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How to Price a Show

By Brad Burt

About 20% of the Essays that I send out on some aspect of magic are ideas that are sent to me by readers. The following is one such. Many of you will already have your own pricing strategies, but in business it's always nice to see what the 'other' guy is doing or has done, so I think that this particular essay will get some interest. I've known numbers of people that put pricing their show as one of the things that kept them from getting out and performing. If you are one of those folks then hopefully this little essay will help you get over that hurdle and out there making money while making people happy.

Pricing your show is a funny kind of thing. If you are in an area in which you may literally be the only magician or mentalist then you have a problem in that you can't check what you want to charge against what others in the trade are charging in your area. That means YOU are the one that will be setting the pricing level. On the other hand if you have no competition you can pretty much set your own price within the structure of what your local market will bear. That's not a bad thing.

The No Competition Model of Pricing

If you have no competition in an area the one thing that you don't want to do once you decide to start charging for shows is price yourself too low at the outset. It is easier to go down in price if you start too high than to go up. So…you need to think carefully and do some work to find what the best price would be. Start by calling, if there are any, a local party planner or party shop. Just ask them what they think you could get for a birthday party for child or adult. See if they are using 'outside' talent to fill their needs and whether they would be interested in talking to you, etc. What about a larger show for a local community organization, etc.? Ask around. Look up what the average income of folks in your area is and where there might be concentrations of money, etc. Show Business is both the SHOW and the BUSINESS and you cain't have one without t'other. So do your research.

Here is an idea that I have NEVER heard anyone propose, but I think, (humbly) that it is really brilliant. Well, maybe not brilliant, but very clever. What you do is find other cities or areas in the country that DO have magicians listed in the phone book. You want areas that are as SIMILAR to YOURS as you can find. A couple of hours on the Internet should do just fine. Call a couple of magicians in THOSE areas to find out what they are charging. You don't even have to be sneaky here. Tell them that you are a magician in Wackasack County, USA and would they mind helping you figure out what to charge. Most magicians are excellent people and in this instance wouldn't mind helping out.

If you can't get any good solid intel then pick a price you think is reasonable, say $75.00 for a thirty minute children's show, and then up it by $10. See if you can book at this price. Are the folks happy with your show? Will they write you an endorsement letter saying how much they loved it, etc.? Wait a year and up the price by $10 or more. And, so on.

Many times you will come to the conclusion that your area will only stand a children's show at about the $125-150 range. You are working to be top dog in your area. YOU want to be the one that they judge all the others by if others see you making money and decide to join the fun. Assuming that you have a quality product, FIRST IN gets the goodies. So make sure you have something that is worth getting top dollar! There is nothing in this business more valuable than a good reputation. In pricing you HAVE to make sure you have a good product. If you are not certain PAY someone a couple of hundred dollars to watch a video of your show and rip it to shreds. If you trust that person then listen to what is said and make changes. This kind of due diligence can be the difference in making $15,000 a year and $50,000 a year and any good pro will tell you that's true. If YOU are the best in your area YOU can get more money than the other guys. Folks WILL pay for quality.

Don't get me wrong here. WILL folks pay for the 'cheap' guy? You bet! And, when they feel they were burned the word will go out, especially in smaller local communities. As YOU get your price and establish your rep as a solid performer that's worth what he is asking, you will find that resistence to what you ask will start to vanish.

I have known several magicians living in rural areas that made excellent livings doing magic. One thing they noted is that many times folks that are out and away from urban centers are willing to pay MORE for a good performer than you would think. They have money and not as many things to spend it on. But, they also pointed out that you have to travel over a wider area and thus you are not gouging, etc. In a large city you may be able to book and GET TO 3-4 shows a day on the weekend. But, in a rural area you may be lucky to have the time to get to a second show depending on where it's booked. So you have to take these things into consideration.

The Competition Model for Pricing Shows

In many ways, this is the easier of the two basic models. I mean really, if you want to know what folks are 'willing' to pay right NOW, you just call up the competition and find out what they are charging. If they have ads in the Yellow Pages then they are probably doing shows as those ads are not published for free! There's nothing underhanded or sneaky about this gang. You're foolish to not do it. Check web sites if any. This is just common sense.

