. Here’s what you are likely to find and where you can look.

  • Low end gigs: $0 – $500
    • Community / Not for profit events (no budget)
    • Alternative festival and Music festival (small budget)
  • Medium range gigs: $500 – $5000 
    • Music promoter budgets (tight / tough negotiators (yep, they’re used to exploiting musicians too!))
    • Organizations events budgets (for tender, requiring competition)
    • Small arts projects and acts (project based, involving collaboration)
    • Art festivals (higher budgets but competitive, and require more work)
  • High end gigs: $5000 + 
    • Specialised events industry (higher budgets but competitive, and require more experience and work involved)
    • Large arts projects and acts (project based, harder to get into unless you are in a team)
    • Rock tours / Concert tours
    • Specialised hybrid VJ / artist concepts (niche marketing areas)


Some other things to think about. 

The alternative and music festivals frequently offer lower payments for VJ performances compared to art festivals or high end concerts. But at the lower end of the fees scale, until VJs can generate a demand for high quality, informed work, there will be tend to be selection of VJs on the basis of cheapest price (which is not healthy for the artform as then there’s pressure to cut corners).

Opportunities at the low end though, can offer a good place to try out techniques and experiment. For a trialling VJ, or an artist looking for an opportunity to network, it can be a good process to go through and get stage experience. Just be aware that “what the market will bear” at this end probably won’t cover your costs, and that there are other opportunities out there. If you are working at lower than your costs, be aware that you still need to have insurance (what if you have an accident, or your equipment gets nicked) and that you need to look out for your safety; and think about what you are getting out of a show aside from just “experience”.

Event coordinators who are offering a fee lower than what is realistic for VJs to cover costs, should try to offer them a fair deal in other ways. Free tickets to a show do not actually help a VJ to cover costs (unless they onsell them), and is not an equivalent to cash. The best ways that a VJ can benefit from a low paid opportunity are through publicity of their act and artform, so printing the VJ names on posters, having published VJ set lists, and having visible VJs on stage, help to justify why a VJ would accept a fee that doesn’t cover their costs – as they are, after all, sponsoring an event with time, equipment and a unique display. Other ways to support VJs in this context are to provide good visibility to the screen, and visibility of the VJs at the event (so the audience can see that the visuals are being generated live). Good security and crew support for everything else helps too.

Here’s an example, for consideration.

Two hypothetical VJs hear the call out for festival events offering gigs that are paid at a rate of $200 per set (expected to cover their travel as well). Although its not going to cover cost, both have decided to play occasional festival events in order to meet other VJs, learn skills or promote their services and are willing in that context, to charge less than what they need to cover costs.  So they consider this to be a cost effective contribution towards self promotion rather than income…. but they can ONLY afford to do 4 such shows per year as otherwise it eats into their actual chargeable work time.

Because the gigs are intended to be “promotional” for the VJs they naturally would have a reasonable requests for their appearance: a VJ billing on the posters / flyers (they will gain exposure) and visibility at the event (ie they are on stage with the other performers and can see the screen). In this fictional example, the promoter says that the posters have already been printed. The first VJ decides to take the opportunity just for experience.. and finds that the gig is not very VJ friendly (they can’t even see the f&^& screen!). What can they do about it?  Next time they can look for a VJ friendly festival instead, where they will be on the poster and have better facilities to play from, and be appreciated by the crew as a contributing artist. The second VJ who says no, might have the weekend off to do R&D, or may seek and find a properly paid opportunity that is happening on the same weekend. It can be hard to take that step and it depends on the level you are at. The point is, a festival can be a great opportunity but check with other VJs and acts about the crew, their ability to support you and your artform otherwise it can be a big waste of time.

The best kind of low paid events bring together VJs, provide good facilities, and promote what the artists are doing. Encourage festivals and events to do the right thing by you. Low paying gigs and freebies can be a good opportunity for starting out… …. but you need to be careful not to start believing that those are the rates that VJs should get!

Another hypothetical based on small business theory, comparing approaches to fees. VJ#1 offers their services at $300 per low end gig. This barely covers costs and makes them beer money profit. Because their price is competitive, they play lots of gigs but they burn out and make little profit, and don’t have time to invest in their own development. Worse still, they generate an expectation among event managers that VJing is a cheap content filler and you can pay people beer money to get the service.

VJ#2 decides they wish to earn $250 profit per show, and their charge fee is $750. They will definitely not get as many gigs. The only way they can create opportunities is by offering very specialised services for clients who can support their work, so they decide to offer “master quality visuals” for chamber orchestra bands (uh, for example), and develop a good partnership with one orchestra. They derive 50% of their work is from this relationship and this generates a “name” for them which helps with creating opportunities in other areas.  In other words, properly charged / unique / targeted / quality (promoted correctly) VJing could lead to LESS work but actually better paid work. This is useful to consider, as its tempting to take lots of smaller gigs but that can lead to burn out. And no-one really wants event managers to start thinking of VJs as cheap content providers… so think about quality as well as quantity in what you do.

If you are keen on working in the realm where the fees are higher, you’ll need to develop partnerships with media artists, media arts companies and professional artists, which will lead to opportunities to participate in projects. The projects may involve processes from original content creation, to technical development, multi-disciplinary collaborations, long term partnerships and concept developments. The fees may be higher but so are the risks and complexities. You might need a project manager to work with you (and manage suppliers and installations, and so on). If you are working in an area where there are more unknowns than knowns, get an advisor or mentor in to help you work out what’s viable, to take on. Good luck at this exciting place. It takes some courage and a track record to generate these kinds of opportunities.

So… how do you know where to work and what fee to charge?

Most often you’ll generate work by being seen, and often just get offered a flat fee for most gigs – especially when you are starting out. It’s up to you to work out if its viable and what to charge. Once you generate a profile and meet new interested people you will be asked for quotes and you can start charging more. Most people initially work to just cover costs at least until they have a name for themselves, which can be one to two years. More important than anything is doing the right thing to promote yourself well, so that potential clients or partners know who you are and where to find you. From there, you negotiate.

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