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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Have you ever been stiffed, or paid unacceptably late, for a music-related job?

September 6, 2013 at 4:05 PM

I was actually pretty shocked to learn this week in Catherine Manoukian's blog that there are festivals who would fail to pay their soloists for more than two years!

Argue all you want about what a performance is "worth," but once you've hired someone to perform and once that person has given the performance, you must pay.

And yet it happens. For me, I've been in several situations where an orchestra has failed to pay the musicians. In one situation, they negotiated with the union, after the fact, that the musicians would be retroactively "donating" their time.

I think it's one thing to agree to do a benefit concert, but one doesn't agree to "make" it a benefit concert after being hired to perform for a fee! And being paid does not mean being paid years from now, it means being paid in a timely fashion. Does such a thing need to go in a contract? Maybe so!

Have you ever been stiffed, or paid in an unacceptably late fashion (i.e. years), for a musical performance, or for teaching, or for another musical service you provided?

From Julian Musgrave
Posted on September 6, 2013 at 4:31 PM
The vast majority of respondants (presumably pros) have been stiffed. That's shocking. It's time the guilty parties were named and shamed. A job for perchance?
From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 6, 2013 at 4:52 PM
"I think it's one thing to agree to do a benefit concert, but one doesn't agree to "make" it a benefit concert after being hired to perform for a fee! And being paid does not mean being paid years from now, it means being paid in a timely fashion. Does such a thing need to go in a contract? Maybe so!"

Yes, of course. I'd otherwise be most surprised.

The fee and deposit payable to a musician and how much, date(s) & mode of payment, together with other basic terms such as contact info, event logistical details, any additional need(s) of the musician and cancellation provision should have been agreed in advance in writing.

A signed, simple 1-page agreement is all that is needed for precaution. I am astonished so many musicians (above) have been unpaid.

I have been involved with over a dozen small scale festivals lasting from 1-9 days & for my part, if my pianist [a postgraduate student, not even a professional yet] did not receive her fee paid at least at door by the festival committee or before the day, as agreed at the market rate of the job, I will not let her play. We have a choice. Not to play.

**You do not have to play for a festival unless and until you have already been paid in full at the latest just before your performance or earlier - in accordance with your written contract. The deposit is normally paid on the date of signing the contract or in some cases this may be later, on a specified date given on a less formal e-mail confirmation. Otherwise there is no reason to treat yourself as being less than equal to a plumber. (We can't speak for non-festival artists or orchestral musicians.)**

I hope it is not the case that classical musicians are a non-assertive lot. Are you? Or do you suffer from low self-esteem, such that, you fear at times the very thought of asking for something to be in writing?

As a freelancer whatever your profession, in order to survive you need to: (1) be aware always, what your bottom line (£) is and (2) know when it is time to walk away.

I recall my very experienced old builder who perhaps did not finish school, telling me "I don't do no contracts and never done 'em" and the response was: "How about a half-page one? No fancy words."

Having anticipated his response as almost all the London builders in the area avoid contracts like a plague, for fear of being made to compensate for excessive delays for which builders are notoriously famous, I duly produced a very short piece. He repeated his objection several times over like a broken record before I decided at length: "Look, I am a lawyer and I've never had any work done without something in writing? Do you want the job? Or not?" We were the only one family we know whose home building extension finished on time before its due deadline. There was a penalty. There was a choice.

Ed Sheeran (not a classical musician) travelled and did free gigs for about 3 years. It was he admitted, his choice, his decision, his way of promoting himself to generate repeat paid work in the early years before he was signed.

From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on September 6, 2013 at 5:19 PM
I think you should always have them pay in advance and just don't play before they pay.

That's the best way to avoid discussion and disappointment.

Festival always tend to be more expensive than budgeted and as an artist you are the last one on the payment priority list.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on September 6, 2013 at 5:47 PM
I agree with Zlata that getting paid in advance partially or in full is the best way to avoid the problem. And make sure get it down on paper.

Nonpayment problem is not unique to musicians; when I was doing my law articling, I got stiffed more than once, chiefly due to my lack of experience, but it's not uncommon for even experienced lawyers to get stiffed from time to time.

Nonpayment is not always done out of bad faith either. People who are experienced in contract disputes will tell you that often nonpayment is a communication problem – when the agreement is not clearly written with specified terms, the confusion tends to happen between parties. Also sometimes what was promised weren't fully deliverable due to unexpected circumstances.

