Freelance Chronicles Episode 7 – Biting off more than you can chew

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cookieImagine the most delicious looking cookie.  You know it is slightly too big for your mouth… but you just can’t help yourself, and you pop it in!  Now, instead of enjoying the cookie you’re more focused on simply keeping things together inside your mouth.

Now that you know of my inclination to smash cookies in my mouth, you should also know that I also have a tendency to take on huge gig projects without fully examining the time commitment each will entail.  Through a lot of trial and error I have finally learned how to choose the right kinds of gigs, manage my time, and set specific deadlines for events in order to keep myself sane and be sure that each client is getting the best service possible!

I offer free arranging services as a part of my wedding fee, and about 75% of couples use this service for one or more songs in their ceremony or cocktail hour.  Seeking out, arranging, and learning music is a time consuming process that has been a learning process all its own, and I have often considered charging clients for this service.  This is where I most often have run into issues with biting off more than I can chew.  More often than not it is only one song or piece of music being arranged for an event, sometimes more… but in general I would say that I arrange an average of 1-3 pieces for each wedding that I play.

Organization and time management are everything when you are running a busy gigging life, and I have found that sticking to this timeline works best for keeping everyone happy and ensuring that each event is true to the wishes of each client.

Wedding Timeline:

6-12 months out – First contact
This is when you get all of your contracting and musical requests done.  I send out a questionnaire about musical preferences at this time to get an idea of what kind of music the client listens to, and are thinking about for their event.
4 months out – confirmation
I like to send a little reminder email if I haven’t gotten the music questionnaire back or heard anything about music requests to this point.  Technically my contract states that the client has up until 2 weeks before the ceremony to request specific music for their event… but I find that if you stay on top of things people won’t use that deadline.

I take the time between 2 and 4 months to get all of the arranging and recording done for an event.  It is very hard not to leave this part to the last second.  Spread out your seeking/arranging time, and if you are looking for a piece or working on an arrangement and are getting frustrated… step back… come back to it another day with fresh eyes.  In general I spend, at most, 1 week per piece.

2 months out – recordings
At this point I make a personalized folder in my larger DropBox folder of client recordings.  In this folder the client will find recordings of any music that they have specifically requested, as well as personalized suggestions for other music based on their music questionnaire.
1 month out – decision time
Sometimes this takes a bit of pushing.  People don’t like to make decisions.  Often if a couple is having a hard time committing to what they want for their event I will offer to meet with them in person, or to skype with them.  In these meetings we discuss the music that has been offered to them thus far, and other options.  The most important part of this meeting is the harp… always be sure to have your harp in this meeting.  Play examples for the couple and talk to them about your experiences and how other couples have done things in the past that have worked well.
2 weeks out – verify
Send an email to verify the music choices and make any changes necessary (no more requests after this point!!).  Ask for the name and contact for the event coordinator/wedding planner/organized best-friend who will be running the show and shoot them an introductory email with all of your contact info.  Let everyone know what time they should expect you to arrive.
1-2 days out – finalize
This last email should only be to wish your happy couple luck on their big day, re-confirm the time you will arrive, and remind them about payment.

And then you come across one of those gigs… one unlike the rest… and it all goes out the window.

Another important point to be made here is that you have to know what you are getting yourself into when you accept a gig.  I send out the music questionnaires with my contract because I like to get an idea from the very beginning the scope of time commitment to each event.  Usually it goes very smoothly (or at least it has since I started using the timeline) but then you accept a gig that takes on a life of its own.

These gigs always start the same way…

Kristina Finch - Perfect Wedding Bridal ShowI met a couple at a Perfect Wedding Guide bridal expo at the Hyatt on Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale in 2014.  I was juggling playing between my two harps, keeping my booth stocked with ring-pops, music-note stress balls, and pricing sheets, and talking to potential clients all day, but this couple came up at one of those bizarrely quiet moments (when you know that the next elevator is going to bring the next wave of brides).  We chatted for a few moments and asked me if I had ever played any Indian music.  I hadn’t but said that I would be more than happy to do some searching and send them a recording example if they were interested.

I went home and emailed the groom, who got back to me with the names of a few songs they would like to hear along with youtube links.  I immediately began searching for Indian and Bollywood music that I might begin arranging for this new project.  I was excited, it was something differenct, something outside my comfort zone and I looked forward to the musical stretch it would place upon me.  I searched for hours that day and only came up with one piece, Chahoon Mein Ya Na, from the Bollywood film Ashiqui 2.  At this point I should have realized what a project this would be. The couple wanted to hire me for their cocktail hour and for 2 hours during dinner, and wanted primarily Indian and Bollywood music for their event, meaning I had to come up with at least 2 and a half hours of Indian music.

I sent the recording and we moved forward with booking.  For the next 6 months I sporadically spent time searching for more music and more often than not came up short, finding one new piece if I was lucky.  I asked around and was lucky enough to have a friend that had about an hours worth of Bollywood music that she graciously shared with me but was still stuck with the wedding steadily approaching and still in need of about an hour of music.  As the date neared the groom, who had been very communicative and patient with me throughout the process began sending me more and more specific songs that they wanted to hear at the wedding… this meant hours and hours of listening to youtube videos, transcribing songs, and arranging them for harp.

In the days leading up to the ceremony I was beyond stressed out and had finally resigned myself to the fact that I had only about 2 hours of Indian and Bollywood music, and then I got one final request email from the groom… He said that he had spoken to his family and they had requested another 5 songs that weren’t currently on the list and that they were “musts” for the event.  I held my breath, explained to the groom that generally I do not accept musical requests less than 2 weeks in advance, but that I would do everything I could to include these pieces.

Indian/Bollywood Music weddingIt was a race to the very end… and when all was said and done I know that they were very pleased with the results (more than one guest in the 700+ person event came up and asked me if I had studied music in India… which made me laugh).

I learned a valuable lesson through all of this: always be sure to know 100% what you are getting yourself into with a gig that is requesting a lot of specialized music, and only accept a gig like this if it is truly a passion project for you.  My life became consumed by Bollywood music for more than a few weeks which was both wonderful and terrible, as it left little space for other ongoing projects that also needed attention.

Everyone’s #harplife is different…

but that doesn’t mean these lessons can’t be applied to multiple different situations.  Whether what you are working toward is gigging full time, an arranging project, learning a new piece of music, preparing for a recital, or just learning how to play the harp, you will be most successful if you set small goals and timelines to achieve those goals.  Be responsible to yourself and this schedule and you will find that your projects will get done, your sanity will remain intact in times of high volume work, and your clients/audiences will be happy with your performance!!

Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew with a gig?  Comment below with any experiences, or questions about my timeline and how it might apply to your goals!!

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Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

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