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Red Flags to watch out for when signing an artist agency contract

A red flag that warns you about signing the contract.

You are ready to launch into the dance industry and found an agency that is eager to sign you? That’s amazing. But be careful and take the time to read your contract to avoid signing with a scammy agency. Sadly they are out there. Here are some points you should look out for. All of them in isolation might be fine, but when more of them come together, you might rethink if you can trust that agency.

Membership Fees

Real agencies know they earn money with every job you dance. Therefore they don’t ask for any fee to include you in their catalog. Some real agencies have this as well to prevent people who are not serious from applying. But if you want to ignore it, make sure that none of the other points is a match as well.

An exhaustive catalog that lacks definition

If the agency has a million different artists without a clear direction or categorization, this is a problem. Especially if it comes together with membership fees. Do the math yourself. If you take the membership fee, they asked for and multiply it with the artist in the catalog, is there an additional need for the agency to sell any jobs or are they already set?

No active promotion

If they don’t offer any other promotion besides the catalog on their website, they probably don’t put in any work. Ignore this for agencies that are big in their respective industries.

No detail interest in you or your work

If the agency is asking for no or very little detail or reference material, you should ask yourself how are they going to sell you. The same goes if they never ask for updates of your work or references.

When your agency contract has multiple of the issues mentioned reconsider, don't sign it.

Automated registration

If you can sign up online and pop up on their homepage without ever talking (or writing) with an actual human, it does not look like there is an interest in providing quality as obviously nobody reviewed your application.

You need to use their photographer or videographer

When your material is good, and they still want you to create new things with their photographer or camera guys, and you need to pay for it. If they cover the costs, it should be fine.

They don’t require a written contract

A contract is there to secure both parties in your working relationship. Only forgo this if you know that guys personally and you trust them.

Sign Now

If they use a time-constraint to put pressure on you to sign the contract. If they see your work as a benefit for their agency and not only your money, there is no reason to make a fast deal but a good one.

You know nobody

If the agency is active in your area, it is improbable that you know nobody in their catalog. Check with your circle if anyone knows the other dancers to find out if they are real or fake.

Not every agency is a scam, and there is no need for paranoia. But when you encounter multiple of the points above, it is probably wise to continue your search instead of signing.

Booking Agency vs Self Booking – a comparison

Booking Agency vs Self Booking

Having enough shows to dance is one of the central points of setting up your dance business when you choose performances as part of your portfolio. There are two general approaches to it: having one or more agents taking care of it or doing it yourself. Both ways have their advantages that we will look into right now.

Working with an agent or agency.

The two main benefits of having an agent are that you can focus on your dance and shows without getting distracted and that the agent probably has a much bigger network of potential customers than you. These two points alone are reason enough for most artists to work with an agent. In fact, I recommend working with an agent if you can. When making performances a central part of your dance business, you should always have new shows and skills ready. It helps when you can put the hours you would need for booking into your abilities and appearances.

The downsides of the work with an agent are that a part of the fee that the customer pays goes to the agent and that in some cases, you don’t have complete control about how your act is presented. Both things can be countered. The fee thing by putting in the contract with the agency that their fee goes on top of yours and the presentation issue by providing high-quality material on your own. This means you already have good photos, a visually pleasing description of your act, a trailer, and a fully recorded show available. The agent will then work with what you provide.

It is crucial to set up a contract with your agency that regulates precisely how the partnership works, so both parties can benefit from it. Here are the points to cover:

  • What do you have to provide?
  • What does the agent do to acquire shows for you? Does he only sell your existing shows or also send you to auditions for other productions? Does the agency provide additional advertising material? If yes, do you have the last word regarding the content?
  • How much is the agent’s fee, and is it on top or part of your payment?
  • Can you book shows on your own or with another agent? An exclusive contract would mean that all the shows you dance have to be booked via that agency. A non-exclusive agreement allows you to do work without that agency, as well. I recommend not to sign an exclusive deal, except the agent guarantees a volume of work that is sufficient for you, as part of the written contract.
  • Reaction times. Both parties need to get a quick response from the other one. You need to confirm availability or fees quickly. The agent needs to bring all the necessary info for the shows and should take care of customer questions. More often than not, he will need answers from you for that.
  • Payment conditions. Do you invoice the customer, and the agent invoices you for their fee, or does he invoice the customer, and you invoice the agent? In both cases, you should be fast and know how to write a proper invoice.

