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How much do you really get paid to perform?
My first big burlesque purchase was a pair of feather fans. They are gorgeous,
huge and have a real wow factor when I use them.
They cost me almost $1,000.
I purchased those fans my very first year of burlesque, and I didn’t use my personal money to do so. I told myself that I would save up every penny of my burlesque earnings in order to “afford” them. It took me about 9 months of performing in order to save up enough money to purchase those fans. A looooooonnnnnnggg time, in my opinion.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that if I was going to treat this as a business, 100% of those payouts didn’t belong to me. At least 30% of each payout should have been saved to pay Uncle Sam, even though the purchase was to be considered a deduction.
Are you a Hobbyist or are you a Hustler?
If you are wishing to deduct your burlesque purchases as expenses from your income, you must treat burlesque as a business. That means keeping track of expenses, income and keeping your performance payouts separate from your personal income.
If you perform as often as I do, you will probably receive 1099s at the end of the year from all your paying producers. Luckier performers receive w2s and the taxes are already taken out. If you are not so lucky, you can set yourself up for a nice return or the ability to pay Uncle Sam his cut, as I will describe below on building a sustainable business.
How I treat burlesque income
Isn’t that amazing?!? When looking at it this way, it’s a little discouraging to see just how little we get paid to rehearse, choreograph, train, spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on a single costume, travel, park, etc.
The good news is that if you can book a certain act, over and over, you might be able to recoup the costs that you incurred in the creation of it. Just keep that in mind as you are hit with the latest brilliant act idea that you simply cannot stop yourself from “investing” in.
How many times do you have to perform that act to actually make a profit?
Seaside is one of my most requested acts. The crowd loves it. It’s fun, upbeat and playful and it can usually be plugged into any theme. I originally created it for a theme show, as a throwaway act. Funny knowing that now, I probably would have taken more time and effort to put it together, though it has definitely paid for itself in the long run.
I have been performing that act for almost 4 years now, and have had to replace the parasol a few times, and remake the bra. (Which I explained was one of the first mistakes I made as a baby burlesquer in this post.) But overall, it is one of the most profitable acts in my repertoire, as you can see below:
Setting up sustainability
If you want to make burlesque more sustainable and profitable for you, there are just a few things that need to be set up in order to be on your way to a happier performer.
- Open separate bank accounts (Spending, Tax Savings, Savings)
- Register your business entity (Only if you want to treat this as a biz and deduct all those feathers, rhinestones, parking, mileage, classes, show tickets etc. at the end of every year)
- Keep track of expenses for deductions (I use the quickbooks self-employed app)(affiliate link)
- Keep track of income (Numbers on iPhone and iPad is free and you can create all the spreadsheets you need to keep all of this info organized)
Once you have those systems in place, you can use my handy dandy spreadsheet to calculate your income from each payout you get, and then deposit the amounts accordingly. (This is my super nerd that secretly loves number crunching coming out…)
Once you start treating each payout as business income and not keeping it as personal income, you will start to see just how much money, time and effort goes into creating each act and if that next crazy act idea is going to be a sound business decision.
That 20% to reinvest can add up if you are disciplined enough to let it accumulate for a bit. Then you won’t be going into debt to pay for act creation, which is a whole other animal and adds to the overall cost of your act too—just something to keep in mind.
I truly hope this post and the income calculator download helps clarify some things for you in regards to the business of performing. I have always been part of a company that created, maintained and provided all of my wigs, shoes, costumes etc., so burlesque being the DIY art form that it is, was a new animal to me.
It’s not easy being an independent contract performer, but setting up systems to protect yourself, your investments and your sanity can extend your run as a performer and even ease your relationship with your partner if you have money issues.
If you have any additional insight to this, how you handle payouts, expenses, etc. I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Athena, aka Gazella
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed accountant and this information is offered to you based on my own experience. Make sure to check with your accountant before making any adjustments to your formulas for tax purposes.