So again, service providers (the musicians or others), the No.1 rule to protect yourself is to remember that it is your job to have a contractual document signed and deposit received way before the performance date.

From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 6, 2013 at 5:54 PM
"... it is your job to have a contractual document signed and deposit received way before the performance date."


From Raphael Klayman
Posted on September 6, 2013 at 9:01 PM
Last May (2012) I - and other performers was/were stiffed after doing a video shoot for a company doing business variously as Sound Wave, Webmusic wave, and Webmusic casting. These people are out and out thieves. After hounding them quite a bit, they finally sent us "checks" so phony that a bright high school student could have done better - which is a federal offence. I came very close with one or two other people to taking legal action against them, but at the time I was also very entangled in other things, and let it drop. It was "only" for $100. But it was the principle of the thing.

If you get a call by say an orchestra or other performing venue with some kind of decent reputation, especially if you know someone who has worked in it, it should be OK, and paying in advance just isn't done. But if you are asked to do say a wedding, especially when it's directly between a client and yourself, do draw up a contract and get a non-refundable 50% deposit in advance. Then, at the event, before you even rosin your bow, get the balance in cash. Ditto, with any kind of fly-by-night kind of thing that this video shoot was. If it comes up w.o. enough advance notice for a contract and deposit, then all the more so, get it all in cash before you even open up your case. If they balk, walk away. 20/20 hindsight.

From Kevin Keating
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 1:27 AM
I can't speak as a violinist on this issue because I'm just not at that point yet. However, as a singer/songwriter/guitarist who plays out fairly regularly as a solo artist, I can speak.

I live in an economically depressed area of central NY with little opportunity for paying gigs. Although there is a great amount of musicians. Unfortunately, most musicians here who are out playing regularly are playing for tips or a small % of the door or, at best, a fee that might just cover gas and minor expenses.

Being creative and thinking outside the box about where to get gigs may open doors. Places that traditionally haven't had live music in the past could be become the new live music venues. I've found a local pizza restaurant that pays me $70 to $100 for 4 hours of playing. Around here, that's damn good money for a musician.

So I can't say I've been screwed and not paid because I'm rarely offered any pay at all anyway.

From Steve Reizes
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 5:14 AM
Really needed a "I'm an amateur and have never sought out a paying gig" answer.

From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 5:58 AM
I agree with all you say, Raphael, although just to add: you still need something in writing beforehand [say, a 1-paragraph e-mail whether signed or unsigned] to prove (1) agreement & (2) clarity of terms for the straightforward & informal [no lawyers] small claims court, for your Judge Judy, so to speak. Further, now you know why some festival/host venue artists [those who have contracts] are paid first by the committee treasurer.

Kevin, you can travel elsewhere to play (for experience) & ask for the travel expense to be paid even if the answer could possibly be: No? Then you do not go. If you don't ask, you don't get. Once we had a guy in a duo who played for a festival in which I was one of the presenters and the pair volunteered to play for free as mine was a benefit event. [A band can get £500-£1,000 in a small festival like this one.] When they arrived, I asked how they were and how was the journey. The guy told me they took a taxi which surprised me as he was a nearby local and could have driven the other musician. To my astonishment, he did not ask for the taxi fare. When I specifically queried about the expense, he said he would be grateful if I could pay him half of the £60 for the taxi journey and back to where music college is, but no, I decided to donate to him the full fare. I told him I didn't want a conservatoire student to be out of pocket even for charity sake. He comes from a well-off family but that was not the point.

The basic premise** is:

**"You get paid for work if a fee has been agreed" and by the way, Steve, this is the case whether one is an amateur or otherwise.

Now if you agree to play for free, Kevin, you can still try to get your travel expense reimbursed simply by asking at the outset. For information, Steve, there's no need to "sniff" at another amateur [if you are?] as my teenager is paid £80 to play (since age 9, having started violin a year before so she probably had less experience/ability than Kevin) & she is no big deal - certainly just an amateur and she was paid purely by luck initially and then later she thought to ask whenever invited and it was agreed she plays for money in the form of a specified amount from the music society/festival on a cheque made out to one of her charities. [Better make sure your cheque is cleared first if you use this mode with an unknown payee.]

If you don't ask, you don't get & you need to ask your "caller" for something in writing for clarity (and for you to prove there was an agreement). A verbal agreement can be a binding contract [only & to the extent] if terms agreed are clearly confirmed & proven by the respondent's e-mail(s) even if not signed by hand.

