I have been contemplating writing a post on rates for a while now but I couldn't find an angle to approach it from. Then I came across a "casting call" on a popular portfolio hosting site. It was posted by a UK based makeup artist working in London and surrounding areas offering her freelance services for £8 per hour. This enraged me to the point that an angle was no longer needed and I just needed to get this post written down and out of my system.
Firstly, £8 an hour is only acceptable in an employed environment such as shops and offices. Secondly, I looked at her work and she is a VERY new artist which is why her rate means she will run her business at a loss and probably starve to death in a doorway using her tattered kit bag as a pillow. Being angry always makes me so dramatic.
All the above aside for a moment...You should not be charging for your services until you deserve to be paid. By this I mean that you need to be able to unequivocally handle anything a client throws at you (metaphorically speaking. I don't want new artists thinking people may actually throw things at them). You need to know your place in the team without questioning yourself. You need to understand how a set works and most importantly you need to know your job inside out and back to front. You need to have worked on every skin type and tone and be able to work as proficiently on every model, actress and person that sits in your chair. You need confidence to make your opinions valid as a client is paying for your knowledge as well as your time, supplies and skills.
"OK smarty pants, how do I support myself?!"
Very simple. You take a different job while you learn your craft. Any job. I worked for a makeup company on counter and LOVED it. Its great experience and the discounts mean your kit will grow to a healthy workable size. You can use your days off and holiday time to assist and build your book. College and school and all these millions of courses only teach you the basics. They don't teach you how to handle a model melt down, an unhappy client, a client who doesn't have the first clue about makeup and therefore cannot tell you what they want, the list is ENDLESS. The only way you can learn these things is by testing and assisting. Assisting experienced working artists allows you to see all these processes in action. It also allows you to see how professional artists handle these things in the context of a professional set. You get to observe and listen and watch and absorb everything without the pressure of a bad decision ruining your career before you have even started.
I know at least one artist who is phenomenal They are a far better artist than me. They live in a major market (London) yet their career is stuck in the same place it was 6 years ago because they tried to run before they could walk. A few naive decisions and judgements later, word has spread, they have a reputation as a flake and mud -as they say- sticks. That is quite literally all it takes.
Rates at the moment is such an important issue. Since I started this 10 years ago, I have seen a massive rise in the number of "artists" and a steady decline in rates and its not just because our economy is on its arse. Its because schools/courses/classes are not teaching fundamental business skills or industry standards in pay. These courses happily take your money but they don't comprehensively tell you how to make it back in the future. So what are you actually paying for? You are paying to enhance a skill you already have only to be pushed into a market that is so over saturated with people who don't have a clue that it drives down rates for every single one of us.
How to Starve to Death in London
Back to £8 an hour girl...Lets work this out logically. To start with she does 3 portfolio tests with a net photographer a week (this is me being optimistic)...8 hours per shoot give or take. That's £64 a day. Take off her travel, that cheeky coffee on the way, the lashes she needs, the baby wipes and other disposables and right there you shave off £15. So shes left with £49. Lets round it up to £50 just to throw around yet more optimism, why not? So now as a self employed woman, she wont be paying tax on that income but what about her national insurance contributions? If her income nudges slightly above what I have used as an example a further 9% of her income goes to class 4 NI and regardless of how much she earns she has to pay another £2.65 (as of 2012-2012) a week in class 2 contributions. This will leave her with less than £150 a week to live on. For everything. Rent, bills, food, kit replenishment, travel to jobs etc. All this is based on my eternal optimism that she will do 3 jobs a week with no reputation, no contacts to people who are actually working and no clue of how to run her business. Yes she may make a bit more during wedding season but what about the dry spells? What about for the few weeks over Christmas when everything winds down? The few weeks a year when it dips a little? I am sure you now see my point.
Industry Standards vs Consumer Perceptions
As a freelancer you never know conclusively how much money you will make from one job to the next. You also never know when that client will action your invoice and actually give you your hard earned cash. In fact, I (and most freelancers I know) spend more time chasing money than they do on set. I wont even get into how they will haggle and try not to pay you at all. Yawn.