And, by the way, it is NOT some crime to come out with a price lower than the competition. That's just the way things work. It's a 'crime' if you take jobs for free that someone could be getting paid for, that's not a good thing. Even that's not immoral, it's just stupid. I know that this might sound weird, but here's a rule: The more paid shows that are being done in an area the more paid shows there will be. That's because magic IS fun and the more folks that have a good magician at their party the more other folks will want the same thing at theirs!

So, find out what the other guys and gals are charging and price accordingly. Do you think you are better than any of the other performers in your area? Then charge MORE! Really. If you can get it, then YOU be the one to push the basic fee structure UP. And, by the way…that IS the best thing for everyone. Anyone who thinks different either has a below standard product or they are nuts. When I stopped performing for health reasons I was getting $250 and hour for close-up and $500 for a 30 minute stand-up show. My goal? $500 an hour for the close-up and $850.00 for the stand-up. I knew guys doing it and was on schedule to hit my goal in about two years. YOU CAN get paid well for performing, but you have to go after the work and push the market for all it's worth.

Note: Getting high fees takes time. You need to work a LOT. You need to keep an upward and consistent pressure on your fee structure while you are working. You need to well, WORK at it.

The Simple Truth About Pricing

The simple truth is that you want to price your show as high as you possibly can. You want to go as high as your clients are willing to pay. Does that sound like gouging? It shouldn't. Consider that $500 an hour might sound like a lot, but in the corporate world for instance, you would be under priced in most cases. Also, consider that although it sounds like a lot of money, you will generally not be working eight hours a day. You may only have 1-3 shows a week. That's good pay, but not whackily good. If a client comes to you and says, "Hey, The Great Bob, I can guarantee you $150 an hour for five hours every day for the next month." Well, hey! Now, you are talking. That GUARANTEE OF INCOME is the difference. You know exactly what you are making and it's not beans baby. So a part time contract that has a pay and time guarantee is something that can give you some security if you can set up 2-3 gigs like that a year. And, note again, that if you are really GOOD, those base fees can go UP year by year.

So, there's another truth of pricing. How much for how long? What if you get a steady gig working a local amusement park? It's like a real job, but you get to do magic!!! Better than slinging burgers gang. AND...the more folks that SEE you perform the more chances you have of be offered better gigs.

Mentalism and Price

Frankly, a good mentalist can almost always make more, in many cases a LOT more, than a magician of equal caliber. That's just the way it is. In all cases? No, but close. People like to think that other people can read minds and tell the future and whether the mentalist tells them it's just tricks or whether he doesn't does not matter to folks. They will believe anyway!

In pricing a Mentalism show just read above. It is the same basic idea of looking for intel and then figuring out what you are going to do. I can tell you one thing from personal experience of almost two years of doing nothing BUT mentalism: Whatever price you decide on UP IT. If you think you can get $300 a show? Charge $500 and see what happens. Just try it. But, and this is a BIG but: Make SURE you are worth what you are charging. If you are you will have all the work you could want and you will be able to up that basic rate fast. This is not generally known to most magicians, but the psychic entertainer underground performers who want nothing to do with magicians make many times more in income than the average working magic performer. MANY times.

Moral of the story? Be prepared for folks to accept that you are in fact a real mind reader or whatever. And, the bigger lesson? People will pay for that. They will PAY a LOT for that!

Another aside: Many, many years ago now a very, very hip performer friend took me aside and gave me the following advice: Want to make a ton of money as a performer kid? Yes? Learn to do a Hypnosis show. I never personally took that advice, but I understood why he gave it and I passed the advice onto several others. And, I knew some guys who did so and prospered acccordingly. Very few folks out there DO a good hypnosis show. It is a way to get top dollar to walk in with NO props and give an entertaining show. If you have what it takes you might want to look into it.

To sum up: Have a product line if you can. Have a great stand-up magic show. Have a solid mentalism show and maybe a Hypnosis turn. You can combine in interesting ways to make more per show than you would otherwise!

The single best stage show I have ever seen was performed by the late Romark of England over 25 years ago in Hollywood. He opened with an incredibly entertaining mentalism set and after the intermission he did the hypnosis show he was rightly famous for. One man show and it just killed!

Now, get out there and 'get on the show' for crying out loud and make some money having fun. What could be better?

All the very best,
Brad Burt
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