One thing about good manners: when you are booked via an agency, you also represent them to a certain degree. Be professional and don’t hand out private business cards. When you are there via an agency, they usually provide business cards that you can hand out to people who are looking for a show. Even if your contract is non-exclusive, it is not ok to bypass the agency with follow up jobs. If they don’t provide cards, ask them what contact you should give away if asked.

Doing it on your own.

The advantage of being a self-booker is total control. But this control also comes with sole responsibility. You will keep all the money, but if you sweat aspects of the business, your show numbers will be low.

You should set up a website, promo material that you can send out, be fast to reply to customer inquiries, and be good with networking. Obviously, you don’t need a contract with yourself, but you think about having contracts with your customers. It is not necessary in every case, but when there are disagreements, a contract helps to solve them fast.

When you work without an agent, it is also easier to experiment with the price of your shows as you can change it on the fly to cope with the customer situation.

Here are the essential points to have in mind:

  • Be reachable. Reply to your emails every workday and answer your phone. Not responding fast enough might equal a missed show opportunity.
  • Be able to send promo material fast. This means you have it collected in a folder that you can send as an email attachment, and you also have it online where you only need to send a link. Be able to send that link from your smartphone for faster response time.
  • If you dance together with others, make it clear that they need to be able to confirm availability fast as well. You can not confirm a show before you know you have the dancers available.
  • Be proactive, approach potential customers with show offers that fit their needs.
  • Do your homework. When you approach customers, research what they are doing and on what scale. A small society will have another budget than a multi-million dollar company. Don’t be the guy who knows nothing about the people he talks to.
  • Know your worth. Your show has a price. Be sure about the starting point for your negotiations before picking up the phone or writing an email. You can adapt along the way. Talk about the price early in your negotiations. Don’t fix details, book hotels, or flights before you agreed on your fee. It’s a negotiation tactic to agree on many parts, so you are already in the mood of saying yes, and save the weak spot for the end. Don’t fall into that trap, especially when you are not used to negotiations.  
  • Know your needs. Customers need to know what are the prerequisites for your show. How many space do you need? Floor conditions? How many people are traveling and performing? Do you bring the sound digital or a CD? Do you need separate dressing rooms, or is one enough? Wam Up space? If you are far away from home, consider hotel and food. Travel costs, if you go by car. Depending on your show, not everything might be applicable, or there might be additional points. You have to know those.

My general recommendation is to go with an agent who offers you a non-exclusive deal. It saves you so much time that you can invest in honing your craft, which will ultimately keep on top of your game. The non-exclusive agreement allows you to join a dance company that books their own gigs and also take show requests that come directly to you.

How to get more dance jobs?

a list of important factors to book more shows

A central question for everyone who dances shows for money is: “How do I get to dance more shows?” Today we talk about the general points you have to consider, without going into detail. The execution of every aspect can differ a lot from dancer to dancer, and we will look at those details at a later time.

Here are 6 points to consider to maximize your amount of shows:

  1. Reach out to people proactively. There are a lot of potential clients out there that don’t know about you, or even about hip hop dance. If you get the word out, the chances are good that additional work comes in. You can either do this yourself or with an agent. A post about this is coming up next week.
  2. Don’t do wack shows. Every show that you put out is a testament to your work and your work ethics. Always assume that the people who matter to your business and can take it to the next level, see the difference if you put in the work to make it great or sweat it because you think nobody will recognize it. We all have been there, where we think: “we can just freestyle it”. Probably we can, but there might be the guy who danced himself before who sees that you did not put any effort into the show. And he might be the one who is looking for an act for his own company, that is ten times the size of the job you freestyled.
  3. Network and be present. If it’s not part of your job to disappear after the show, stay awhile and network. There will be people who want to talk to you. Use this opportunity to acquire new contacts that might turn into clients later. A little bit of people skills help a lot in this one. If you have someone in your team who is outstanding at it, send him or her. 
  4. Be easy to find. If people are looking for shows, make sure that your website or social media profiles are easy to find and make clear that you offer what they look for.
  5. Have the promotion material for your work. If someone asks where he can see some of your work, you should be immediately able to point him to an online resource where he can find videos and images.
  6. Don’t gamble with your reputation. People talk. When you leave a lousy impression somewhere, it will spread.