It's your job to get the basic terms clear in writing or you can choose to walk away. You have a choice.

From David Beck
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 7:01 AM
As a player, I was lucky - just one cheque for a fee bounced and the cash arrived soon afterwards, dribs and drabs.
However, when asked to arrange some music for TV, (a) a promised contract wasn't forthcoming, (b) when I asked the Contracts Department what would be the nature of the contract if ever one arrived I was then accused by the production staff of the programme of being "unprofessional", then (c) the producer's requirements bore no relation to the introductory request - rather than simply arrange 3 tunes for a string group I was expected to tailor "character pieces" derived from the original material timed to the millisecond to specified scenes and (d) expected to re-jig the whole lot overnight.
Though professing budget limitations, during the project they engaged an organist to play a one-minute excerpt for one-third of my ridiculously tiny fee for the entire project.
Eventually they paid me about one-fifth of the Musician's Union rate for the job, which had to include me conducting a session with stop-watch to ensure a "tight fit".
Not having worked for TV before, I had simply not known how to go about clarifying the terms of employment before agreeing to take on the work. A verbal contract can be ambiguous.
From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 9:03 AM
Your self-respect in walking away strengthens not just yourself but your future & that of others.


What happens if David and all musicians in general are united & will refuse work without clear written confirmation of agreement from unprofessional or dodgy TV & other music event producers & equally, decline all festival promoters' promises to make "post-performance" payments?

From sarah salmi
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 11:16 AM
I voted no, but i have experienced that the sum they agreed to pay before the performance suddenly gets reduced afterwards.. Unfortunately i felt that i couldn't say anything about it since i was not the one who had negotiated the price, it was my partner. If i have named a price i'm not afraid to say, hey this is the price we agreed on. When you do Small freelance gigs , it's good to make the arrangements through e-mail, that way you can save everything that has been said as evidence and some sort of agreement.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 12:31 PM
I usually do use e-mail for confirmation of details. It's good from the standpoint of the contractor, too, as some musicians are flaky. I've saved e-mails to and from the "wavemusic" scammers, and I'm starting to get inspired to take legal action again. One problem is that they are in a different state, but I'll think about it and see...
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on September 7, 2013 at 8:36 PM
Why is the weekend poll already closed? It's only 2:30 on the
From Royce Faina
Posted on September 8, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Sadly this is a reality. Maybe we could sic the Amish Mafia on them? The term, "Starving Artists" takes on a whole new meaning. If I had a prune and a feather I would be 'Plum Tickled!'
From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 8, 2013 at 9:24 AM
"...some musicians are flaky"

Good point, Raphael.

Another valid point some may forget: we cannot effectively name & shame all non-paying festivals. Why?

Their board members change from time to time. Recently, after we had successfully applied to be presenters, we learn from its treasurer that the board was very upset with an ex-treasurer who was either thoroughly incompetent for years or a rogue they had trusted in their midst & they only found out after he left and he added: "What a [financial] mess he left behind [him for us to sort]!

I believe we do ourselves no favour by merely & fully blaming others [full stop] with eyes all-closed? When a relevant or significant, although not substantial perhaps, and yet, still a sufficiently significant point of responsibility may well lie with our own naïve, innocent or ignorant error? As thinking adults we know it's a big bad world out there [unlike say, my mentally disabled boy who joyfully thinks his world is full of kindness?] Once we realise ..., we know what to do [or how to do better or differently] next time. That's how the humbly teachable [as opposed to the self-piteous] positively learn. I hope & pray myself to be teachable. It is a learning curve all the time - life, music or festivals, as in this case.

Edit: I feel especially for Paul Badura-Skoda. He is my late dad's age and in his old "gentleman" days, it was not that bad a world in common as it is now one would suspect. Not to pay an 85-year old his contractual due is disgraceful.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 8, 2013 at 1:15 PM
I learned a long time ago how important it is to get it on paper, all of it and signed. Yes it can be a pain but it is so important to protect yourself.
From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 11, 2013 at 3:33 PM
Agreed, Royce, paper wise, plus one can choose not to play as above - "**You do not have to play for a festival unless and until you have already been paid in full at the latest just before your performance or earlier - in accordance with your written contract." It's much better not to perform in the absence of full pay than stress oneself later from a subsequent court action (even for a minor payment in a small claims court). In other areas I have had my fair share of failures in the past to get my dues and had to endure financial loss to avoid further stress so like you, I am cautious nowadays.

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