5 Things You Shouldn't Do When Hiring a Spoken Word Artist

By Sadiyah Bashir

I've been writing poetry for about 6 years now, and performing for that long as well. Although this doesn't seem like a long time, I have learned a lot about writing, life and how others treat artists. 

photos from outlierimagery.com

photos from outlierimagery.com

A few months ago, I was sitting in the kitchen of a good friend of mine who is also a poet with another poet friend of mine, and we shared some horror stories of what we've encountered when it comes to being booked for shows. I know it sounds like a bad joke, 3 poets sit in the kitchen and share stories but, it was a funny moment realizing you're not the only one who has gone through some of these things. It also made me think, why don't some people truly respect artists when they need them to make their events more lively? So I've compiled a list all of experiences friends and I have gone through of 5 things someone should never do when hiring a Spoken Word artist. (Some points carry exceptions)

1. Do not book Spoken Word artists for children

Unless it is a mixed crowd meaning the ages vary, never book Spoken Word artists for children. Especially if it is an event where the children aren't expected to sit down. By the time a child is around 10, they should be able to sit and listen to a 3 minute spoken word. But most ages under that won't, and if you want to get artists for the younger crowd try singers or story tellers. Singers can draw children in with the music and keep their attention, and story tellers have visuals to please the children's eyes. But to hire a Spoken Word artist will only leave the artist feeling disrespected as no one is paying proper attention to what they are saying while children are running around and playing, and the children won't take away much from the experience.

2. Do not ask them to create a poem based on the theme of your event, 2 days before the event

Could you even imagine going to class and your professor or teacher says, "you're going to write an essay and I need it in 2 days"? Not only would you be stressed, but you probably wouldn't be able to give your all into the essay because you weren't granted the time to fully study and write. This works the same way with art, in fact for some people who treat art as a form of true personal expression, not only is it stressful because you can't give your all, its stressful because it takes a lot out of you in the process. Artists need time to create, we get writers block, we study, look for inspiration etc. we need ample time to make the piece as good as possible. Give us that time.

3. Unless you're friends with Beyonce, don't try it with your "exposure shows"

No seriously. Cut it out with exposure shows if you're not inviting people who are actually going to promote the artist. "This show will give you exposure" is usually a scapegoat and cheap way of saying, "yeah we're not gonna pay you". If you actually have benefactors willing to promote the artist and continue to hire the artist at this show then great go ahead. But usually people don't. And honestly if you don't, you're not gonna give a Spoken Word artist any more exposure than they can already grant themselves.

4. Do not discredit their work

Poets take their work seriously, its an extension of our truth. A friend of mine who is a Spoken Word artist was once told, "don't let the trophies go to your head" when he asked for payment prior to being booked for an event. Not only is this statement disrespectful, it also contradicts itself. Remember YOU are the one in need of this person and their services, not the other way around. You wouldn't tell something like this to a headliner or speaker of the show, but you say this to the artists? They actually do take our work seriously and they give our all into it. Not only are you discrediting the hard work they put in but you're also belittling it as well.


Now this is something you should do. And payment doesn't always mean money out of pocket, but making sure the artist has food and gas is really the least anyone can do. And this doesn't just stand for Spoken Word artists but artists in an genre. The phrase starving artist really holds weight. And you are the person who can change that, artists are only starving because no one respects their work enough to pay them, but yet still need their services somehow... If you need their service, they need something in return as well. (Not just exposure) and if you're doing an event for charity and ask artists to perform, not paying them because "its for charity" is a form of guilt tripping, we understand that charity comes first and there are others less fortunate, but once again, making sure the artist is at least fed and that their travel is taken care of lets the artist know that you respect them, and care about them.

6. Bonus tip for Spoken Word artists (And artists in general)

A good friend of mine Tariq Toure gave me this tip. I told him how hard it is to turn down events especially if its for charity and he said, set a limit for free events that you'll do within a month, and once you meet that quota if anyone asks you make sure to let them know that you simply can't do it for free. There's nothing wrong with saying no, part of being a professional is making sure no one is pushing you over and taking advantage of your business. And that way you'll also provide a balance of paid and free events to make sure you're conscious is clear as well.

Pray, Say & Slay Team