This has probably been covered someplace else, but I’m curious if any of you freelance harpists have been stiffed for a fee on any jobs you have played? How do you minimize the chance of that happening? What is your policy for getting paid for a wedding for example? 50% to reserve the date, and the full balance 2 weeks in advance for example? What do you do if they don’t meet your deadlines?
Hi Carl! Thankfully I’ve always gotten paid in the end, but after a “close call” years ago, my contract makes it unlikely that I’ll play for free. Currently, I require 50% of the event quote to hold the date, and then I ask that payment is due in full 3-4 weeks before the wedding/event. That way, it gives me time to chase people down if needed, or to follow through with them if (heaven forbid) their check bounces. In my contract, it states that if payment is not received by the agreed date, Ithey run the risk of me cancelling the performance. If a client wants to pay their balance with less than two weeks before the date, cash or money order is the way to go since I don’t have to worry about them bouncing. I have also done PayPal for people so they can pop it on a credit card (be sure to add the PayPay surcharge, about 4%, to the balance they owe you so you don’t wind up paying their convenience fee). If a client for whatever reason needs to pay me on the day, I ask that the money be given to me at the *beginning* of the event, not the end. All of this is in the initial contract that they sign when booking, so there are no surprises later on. Doing this, I have managed to never have an event that didn’t pay. Brides and grooms get so busy in the weeks leading up to a wedding, and are so distracted and excited on the day, you have to get paid in advance or you run the risk of them forgetting. But at least in theory, you have to be prepared to put the harp back in the car without playing if you haven’t been paid. You can’t repo services already rendered if they wind up stiffing you!
Most of them are surprisingly good about remembering. Still, just to make sure, when I first meet with a bride I mention that we should, if at all possible, have her music chosen a few weeks or a month in advance of the wedding date to give me time to order/prepare any music not already in my repertoire, or to allow time to coordinate rehearsals with vocalists and such. Most brides are quite happy to pay their balance at that meeting as well– kill two birds with one stone. When I put a client’s event date in my calendar, I jot a reminder to myself to follow up with them a month beforehand to touch base on music and remind them that they have a balance due if it’s not already been paid. It’s super efficient and means I’m never hunting people down at the last minute. E-mail reminders work great as well (and don’t require stamps!). I found that mailing invoices USPS is dodgy when working with brides as many of them are changing addresses because of the wedding, or staying at different addresses out of town or whatnot, and they may not have access to their mail until they get home from honeymoons. But it’s the rare bride that doesn’t check her e-mail compulsively! My experience is that brides actually like that phone call or e-mail the month ahead of time and are quite happy to pay then. That’s oftentimes when they have to pay their photographers and reception halls and everything else so they’re in check-writing mode already. I always lightheartedly mention that my check is probably the smallest one they’ll write in the entire process, and they always chuckle and agree and write it cheerfully.
Question for everybody- Is the deposit you get non-refundable? Under what circumstances is the deposit you received refundable?
Janet- Good for you for making a stink. Not everybody would dare do that, but you stood up for your rights. As I said someplace else on this forum, if you don’t put a price on your time and ability, nobody else is going to.
Tiffany- I’m not being critical here, but I would think that the better way to handle such situations is to have a network of other harpists that you can call to find a replacement rather than refunding the money to the bride a couple of weeks before the event. She may not be able to find someone on that short notice, and having a musician simply cancel, refund or no, is likely to leave a bad taste in her mouth and cause you some bad press.
I’ve really never had a problem with a client, but occasionally with small agencies (not that they won’t, just that they take forever), and dishonest staff people.
For example, I once played a dinner at a very exclusive development, and they weren’t half done when my time was up, so I asked the Maitre d’ to find out if they wanted me to stay overtime, since it was crowded and I would have had to disrupt a lot of guests to get over to him myself.
He was gone a long time and then came back and said to stay. Luckily, I left a message on the agent’s answering machine about the overtime as soon as I got home, because the client called to complain the next morning. The louse from the club had told the client I would only stay if they paid the overtime up front in cash and had pocketed that money himself. I don’t know how he thought he’d get away with it.
On another occasion at this same establishment, I was hired through an agent by a resident to play for a party, but when I got there, the club had hired someone else and wouldn’t even let me come in to tell the client about it.
Of course the agency saw to it that I got paid, but the client was pretty steamed to have to pay twice. That time the Maitre D’ got fired.
Deposits I collect are refundable if I can re-book the date with another client; otherwise the deposit is mine. If the original booking is cancelled far enough in advance that I’m reasonably sure the date will refill, I’ve been known to give people the benefit of the doubt on that. If the client moves their event to a different date when I’m available, I apply their deposit to that date.
Since we’re sharing stories about “near misses” on getting stiffed: I did a wedding and reception job earlier this season. The bride and groom had not paid on time, and had sworn they would bring cash to the wedding. Of course they didn’t, but said that they would send someone to the ATM after the ceremony and get me the cash before I played the reception. Being a softy, I trusted them and played anyhow. Midway through the reception, still no cash, even though I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt thus far and had been playing dutifully away. By the end of dinner hour…. still no cash. I was sure it was going to be the first time I’d been stiffed! I was furious with myself for not having refused to play as per my contract. As I was grumpily starting to get packed up, I mentioned it in passing to the bandleader of the band who was about to start playing. He was horrified. When it came time for his group to start the dancing music, SILENCE. Five minutes later, SILENCE. The father of the groom came racing up to him in a panic asking where the music was. The bandleader said that as a musician, he couldn’t in good conscience play knowing that another musician had been stiffed, and that his band wouldn’t go on till I had been paid. Cash. “Musicians stick together, dude,” he explained. “You owe me money too and now I’m not taking chances.” Instantly a hat got passed somehow and my fee was raised in full– in small bills obviously gleaned from guests! So it was a very near miss indeed! And to think I would have grumpily ridden off into the sunset. I learned my lesson to stick to my guns in future! (Can you imagine being a guest at that wedding and having to pony up for the music? Gads…)
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