Becoming a Professional Performer – 10 Mistakes to Avoid

Last week I wrote a post on things you definitely need to become a professional performer (view here). I thought it might be appropriate to follow up with a post on some things you should avoid. Like any self-employed pursuit performance is one of those areas where generally you will be making a lot of mistakes to start out with. This is okay of course, you learn a lot more from mistakes than you do from successes - I know this because I read it on the internet once and there was a beautiful landscape behind it. What is even better than learning from your own mistakes though is learning from other people's - this way you get all the benefit with none of the downside - neat huh? This article should in no way discourage you, even if you have already made one or more of these mistakes - I certainly am guilty of some of them and know, now successful performers, who have done the others. These are just some common things that can really hinder ones career in ways you may not consider at the time.

1) Don't: Bail on a gig

Unless you have got a damn damn good reason. I do not think I have ever booked someone again who has bailed on a gig without utterly convincing me they had no other choice What is a good reason? Death, being unable to physically stand up, having an injury that disables your from doing your act, or a major personal crisis. Perhaps the only exception to this is if you find a perfect replacement for yourself and the agent is cool with this - you should ask them first. But just don't do it, even if you aren't being paid very much (or at all, but more on that later). Show up, on time, do your job, and if you have a bit of a poorly stomach then drink a nice tall glass of man up.

2) Don't: Spend too much too early

Performance takes investment - I don't think I have ever really experienced a time where there wasn't some shiny bit of kit that I know would add that extra tiny bit of style to my act. More over this investment is often worth it - a spangly costume and a nice photo shoot will gt you more work and better paid work. What you shouldn't do however, and what I see a lot of new performers doing, is think that spending the money is all you need, and that if you spend enough you will eventually be successful. Get the basics, a nice costume and whatever props are essential to your act and then go out and perform, and perform lots. If you can't get paid without the shiny prop then you probably won't get paid with it. Once you have performed a lot and you feel confident that spending will really add to your act then by all means invest.

3) Don't: Put off paperwork

Learn what insurance you need, learn how to do a risk assessment, and learn how to write a god damn invoice. All you are doing by putting this off is making yourself look unprofessional. Spend an hour behind your computer, ask your fiends in the industry (not me, I'm busy), work it out, make templates, and your life will be easier. Also get a contract you can send to clients - it will make things a whole lot simpler when someone doesn't pay you (which will happen eventually). I will be writing a new article soon on some good templates, and basics for entertainer contracts, etc. so stay tuned for that.

4) Don't: Get complacent about your acts

Don't think that because you get work every weekend in some crappy night club and all your friends tell you that you're wonderful that that means you are set for life. The money you earn as a performer when you're 20 is probably not an amount you're going to be happy with in 5 years time - unless you're like really good in which case why are you reading this? Always keep improving, make a variety of acts, film the acts, get people to criticise them, iron out the areas that suck (there will be some). Keep improving until you are turning down work left right and center. Then improve some more. What you find if you don't is that other people are improving around you and what was once a really original act has now been copied and improved upon.
In this day and age of youtube it is easy to find acts where you just look at them and think "how could you even begin to conceive an act like that?" Well it doesn't happen from start to finish in one go - it develops over time, and if you want an act like that so must you.

5) Don't: Steal people's ideas

Watch, be inspired, but don't steal. This will kick you in the nads in the end, it gives you a bad name, and ultimately means any success you have will be empty. Also it makes you a complete dick - don't do it.

6) Don't: Be afraid to succeed

Don't view yourself as worse than other performers - just less developed. Everyone starts somewhere - to succeed you need to take risks, try material out of your comfort zone, and go with your gut on things. You will have tons of people, especially muggles (non performers) telling you that you aren't gonna make it, or at the very least raising eyebrows when you tell them your ambition. You dfinitely won't make it if you don't commit yourself.

7) Don't: Put all your eggs in one basket

This is a mistake I definitely made - I decided I was going to get all my work through my own company. This has worked for some people, it might not work for you though. When my company had web issues a while ago it meant I had almost no work for months and had to get a real job for a while (shudder). Avoid this by working with lots of different groups and getting involved in lots of projects - this also vastly increases your chances of something really taking off and will also make you a better performer.

8) Don't: Focus on just one discipline

It is good to have have a main discipline or two, whether it is aerial, or acrobatics, or fire performing, or whatever. However it is always a good idea to play with a multitude of styles, props, and people. This will not only make you a more varied performer (someone who can do a banging aerial act and also do a dinky fire act is a lot more bookable than someone with just one or the other) but will also inspire you to create more original material within your main discipline. For instance I used to do a lot of staff spinning and staff juggling - this meant that when I started club juggling a couple years ago I had a whole range of wall plane and spinny tricks available to me that many other jugglers do not.

9) Don't: Work for less than you are happy to

There is a lot of debate within the entertainment industry about whether or not you should work for free - some people see the value in it, others think it ruins the industry. I am kind of in the middle. What you should never do it work when you are not being offered something that makes it worthwhile - this might not be money - it could be you really want to test out a new act without the pressure of potentially disappointing a client, it could be that you really want to work with a new crew for the experience, or it could just be that you really want to go to Glastonbury. Whatever the reason, make sure it is there, and make sure that it is good enough to inspire you to do a good job on the day. By working for free or cheap otherwise you will probably do a crappy job and ultimately come off in a bad light. Also never believe someone when they talk to you about "exposure" as a form of compensation - this is the biggest load of crap any promoter can feed you.

10) Don't: Lose the joy in performing

This is something I have also been very guilty of - for a while I became so obsessed with making performance my living that I was accepting gigs that ultimately I wasn't happy with doing. Now obviously some gigs are more fun than others but if you aren't enjoying any aspect of it you might as well just have a normal job. Decide what it is you like about performing and try to make sure you spend a decent chunk of time doing that - otherwise what's the point?
By James Guiver

5 Responses

  1. really consise and use ful, good of you to share with the world. saw you video really cool image when you all in the line. hope your enjoying it out there!!. inabits man. x
    • admin
      Thanks Dan, great to hear from you - hope you're still doing your thing
  2. My biggest mistake ever: Don't EVER join the party afterward!! Yes, you will likely be invited to have a drink, some food, and "relax" or "make yourself at home". Don't do it. This is one of those things people feel obligated to do and say as they want to be a gracious host but it is critical that you politely thank them for the invite and professionally decline even if you have to give an equally insincere or untrue excuse such as you need to get back to your shop or studio to put your equipment away before it closes, or you ate before you came and can't drink because you're driving, relieve the babysitter might be a good even just don't do what we did and accepted a shot of tequila the birthday boy insisted we did with him and ended up having to deduct our alcohol tab from our final pay and we're never hired by that event planner again. I still cringe when I think about catching my hula hooper making out with her photographer boyfriend on the now empty dance floor. Omg, No!
    • admin
      Great point Asraiya - I think this is a very much "down to the circumstance" kind of thing though. I tell my performers when in doubt say no - but at some events I think having a drink is fine (just a drink though!). Tough one to call without knowing the circumstances.
  3. Second big mistake.. Heh: Don't post a comment written with an autocorrect program before proof reading it or your valid points might come off as written by dumbass who doesn't know grammar and you may not be able to edit them after the fact and have to write a disclaimer or run away feeling foolish...

Leave a comment