How to make it as a dancer by performing?

A dancer doing a freeze and the headline

After covering the most reliable possibility of dance income, teaching, we will take a closer look at performances as a work field. Here is an overview of what you will need to be successful as a dancer on stage.

Performing is the one thing that comes to mind for most people when they think about making a living from dancing. It also a prestigious way as dancing on stage suggests a high-level and therefore a high status. Sadly these expectations and reality do not align all the time. People who pay for dance are not always able to tell the difference between a skilled dancer and someone who is not yet there. But it is a serious mistake to assume you don’t have to do your best.

We want to be part of the guys who 1) live up to the expectations that are out there and 2) stand out from the mass of people who present their dance, before being ready. It will allow us to demand higher fees without even raising the question of why we are more expensive than the breaking crew from the youth center around the corner.

Here is what I think we need to stand out:

  1. Dance skills. No need to go into detail, you need to be able to dance well.
  2. Remembering Choreography. You can get away without being able to do that if you are a freestyle dancer from the scene, but there is no way you get around it when you are looking into performance. Some people would consider this as part of dance skills, but there are a lot of people who dance amazing but can’t remember their choreography. When you do a lot of auditions, it is also a significant advantage if you can pick up choreography fast.
  3. Stage Presence. A particular quality of looking good on stage. It is the sum of multiple factors that we can sum up as confidence, control, and projection (sending out your experience to the audience). I am working on a tag-team publication with Da Bürgermasta on this topic.
  4. Discipline. Not only on the floor and in the training sessions. Every show demands a different mindset and preparation. It is easy to fall into the “we can freestyle that” trap. Probably you can freestyle it and get away with it often, but you will give away the opportunity to max your impact and impressing that one lady that might have booked you for the next gig.
  5. A way to get your jobs. This can be an agent. It can be yourself checking the internet all the time. It can be being in a dance company that takes care of it or even has its own stage. Often people who try to make it in the dance industry overlook that acquiring gigs is part of the work you do. All your other skills don’t matter if no one books you.
  6. The show. Depending on how you get your jobs, having a show ready might be on you or not. If you are self-organized, you also have to make sure there is something you can perform. All aspects of show production will be a topic on the blog, as soon as we finished with the performance topic.
  7. The ability to handle the business side of things. As soon as you are doing jobs that pay, you will need to be able to provide invoices. With invoices come taxes and insurance – basic accounting. If you can’t write a valid invoice, business partners will not pay you.
  8. The professional spirit. Even though professional means you do something for a living, there are much more things that are attached to that label. Being on time, having all of the stuff above down, the ability to understand the reason why your show is booked and adapting it to the needs of the customer (not valid in every situation). People also expect you to be dressed appropriately for the occasion of your show and to be able to handle basic conversation before and after the show. 

So in short, there is a lot of stuff that improves your chances of being successful as a performer. Think about the point above. Which ones do you have down? Which ones do you lack? Are there any you were not aware of?

Next week we start to go into detail with the ways to get your jobs.

Creating more Moves with Transmutation

Sketch of the Transmutation process

An extensive vocabulary of moves helps you to look fresh in a cypher or on stage. Create multiple steps from the same source material by changing the details of a move. We call this transmutation.

This concept teaches you how to create similar moves that flow well together from one single original movement.

