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Venting. .

Hi, Everyone…..

I just need to use this forum as an avenue to vent a bit of frustration over what’s been going on for the past couple of months. I welcome any comments and/or advice from anyone who reads this. Maybe this might also serve as a lesson for others out there who may avoid the mistakes I have made.

I opened up my studio about a year and a half ago. Frankly, I started working with clients just as a hobby and a way to make a little bit of spending money. However, things started getting really busy quickly and it turned into a second full time job.

I mostly work with singer/songwriters who don’t play any instruments. I do the arrangement of their songs, and record their vocals. It isn’t pro by any means but they get a damn good product for the $165.00/song I charge.

For the most part, I have a great group of people who come in regularly. I’m pretty flexible with payment plans and I try to keep things relaxed and laid back. Most of my clients have become close friends and they bring me in other clients by word of mouth which I reward them for with free sessions and whatnot.

However, there have been a few instances which have driven me out of my skull with aggravation. It’s easy to look back and look at the mistakes I made but it’s real hard to make good, solid judgments when I’m in the middle of it.

First case involved a middle-aged female singer. She had a weekly gig at a local upscale-ish club here in Ft. Lauderdale. She wanted custom arrangements of songs for her performances and told me that the owner of the club would pay $62.50 for each song I did and she would pay the other half which would net me $125.00/song. She told me that payment would come after the song was performed.

That should have been the first red flag.

So, stupid me goes to work and I did ten songs for her over the course of six weeks. She paid me for the first song and orders more. I did them and gave them to her on a regular basis so that she could rehearse them. I know she performed them because I went to see her perform. A few weeks go by when she performed the songs I did and I still had not received payment. So I finally ask her one evening and she told me she would speak to the club owner.


Another week goes by and I called her on the phone one afternoon and asked when I could expect to receive payment. She told me she had to hang up but she would call me later. Nothing. I finally emailed her an invoice. She emailed me back saying that the club owner was dissatisfied with the music I did as it was too “choppy”. I told her that was fine, but why was she performing the music week after week if the club owner was dissatisfied with the music. No response.

I then decide to approach the club owner who tells me no, he never told her that the music was unsatisfactory and that he paid her for his portion of the song costs. (He told me that he was paying her to commission music arrangements because his clientele was sick and tired of hearing the same music performed week after week). He told me he was sorry but there was nothing he could do about since the agreement was between me and her.

So, I stopped contact with her and never did music for her again. Interestingly enough, I hear her perform in other places around here using the “choppy” music I did for her.

Lesson learned. Get it in writing.

I began working with a songwriter/singer here who was a waiter in one of the restaurants I frequent. He found out I was into music and told me he would like to “drop by and check out my stuff”.

He came over one afternoon and we started shooting the bull about music and whatnot. He started singing a tune he wrote and the next thing I know we have a full arrangement going. I gave hI'm a CD of what I had done with his song and didn’t talk about payment because the whole thing had just come out while we were just screwing around.

He called me a week later and wanted to come in and record the vocals. “Sure” I told hI'm and like an idiot I didn’t mention payment. He came in, laid a killer vocal and I mixed it and, like the moron I am, I gave hI'm the CD. He loved it so I figured that I would just chalk this one up to pro bono and hit hI'm up the next time.

We called me a couple of weeks later and said he had another song he wanted to do. I told hI'm to come in and we would discuss it. He showed up and I told hI'm that I got $165.00 per song and I would be happy to let hI'm pay me later if he needed to. All he needed to do was sign this promissory note saying that he would pay me in X amount of time and we could get to work.

He got really nasty and copped an attitude when I brought that up. I told hI'm I was sorry but I had had bad experiences in the past. I also told hI'm that it was nothing personal but I just wanted to be sure I would get paid for the work I do. He left without doing the song but he called two days later, apologized and came in to do the song which he paid for in full.

