Exerting Professionalism for Creatives

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“Good” can be the enemy of “great”.  A lot of creatives fall prey to being complacent and remaining just ”good” when they could be “great”. However, their satisfaction of being good makes them lose opportunities or clients who are looking for someone great.

There are many factors that can prevent one from being “great”. A number may not be easily under your control – resources, luck, connections or opportunities but factors that are in your complete control are your mindset and attitude towards your art. A lack of positive professional attitude is what holds a lot of creatives back and in turn it affects them from getting the things that may not be under their control (resources, luck, connections, opportunities).

One thing I’ve always stressed to professional creatives (not just new ones) is that you have to exert your professionalism and do your best to ensure you can present your art in the best possible way. If you are hired to present your art (whether you are a singer, photographer, designer, writer, magician or chef), you are hired not just as a talent but also for your professional expertise.

As a creative, you are supposed to advise your client or create an environment so that you can present your art or deliver your creative product at the highest level – after all your client and ultimately the audience rightfully deserve that. You are not a “Yes Man”! You should be a “Yes I can… but listen to what I think based on my experience and expertise” man… or woman!

It surprises me when creatives allow their client and environment to dictate how they should present their creative product or service.

Early in my career, I was booked for a corporate event. It was a late show scheduled at 1030pm at a 5-star hotel. When I got to the venue about 9pm, I was shocked to enter the ballroom to find a majority of the guests drunk. People were dancing on tables, doing a train dance around tables, being rowdy and just being plain drunk. Basically, 80% of the audience were drunk, save for 2 tables comprising of the company’s management staff.

As you can imagine, the show was a disaster. It would take several pages to detail what happened in the show but here is just one example of what I had to deal with. The emcee introduced me onto stage, my music hit and I took the stage from backstage. Almost immediately, a large drunk man bumbled up onto stage and got in my face looking for a fight. I immediately put my hands behind my back, avoided eye contact and moved away from him. He continued following me until he was pulled off stage by event staff and my stage crew. The drunk then proceeded to get into with the staff, almost instigating a fight. No one else besides the management staff were really watching the show with full attention.

I slugged through the show and when I got off stage, I looked for the event producer who booked me. Almost immediately, he told me that he knew the crowd would be like that as it happened the previous year and another performer faced a similar problem. The problem is that the company management gives its staff (blue-coloured production workers) a free-flow of alcohol as a reward at its yearly dinner. I asked why my show was booked so late and not earlier before everyone got drunk. His answer was that that was what the client wanted. It never occurred to him that as a professional event producer, he should give have exerted his professionalism and given his client the right advice, and not just be a “yes man”.

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In another incident, I remember being appalled when an event producer expected me to do a show on a small stage cluttered with other items (rostrum, band equipment etc). Understand, that the items were not fixed and could be moved if necessary. But, the event producer felt it would be too much trouble to clear the stage. His vocalized mindset was: “If you are a professional, you can entertain the audience regardless of the stage size!”

My thinking was: “Yes, I CAN entertain the audience on this small stage… but DO I want to? I don’t want to do a good show, I want to do a great show! Will the show look great for the audience if the show is presented in this manner… I don’t think so!”

broken stage

Bear in mind, the event producer was a “professional” event producer with many more years of experience in the industry than me, at that time. But even then, I could tell there was something wrong with his line of thought. Rather than to debate with him, I simply requested (insisted) that items be cleared as much as possible and I delivered a show the audience deserved… to the best of my ability at that time. I knew he thought I was a hassle but I also knew that I knew what was needed to do a good show and make myself and the event look good (or better than what it was).

Since then my shows have gotten much bigger. And, due to these two incidents, I sat down and developed my 2-page-long technical rider that accompanies my contract for all shows. All serious professional entertainers should have technical riders with their contracts. This covers everything from the size of the stage, to the loading facilities specifications, audio, video, lighting and all the technical requirements that are necessary for the artist to perform a show. I also indicate that I have the right to stop the show with no penalty if there is any imminent danger or harm to myself or my crew during the show.

Higher end artists will have additional riders (demands) to ensure that there are comfortable to do a good show. This can range from specifications of a dressing room size, its facilities and refreshments made available by the show organizer. While the luxury rider is dependent on the clout of the performer and value, all (professional) show organizers know that best efforts need to be made to ensure technical requirements are in place because they are necessary for the execution of the show.

Unlike the luxury rider, technical riders will make or break a show. The lack of sound reinforcement, theatrical lighting or video coverage can made a world-class A+ show look like a cheap B-grade production. Imagine if you took away Lady Gaga’s costumes, lighting, pyro and stage sets away. Even this pop queen would not be able to present her show in the way one would expect.

So, while it is the responsibility of the show organizer or event producer to ensure requirements are in place, it is the sole responsibility of the entertainer to ensure the requirements are clear and that the show organizer understands what is needed early.

Of course, there will always be compromise based on the degrees of expectation from both the performers and organizer, depending on the value and scale of the show. For example, if an entertainer charges $500 for a show, it is unrealistic to expect $10,000 worth of technical support. But, if an entertainer charges $20,000 a show, that same value in technical support is not unexpected. After all, a client has already invested that much in the talent, it makes no sense that the talent is not supported to allow him or her to deliver the show that matches that fee.

While the demands will always have to be compromised due to practical reasons, the level of professionalism does not. Accepting what is there and working with it is lazy and complacent, especially if you can do something about it.

While I have spent some time talking about entertainers, the same expectation and attitude will apply to any other type of creative. For example:

A good cook does not need fancy ingredients, spices, utensils or a posh dining setting to cook a good meal that can fill the bellies of a table of guests. After all, a hamburger meal from a fast food restaurant technically will make you full just as a 5-course meal from a 3-Michelin Star restaurant would. But a gourmet chef knows, he needs all the elements (what may be considered frills and unnecessary by lesser cooks) in order to deliver the meal he/ she is paid to cook. And, that is why you can spend 20 times more (and are willing to do so) at such a restaurant as compared to a hamburger joint.

A photographer will adjust the lighting, position of the subject/ himself/ obstacles, barriers of light and type of lens to get the perfect shot. Now, a good photographer can still get a good shot regardless of the environment. But, the great photographer knows how to create the best environment to capture an amazing shot. This allows him to deliver an exceptional product to a client and differentiate him/ herself from other photographers who do not go the extra mile.

From personal experience with working with many photographers over the years, I can see the difference in the attitude of true professionals. While many use the same grade of camera, what differentiates the good from the great is the amount of preparation work that goes to getting a single shot and arranging the environment so that the subject looks good. The difference? The resultant photo and the extra “zero” on the end of the photographer’s paycheck.

In a nutshell, to a large extent, a positive professional attitude is what starts you off on the journey from good to great!


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