  1. Choose a move that you want to work with. It can be a move from your vocabulary or a move from someone else. We will flip it, so don’t worry about biting now.
  2. Change one part of the move. Either detail or a sequence. Just pick something to change. The result is your first variation.
  3. Go back to step #1 but with this variation as the move to change.
  4. Repeat as many times as you want.
  5. If your original material was from someone else, consider not using the first few variations as someone might call you out for biting. You should be safe after flipping it 3 to 5 times.
  6. When creating your variations, take your time & dig deep.

This easy way to works with moves helps you to create a consistent type of moves that is similar but not the same. It will help you to create more transmutations of the stuff that feels right and therefore enhances your performance on the dancefloor.

The idea for this concept came from the concept of melody variation in music. I already published it a while ago in the German language. Now it is back in English.

The Dance Teacher’s Toolbox

A toolbox with the headline attached

Today I will cover the arsenal and tools that I use when teaching. There are, of course, more techniques out there that you can use to teach dance, but these are the ones that I think are the most important ones. They suffice in most regular classes. Later, I will cover more sophisticated techniques, but I want to dive into the other primary work fields as well, before going so much into the depths of teaching.

Show & Tell

Show & Tell is the basic principle of teaching other people anything related to dance. The technique is self-explanatory, as it is what it sounds like. The visual information of seeing and the added information about where to look for the details and intricacy of the material can be enough for people to understand what you want them to teach. This is your bread and butter. The go-to tool in teaching.

Feedback

Corrections can be done in many ways. You can address general problems or give individual feedback. You should do both like a lot of topics will be relevant for everyone, and some students might need a unique problem addressed. Don’t fall into the habit of not giving feedback. This is one of the essential differences between someone who teaches people and someone who entertains with dance. That would be a viable business approach as well, but this time we talk all about teaching.

Drills

Give your students exercises that make them practice new material in a structured way. Drills are like dance push-ups. They are needed to build muscle memory and elevate movement quality. You might have a lot of drills from your teachers, or you can create your own.

Games

Primarily if you teach a lot of kids, the idea of drilling something might not be the best approach to sell. Package the things your students need to work on in games. B-Boy Catch, Chinese Whispers with Dance Moves and similar ideas work well.

Peer Learning

Let your students teach and correct each other. Trying to explain something to other students leads to a better understanding of the material. This can be done when experienced students teach the new ones or when a group of the same level feedbacks each other.

Progressions

Teaching material in a sequence that makes sense is first and foremost a matter of planning in your curriculum, but you can also use it to lead people to more complex moves. Go back to the basics of a movement if the students struggle with it and rebuild it from the foundation. In many cases, they did not yet master the previous motions you taught them.

Handouts and Teaching Material

Sadly, this one is not very widespread in the dance scene world. You can really support the progress of your interested students when you provide material that helps them to dive deeper into the matter. This can be additional background information, self-made video tutorials to remind them about the technique or links to tutorials from others or documentaries. Make it easy for them to go far with research if they are willing to.

Homework

Give them something to do or think about in between classes. You can’t force them to do it, but those who are willing to learn will do it and therefore progress faster.

Rhythm Exercises

Have some exercises ready that help them understand how music works. These can be taken from music theory, body percussion, or they can be created with simple dance steps.

Notes

Take notes. You, the teacher, not the students. They can do it as well, of course. Write down what you did in class, so you know what repeat next time. Write down if some students had issues with a specific topic and get back to it to help them out. Notes help to stay on track with everything, keep an overview of what you did in which in class and give you an excellent tool to evaluate the progress of the course.

These are my most used tools for teaching dance, and of course, there are many more of them. Let me know which ones you use and if there are any basic ones that I missed.

If you want to see some of those in action, I teach at breaking class at Streetdance Center Salzburg, together with my colleague Gü.

From a Different Point of View

A drawing with a dice showing different numbers from different sides

Having a strong opinion, based on facts and experience, is a valuable thing. However, so is seeing tasks or processes with the eyes of others. Especially if those others are the people that we want to reach with our work.

A change of perspective helps us to understand our customers. It helps us to design our marketing strategy better. It shows us the optimization potential in our Artist Identity. In general, trying to see with the eyes of others helps to understand business. It also helps to understand life and why our society works as it works.