All was well until he wanted even more music done but said he didn’t have the money. I told hI'm that wouldn’t be a problem and I kept on working on his project. However, song after song was done and he never had the money. I finally sent hI'm an email saying that I understood he was having cash flow issues but I would need to suspend the project until he started paying me on a regular basis. He shoots me back an email throwing a big tantrum about how he is going to be a “superstar” and that it would be in my best interest to keep doing music with hI'm because he “has some great things coming up for him”. I told hI'm that would be fine, just come in a sign a contract with me that says I’ll at least get paid for the work I had done. Nope! He didn’t want to sign anything. He kept going on and on about how I should be working with hI'm and how successful he was going to be and blah, blah, blah. At this point I told hI'm get himself some management, get his stuff copywritten, get registered with BMI, etc. and show me that he was serious and then I would sit down with hI'm and hammer out a deal for his project. Until then I told hI'm that I could no longer afford to do his project and not get paid and it wasn’t fair to all the other clients who do pay. I wished hI'm the best of luck and left it at that.

I love what I do, but these two experiences have left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. I hate this stuff because I feel like I am shooting myself in the foot by letting these people go but I also don’t want to be taken advantage of.

It bothers me that I do stuff like this when I know better. It’s my own fault for not bailing when things started to look shady but it leaves me wondering who I can trust and I hate being that way.

Thanks for reading. I know this is one long post and I would be interested in reading some feedback for anyone who would like to leave some.


JoeH Tue, 07/25/2006 - 01:58
KrazyKorg, I say this with all due respect and love:

The first thing you have to do is look the person in the eye that has done this to you and take a stand. That means going to the mirror, and saying clearly to the reflection there: YOU ARE A SCHMUCK. STOP DOING THIS!!!

The next question you have to ask yourself is: Will I allow this to happen again, or have I hit the point where I will stop doing this to myself? (In the words of Doctor Phil: "You must be enjoying this because you haven't done anything to stop it....")

Everything in life has a price tag, whether you're doing this for fun or profit, or somewhere in between. If you're giving away your time because you enjoy playing around in the studio at a second job (a hobby, perhaps?), then it is what it is, and you can't expect people to pay you while you waffle around about what your time and talent is worth. If YOU don't project an image of control and quality, no one is going to create it FOR you.

On the other hand, if you DO want to make some money to support your habit, (er...reinvest in your second career), then you need a firm set of rules and procedures.

However you go about it, you need to let any and all who come in to your place to work what the rules are in terms of payment. PERIOD, NO EXCEPTIONS. (Do you dictate the terms of the checkout line at your local Acme or Superfresh or WalMart Store? Do they let you take your car out of the shop without paying by cash, check or credit card? (Didn't THINK so...) It's no damn bit different with a studio - Money talks and everyone else walks. Would let these same people take cash out of your wallet? Food out of your fridge? Shoes off your kids feet????

Next time, don't let the temptation of a "Fun" gig cloud your judgement when you're sizing up a new project. Make sure they can pay, and make sure they know they MUST pay upon completion of the master. (in the case of that "Buddy" person taking advantage of you, you were right to put on the brakes and re-define the situation. He was wrong to take offense, but you still lost out in terms of time spent on his dead-project.)

The first step in good sales/business is the "Pain" step - your potential clients are in pain - they want/need/have to make a recording. If they pick YOU to do it for them, all the better. (No different than when you have a toothache - while you're in pain, you'll pay ANYTHING to get that thing fixed.)

The second step is the money step: Do they have the cash or the funding to pull it off? If the answer is NO, (or if you get some nonsensical BS from a client about delayed payments, "I'll pay you when I'm a star", yada yada yada), then get the heck away, ASAP. You're wasting your time. Cut your losses now. Beat it; show them the door, thank them for their interest, and get on about your life. Your time will be better spent on your own projects, emptying the trash, or installing some new hardware, etc. for the next REAL client that shows up (in pain/need).

The third step is doing the gig itself, and then the final step (The most important) is getting paid. Not DESERVING to be paid, but actually PAID, as in: The check clears the bank. Up until this point, it's meaningless (in terms of a business.)

