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Pyrotechnics is the art of designing and setting off firework displays. To do this safely, pyrotechnicians have to get proper training. Even with training, however, pyrotechnics is not a field in which you get rich. It is a career for those who love thrilling audiences. Profit in the field is low, with most pyrotechnicians considering pyrotechnics as a hobby or second ob.
Pyrotechnicians are typically independent contractors, meaning they freelance job to job. This means that their salary is dependent on how many jobs they can get during the year, and that there really is not an "average" pay. Some pyrotechnicians are able to find work at places like Disneyland or events like major galas, but jobs tend to be limited to holidays such as the Fourth of July or the Chinese New Year. For this reason, pyrotechnicians generally do their pyrotechnic work as a hobby or to gain supplemental income.
Pyrotechnicians are not paid hourly. Instead, they are paid per show. Rates are a percentage of the total show cost. This means that a larger show translates to a bigger paycheck. Because pyrotechnicians are freelancers, the percentage charged ultimately is up to them. Pyrotechnicians earn higher amounts when they are able to negotiate higher show percentages with clients.
Paying the Crew
Pyrotechnicians rarely work alone. They depend on crews to help set up the show and put it on. Pyrotechnicians are responsible for dividing their earnings among the crew members, so the more crew members a pyrotechnician has, the lower his take-home pay is. Additionally, pyrotechnicians usually provide meals for their crew members. In some cases for very small shows, this eats up what the pyrotechnician would provide the crew member in pay. Contribution of crew members to a show matters, with those with the ability to step up and take charge if necessary getting more than those who cannot, says the JobMonkey website.
As an example, if it costs a pyrotechnician $100 to do a small show and he charges 125 percent, he would get $125 from the client. If he had four crew members and split proceeds evenly because everyone is equally qualified, he and the crew members each would get $25. If lunches cost $10 for himself and each crew member, however, profit is $75, or $15 per person. If the crew works for three hours for the show, actual pay would be just $5 per hour. This means that even when a pyrotechnician works, he isn't always making money. Many times, a pyrotechnician just breaks even and volunteering is not unusual.
The Bottom Line
Because the number of shows a pyrotechnician can do per year is limited, pyrotechnicians usually don't consider pyrotechnics as a full time career off which they can live and pay bills. Even so, if a pyrotechician networks well, provides excellent services and can land large shows, he should be able to support his love of the craft and pocket a small profit. Having a degree related to chemistry sometimes helps a pyrotechnician do better, as the chemistry background gives them a complete understanding of the fireworks and allows for quick debugging during a show. This can influence customer satisfaction and referrals. Willingness to travel also may help, but the profit from the show must exceed travel costs for moving around for work to make sense, and pyrotechnicians usually have other full-time jobs to which they are committed that limit travel options.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.