So whenever you commit to a new strategy or whenever you evaluate parts of your work, try to switch perspective.

Does your offer add value to the lives of your potential customers? Could it add more value with a reasonable amount of change from your side? Is it real value or just a short status boost?

If you create postings on social media, check if they would affect you the way you want them to affect your followers. If they don’t, why would they do it with others?

If you are doing business with companies, understand what’s in for them when hiring you. Do they consider you an influencer in your scene, an expert for specific topics, both, or something else?

Make it a habit to do this in your business life. The insights will surprise you.

Thinking about the right metrics for your Online Marketing

A subscriber bubble with an unknown size of people who actually convert

Following up on our general marketing introduction, we will take a closer look at our goals, strategies, and tactics for online marketing. The starting point is to know the business you run. The set-up and income streams you have, define what makes the most sense to promote and how to measure if it works or Nah.

Work Fields and Reasonable Goals

Teachers want to have more people in their classes or the chance to price the classes higher. Another desirable point would be to teach workshops at events or studios.

Performers want their followers to join as many shows as possible or buy media that features them.

Competitors want to grow their name to receive as many invitations and potentially paid battle gigs (those are not common anymore).

All these different work fields ask for different things that we want to achieve.

The Teacher should focus on catering to an audience that is close enough to the place where he works and incentivizes them to show up in the classes. However, if the goal is to teach a lot in workshops abroad, it makes sense to focus on people that live further away as well.

The Performer usually has a broader geographic targeting as companies and crews travel internationally. But having your biggest audience in South America, when you perform in Europe does not make to much sense.

There is, again, no silver bullet. You already know a lot about your business and your Artist Identity. Use this knowledge to think about what makes sense to promote. Promote the activities that you excel at and that make you money.

What to aim for? 

Measuring what we do is an essential thing in the whole process. Because from these insights, we can decide how to improve in our marketing process or when it makes sense to stop something.

Most people and companies start with a goal that focuses on followers or views, without recognizing that this approach only makes sense in very few scenarios.

Reach is the right metric if you want people to know your brand (that’s why it is the right metric for brand marketing). It makes sense when you want to land a sponsorship or when you are performing with different companies a lot (as they might consider your followership as potential viewers). It is also the one metric that everybody understands. That is the reason why it is so prominent, even if it makes no sense most of the time. 

When you are a teacher, it is not enough that people know you. Reach alone, does nothing for you. You need people to take action and show up to your class. You measure this in the percentage of people that come from your social media channels to your classes. We call it the conversion rate. The conversion rate is a much better metric in cases when people need to do something to make you succeed.

There are many more metrics that we can look at, but in most cases, it boils down to one of the two above. 

We’ll talk about how to either approximate (which is often enough) or precisely measure those two next week.

For today ask yourself: What is it that you need? High reach or a high conversion rate?

How much to charge for your Dance Classes

A speech bubble asking how much you can charge for dance classes

Defining your prices is simple, but not easy. Today I will tell you how to answer, “What can I ask for when teaching at a studio?” or “How should I price my classes.” There are some things to take into consideration, but when you know them, the math becomes easy. Everything below is my way of deciding prices, and there are a lot of other opinions out there. I explain at the bottom why I choose the prices like that.

Prices when you teach at a studio

Most studios want to pay their teachers an hourly fee or fee per class. That is common practice in a lot of countries and not per se a problem. It becomes a problem when the payment is low, and you pay your taxes from them.

In the area where I teach a lot of studios want to pay 30 per hour. That sounds okayish at first, but when you consider the social insurance for freelancers and tax in Austria, which starts at around 36%, you net slightly below 20 per hour. That might be fine for someone who starts to teach, but it is a dumping price for anyone skilled and experienced with teaching.

The rule of thumb that I recommend using is that when you earn less than double per hour of a regular office job, don’t even consider taking it. Feel free to ignore that advice if you really want to teach or build your references. I tell you this intending to do sustainable business and teaching 20 hours a week to earn a living will burn you out sooner or later. Aim for a price that is around four times what you would make in a day job. That is between 40 and 100 per hour, depending on your qualification and experience. That leaves you with 25 to 64 per hour after tax (Best case, when your income rises, your taxes do too. Talk to an accountant to check the regulations in your country).