You're fortunate in that this is your second job, and you have some leeway to learn the ropes, get burned a few times without your life going down the tubes in the process. You're not betting the house on a gig, nor are your kids going hungry because daddy didn't have a good production agreement with dishonest/insane clients who never intended to pay anyway.

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but you've really gotten corn-holed at least twice from the way you explain it, and unless you get some business rules in place, you're going to get reamed again, real soon.

Consider a night-school course in business (I'm serious; more people SHOULD) or at least network with folks who are doing parallel types of businesses on their own. (CPAs are good, so are private contractors - you'd be surprised how similar your horror stories may be...)

Good biz practices are as important as knowing how to run your DAW or put up a mic, and it will protect you from these loonies next time. You may also want to consider a partner, or even someone willing to help you out, show you the ropes. (Having an accountant - even a fictitious one - is always a GREAT way to reign people in. If you're reluctant to play the heavy in a bad situation, you can simply say: "I'm sorry, but my accountant won't allow that." Few people will question that kind of comment, and it might just let them know you're serious.)

But it really comes down to you: Do you want to play around with this, and get burned over and over again, or do you want to make that the LAST time you put up with such nonsense from these hoohas?

I HIGHLY recommend a great little book (still in print) by Robert J. Ringer, entitled: "Looking Out for #1". (It's not as selfish as the title implies.) And when you're done with that, pick up his other book: "To Be or Not To Be Intimidated" (It's a reworked book of his, formerly titled: "Winning Through Intimidation" ) Both are quick reads, and just might open your mind up to some real, solid, life-changing concepts that will serve you well, esp the next time this stuff happens to you.

Good luck! I hope you're angry enough with that guy in the mirror to put a stop to this once and for all. Life is really too short to accept that kind of BS from ANYBODY.

Cucco Tue, 07/25/2006 - 06:22
Excellent points Joe!

It IS tough getting started and making money at this game.

One of my studio drummers commented to me about a recording I just had him wok on:

"Look, these people (the clients) do this stuff because they love it and they expect that I'll do it for the same reason and that my payment will be the satisfaction of a job well done. Well, I went to college for this and do it all day long. I love it, but I still need to get paid for it! Make sure they pony up quick!"

I've been thinking about framing that and hanging it on my wall.

It's easy to get caught up in people's enthusiasm and do projects for the hell of it. It's also easy to buy into peoples' reasoning for why they can't pay this time around. ("I need these tracks done, but I just had to get braces for Johnny...can I get you later? Or can I work something out?")

The problem is, they're like stray cats. You give one a handout, and it seems like they tell all of their freeloading buddies - "Yeah, I got this done at this GREAT studio downtown. He didn't charge me a dime either!!"

One of the best things I ever did for myself was publish a rate sheet as well as print it out and keep it with me at all times.

When clients ask how much a session is, I whip out the rate sheet. (Even though I have it memorized, it appears to them as though I am going by some letter of the law - studio speaking that is.)

At that point in time, my studio actually started turning profits! Hard to imagine, but I was operating for nearly 7 years on the "good ol buddy" system and barely making it by!

The hardest thing for me to do was to go to all of my existing clients and tell them that all of the deals we had worked out in the past and all of the free sessions were now over. Out of over 30 regular clients (orchestras, schools, wind ensembles, etc.) I lost 2. 1 of which just came back to me literally last week. (They had been having this guy who has a CRAPPY little studio come record them instead. Go figure, a professional chorus unhappy with a guy who uses a Mackie 1202 and SM57s to record their concerts onto a Tascam 8 track.... :roll: )

You're a professional - charge like one.

When the plumber comes and fixes your sink, he hands you a bill at the end. You don't even think about whipping out your wallet - you just do it.

Such is life. Don't feel guilty about asking for money. You worked, you deserve it. If someone gets pissed off, they're not worth taking your time for.

I know you came to vent and weren't necessarily looking for advice - I just figured - "Hey, been there, done that" and maybe I could give you some pointers.

Good luck!


pr0gr4m Tue, 07/25/2006 - 09:21
It's a business, treat it like one.