Survival and living reasons aside, there is another very important reason why £8 per hour is a completely unacceptable rate (hourly rates like that are not industry standard in print and commercial work regardless of how high you set it but I will address this later). Undercutting your fellow artist will make you very unpopular very quickly. Alienating your peers in this industry is a bad idea for a whole host of reasons that I am sure you can work out for yourself. Undercutting is a sign of desperation and clearly points to someone who isn't ready to be working. This in turn drives down rates and maybe more importantly confidence in our profession. Someone who isn't ready to be working charges this ridiculously cheap rate, does a bad job, client gets what they paid for....I mean client loses confidence. Some are often left with the opinion "We will just have the model do it next time and the photographer can fix things in post..." Wonderful, hey?
This is also about WORTH. Good makeup artists are worth their weight in gold (har har har). Our main job on a working set is to save the photographer hours of retouch. We came into fruition for this very purpose. To make people look amazing on camera before photoshop when it would take lab techs and photographers days and days to repaint negatives. "How about we get someone to just paint it out on the person?" I am sure some very clever person said one day. For the record I don't think this is how we came into being but poetic licence seems to have gotten the better of me. Still, you get my point right? If you can see it in the flesh the photographer has to retouch it. Simple as that. Undercutting other artists damages your worth then filters down to the rest of us. Not cool. For example, I had this conversation a few weeks ago:
Lady: Oh the girl doing our wedding party is only charging £10 a face! You should so do that Lucy! I mean shes getting £70 just for a mornings work...
Me: Nah, I don't really do weddings and when I do its at least £70 just for the brides trial and I am not considered expensive...
Lady: SEVENTY POUNDS?! Seventy whole pounds just to SLAP ON A BIT OF MAKEUP?! Pfft...no wonder you don't do weddings. It only took that girl 5 minutes.
Me in my head: No, YOU are exactly the reason I don't do weddings. *RAGE*
You see? A shoddy artist literally "slaps on a bit of makeup" while charging silly prices and automatically people associate this with every one of us. They don't take into account the length of time you've been working, your skill level, the service you give and the time you take they just think you are the same because that's all they have experienced. In one morning Little Miss £10 A Face devalued us to at least 7 potential clients.
How do we charge?
One major problem in this industry is that we are cagey about how much we charge. If we don't share, how will others actually learn? You can walk into shops and find the prices right there on the shelf and as freelancers we are a product. Its a shame we don't come in a box to be honest as we wouldn't have a lot of these issues if people had to pluck us from a shelf and pay for us at a till....but I digress. I learnt how to price and charge through mentors when I just started out telling me their rates and helping me understand. So I am going to be honest with you lovely readers. Generally its a flat half and full day rate. For big commercial gigs my personal day rate is fixed at £350 for a full day (8 hours) and £200 for half day (4 hours). Editorial doesn't usually pay much and many magazines just offer you the pages, credit and cover expenses. Its up to you to decide if the tear sheets will add value to your book and so increase your work flow. Look books, catalogues, shows etc. I personally don't have set rate. Its a case by case basis and I try to offer a little flexibility for the client (especially if they are a new designer) without pricing myself too low. Rates also differ by area. I am in Liverpool at the moment so my rate will be lower than London or NYC for example.
Find a senior artist in your area who needs an assistant and will mentor you. Good, confident artists wont mind sharing their skills and knowledge with you because they are secure in their own ability. They wont fear you as competition and in turn they wont mind you knowing how much they make.
So get out there, assist your fabulous butts off then go and make some money! Secure your worth and believe that you are worth paying. Every time you turn away a job that wants to pay you pennies because you're "new" and every time you refuse to work for no money (not tests) you are increasing not only the respect you have for your talent but the respect everyone has for our profession. We need to stick together to keep our beautiful, beloved industry valuable!