Drag queens spend an astonishing amount of money each year on perfecting their look. One drag queen estimated that she spent around $10,000 per year just on hair and makeup which, let’s be honest, is a considerable amount of cash. Because of this, you may believe that drag queens get paid astonishing sums of cash, but do they? How much do drag queens get paid?
The amount a drag queen earns varies considerably. It will depend on the venues the drag queen performs in; plus, the experience they have. Newer drag queens may work for tips only (i.e. they won’t get paid at all by the venue), while drag queens with a bit more experience may make a few hundred dollars per gig.
While we don’t have all the answers to how much drag queens get paid, we are going to attempt to give you an overview of drag queen pay and what can impact their income.
How Much Do Drag Queens Get Paid?
This is akin to asking how long a piece of string is. There is no set figure for how much a drag queen actually gets paid. It can vary drastically from one drag queen to another. However, being a drag queen, even a top drag queen, is rarely going to make the big bucks. People that get into drag aren’t doing it to make money (most of the time), they are doing it because they want to show off their art.
If drag queens are fairly new to the drag scene, chances are they won’t earn any money at all from their gigs. Well, they won’t be paid by the venue for their gigs. Instead, they are going to be working for tips only. Unless the tips that roll in are particularly lucrative, chances are that the tips will rarely cover their travel expenses, let alone their makeup.
As a drag queen starts to gain a bit more prominence on the drag scene, they may start to get paid by venues. It won’t be much for a newer drag queen. We’re talking $25 to $100 a night. Although, the vast majority of drag queens are going to be on the lower end of things here. Again, the bulk of the income that they will make will come through tips. Even at a good venue, tips will rarely go over $50 to $100 per night, mostly because the drag queens are going to be paid in $1 bills.
Once a drag queen starts to become a bit of a star on the drag scene (and this is rarely guaranteed), they may end up making anywhere from $50 to $250 a night, depending on the venue they are starring at. It will also depend on how much of a draw a drag queen is. Obviously, a drag queen who has won a wealth of competitions (or even starred in something like RuPaul’s Drag Race) is going to earn more cash than somebody who is locally famous. The bulk of the income will still be tips. These drag queens may make up to $200 per night in tips, although the income can be quite sporadic, depending on where they are starring.
All in all, a drag queen can make anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000+ per year, with the vast majority of drag queens sitting around the $10,000-$20,000 mark. Most of the time, being a drag queen isn’t something that you can make a living from, even if you are very good at what you do. The number of opportunities for drag queens to make money are incredibly limited, even for the best performers. When you do find an opportunity, the pay is mediocre, but at least you are getting paid. Still, as we said before, most drag queens are not doing this to make it rich. They are doing it because they want to share their love of this art form and actually entertain people.
How Drag Queens Earn Their Money
How a drag queen earns their money will vary from queen to queen. The money-making opportunities will depend massively on the popularity of the drag queen, as well as where they work. Obviously, a drag queen that works in San Francisco probably has more money-making opportunities at their disposal than, let’s say, a small town in the middle of Texas (not that we imagine there are that many drag queens actually located there)
In this section, we want to go through the ways that a drag queen does make some money. We won’t give specifics about how much a drag queen can earn under each category here, mostly because it is unpredictable. But we do want to show that despite the limited money-making potential some drag queens have, many have opted to try and get as much income from the community as possible. This way, they can continue to share their craft with the world.
As we said – a good amount of income, at least for the more experienced queens, will come from venue work. Once a drag queen has gained a bit of experience, normally by working for ‘free’ at various bars and clubs (sometimes doing some open mic stuff), she’ll start to do a bit of venue work.
Venue work is never going to pay the largest amount of cash, but once it starts to properly roll in for an experienced queen, they can probably make a sizable amount of money, at least enough to cover their expenses plus make a little bit of profit.
Some of the top drag queens will eventually get a residency at a top venue. Here, they get almost guaranteed income each week (exclusive of tips), and they have the opportunity to devise their own show. Although, obviously, the vast majority of queens are never going to get to this point!
If a queen does her job well enough, or she is just fantastic at marketing her talents, then she may be able to find some work at some private functions. This may be a bit trickier in the busier markets e.g. there are a lot of highly talented queens looking for work in San Francisco and thus the competition is high. This means that it can never really be regarded as stable income, at least not until the queen has become pretty well established on the scene.
For most queens, this is where the bulk of the income is going to come from. Tips. Tips, and more tips. Every single drag brunch, for instance, will actively encourage that tips are given to the performers. In fact, it isn’t just encouraged, it is a requirement to tip.
For the newer queens, tips are pretty much going to be the only money they make. It may not even be a lot. Some queens may walk away with just $20-$40 in tips per night, and most of this is going to be in dollar bills. Still, income is income, and it is all going to help to offset the cost of makeup, travel, etc.
We have seen plenty of the more talented, and more famous, queens sell their own merchandise. For example – singers and comedians will often release their own CDs. Other queens may release DVDs of their acts, posters, t-shirts, and whatever else could bring in the cash. However, selling merchandise can often be a big risk. After all, you have to buy the merchandise in advance and if it fails to sell, you’ll be out of pocket.
There are some drag competitions that will offer cash prizes. While it won’t earn a stable income for a drag queen, it will add some money to their pocket if they win.
The High Cost of Being a Drag Queen
You must remember that being a drag queen is expensive. Most drag queens are never going to make a cent from being a drag queen. Most end up making a loss. Once you factor in clothing, makeup, and travel, there probably isn’t much left to spend from the income. This is why so many queens actively encourage people to only get into this business if they are in it for the art, not for the money.
Don’t get us wrong – there are some drag queens who are making a huge amount of cash every single year, but these are few and far between. Even the top drag queens you see at some drag clubs probably aren’t making that much cash.
Drag queens really don’t make that much money. In fact, most drag queens will end up making a loss in the pursuit of their craft. The only drag queens that really make any serious cash from performing are those who have gained a bit of traction on the scene. The vast majority of performers will probably end up working for cash tips only, and this is rarely going to be enough to help off-set the cost of makeup, travel, and other expenses.