You could do something where you demand payment on delivery. If you don't want to force a contract or have them sign anything but you are willing to do the work, tell them what it costs and go ahead and do the work. Let the potential client hear it. Maybe even let them sing to it, only in your studio of course.

If they like it, and want it, have them pay the $165 then AND ONLY THEN deliver the finished product. Don't give them anything until they pay you. If they don't want to pay or can't pay, tell them that you'll hold the arrangement for a period of time, say a month or so. If they end up not paying for it then you could sell it to someone else.

I would imagine that someone sitting right there listening to a finished product that they like will not want to walk away empty handed.

Of course, they may end up not paying. For projects like that, you could compile the unpurchased work and sell it to someone else.

Another alternative is the down payment. Tell them you want $40, $60 or $82.50 up front which will be applied to their final cost. That way you will at least get something if the client doesn't follow through.

BTW...what's the club in Lauderdale? I live in Boca and I'm just curious.

JoeH Tue, 07/25/2006 - 09:49
KrazyKorg, I had another thought or two after reading Cucco's and Program's great ideas....

This is a business alright, but you may find in the niche you're pursuing that there's a lot of freeloaders and bottom feeders. Some of these folks are simply naive, some are downright evil. Unfortunately, YOU are the one who has to sort that out, and a good biz plan & stated policy is the first step do get there.

You can always do stuff for "Free", of course, as long as you define as such. (A Labor of Love, etc.) If you're not doing this as your sole income, then you've got some leeway - as long as YOU allow it. Make it clear who's paying, and who's working with you on "Private projects".

I have found (at least in my neck'o'the'woods) that there are at least two clear types of clients and projects:

One is a "Professional" invidual or group who comes to us out of a specific need, and has already set aside the funds and knows how it works. Chances are, we're not the only business they deal with; they also deal regularly with concert venues, agencies, printing companies, musicians' unions, etc. These clients are already in the swim, and know what it costs to do things properly. (Which doesn't stop SOME folks from trying to screw U, but at least you're dealing with pro's.)

The rest fall into the "amateur" category, and like it or not, it's your job to educate these folks about payments and standard biz practices. (Everyone thinks it's "FUN" and then are surprised when the bill comes at the end....duh!)

You can always pick your 'Fun" projects and work for free or for experience, but just keep track of who's working with you privately, and who's HIRING you professionally.

less pain, more gain.

RemyRAD Tue, 07/25/2006 - 11:52
I can safely say while quoting a famous past president, "I feel your pain".

Unfortunately when arrangements are loose, frequently so will the payments be, if at all. They won't work on your car until you sign at the bottom. Remind them of that.

Something for nothing, is worth nothing. Unless, like myself, at times, I want to experiment with a new piece of equipment or technique and so under those situations, I will frequently do a freebie. Since if anything does not quite go technically well, it was all just a free experiment.

Sometimes, I will produce a wedding video for a friend, for free and put as much time and effort into that as any of the $1500 weddings I've done for others. It's because I want to do something that I do it not because I believed in charity or convenient financing.

We all know that popular music is like playing the lottery. You have to play to win but sometimes, you lose.

Back in 1978, when we opened our new studio, we had this lovely little 14-year-old girl brought in by her Methodist minister father, to cut a demo. She was really really talented! Totally incredible! Fabulous songs and melodies while she played the piano and sang! We had been working with another band and for a later session put them together with her for an even more dramatic and professional demo. Both Philip and myself wanted to become producer and engineers for her and wanted to continue our projects with her, gratis. But Philip's dad, the owner of the Company said he "wanted her to pay for the time". And so, since they were not extremely well-off, we never did another recording of her. A very talented little 14-year-old girl by the name of Ellen Amos. Some of you may remember her now as Tori Amos? C'est la vie!

If you don't want to use contracts with people, may I suggest doing what we all do best? Let them know that you are recording their conversations to " ensure better service". If they don't pay you, you might be able to use that as admissible evidence in a civil court case? Maybe they would like to purchase that recording from you??

Legalese legal hard
Ms. Remy Ann David