These are the things to have in mind when going for a price:

  • Are you building the class from scratch, or are you getting a full classroom? If there are 20 people in the class, there is no reason to do it for a minimum.
  • The prices the students pay to the studio.
  • Are you responsible for advertising, are they or do you share that task?
  • What do you need? Calculate your expenses, the time you have to earn your buck and check if it works.

But there is a better option:

Try to get a base fee and a percentage of every student over a certain threshold. This gives you a secure foundation and ramps up when you are doing a good job, and everyone wants to join your class.

Prices when you organize your own classes

A lot of people are doing their own courses. This approach has the potential to pay much higher than the other method, but you shoulder all the risk. You pay the rent for the studio, you do the advertisement, and you lose money if there are not enough students in a class. On the other hand, you keep all the money that is rolling in.

First, calculate your expenses for the class. Take the rent of the studio, add music costs (due to your local collecting societies – the AKM in Austria), add money for the fuel or public transport you need to get to the room and everything else that costs you, which is related to doing the class. Now you know how much money you need per class not to lose money. Considering the rule from above, you want at least 40 per class, after paying all the costs. How much do you need to make that 40? And more importantly, how many students do you need to make it.

For your first calculation, take the average price of the studios around you. Just to get a feeling for the situation. Then, decide if you want to be cheaper or more expensive. If your price is more affordable, you will get all the students that care about the price-tag only. That are potentially a lot of them. But you will also get all the kids, who are sent to the class by their parents – without really wanting to. If you are a better teacher than the guys at the other studies, consider being more expensive. While you will have fewer students, you will get those who really care and that makes the classes so much more enjoyable.

As a rule of thumb: don’t go far below the prices and don’t top them by more than 50%. Ignore this if you have a reputation that reaches until far beyond the place where you teach.

All clear? Reach out in the comments, per mail or on social media if not.

My reasons for these price-tags

This passage was not part of the original post. I received some questions on social media, so I want to add the reasons below.

I use the measure of “what you earn at a day job” because most people need to work another job besides teaching in the beginning. And by using this as an anchor point, we try to avoid making our financial situation worse.

I don’t want you to consider jobs that pay less than double your hourly wage because it will not be a financial upgrade of your situation. You need to get there, which costs you time and money. That is usually not refunded from the studio. You also have additional hidden costs through teaching if you, for example, buy a snack when you would eat at home otherwise.

I recommend four times your wage as a reasonable price because it means if you teach two hours a day, it pays as much like a regular day of work. So every day you can teach for two hours, you don’t need to work a 9-5. This helps you to transition to a full-time dancer slowly or keep the job and earn double.

How to create your own dance drills that make sense

In your role as a dance teacher, you always want to have the right tools ready to help your students to the next level. When you see them struggle with certain elements or whenever you introduce a new move, it helps to have a drill ready that tackles the problem at hand precisely. On top of that, you can create exercises for your own practice as well.

The general idea is to create a short set that includes the solution to the problem you have. Put the thing you want to practice in between other moves that already have the quality of what you want to reach.

If the goal is just to practice a particular move, create a short routine where you place the new step in between 2 moves that your students already can do well. In many cases, you can only do an old move and then the new one, when you immediately repeat the combination to the other side. This keeps the combo short and enables you to do more repetitions in the same amount of time.

When you want to develop a specific flow – let’s say you are teaching pretzels – you want to put them in between sweeps as they share the concept of swinging your legs around in a circular motion.

When they need to practice precision in rhythm, frame the new thing with an already known move, that shares that rhythm.

For freezes and acrobatics that require more strength and balance, create a drill that makes you do the movement on both sides but without a stop in between. There is an exception to this: when you practice a powermove that relies on keeping the circular momentum going, then practice both ways separated. But practice both. (Yes, I know – it’s not funny).