Beware Of Bulls
So this happened to me some time ago. This was my first big client doing a composition job and I was very excited and anxious about doing it well and ahead of schedule. It was a beautiful project that would benefit many artists everywhere, and as an artist myself, I believed in the project's mission.
Complications started to appear when my client began to show a bit of controlling behavior. I was expected to be at their studio, working day and night, and even over more than 24 consecutive hours. My client then decided it was a good idea for him to sit next to me while I worked, watching my every move and every note that I added to the project.
It was exhausting and nerve-racking.
I told myself that this is what the business is supposed to be like, and to just "deal with it" and to keep going. It was a good amount of money for the entire work, and although I would not see any royalties from those pieces of music, I would at least have had the experience, and built a professional relationship. After a couple of weeks working in those conditions, I finished the project at around 1 a.m. I got paid for my work, deposited the check, got home, and went to bed.
Early the next morning I received a text from my client. He was upset, disappointed with my work, and feeling like he had overpaid me. I tried reaching out and telling him what he had paid for, and how we had earlier agreed on a price for the work. He never answered.
I felt guilty. I felt like I had done something wrong, or as if I had missed on a possible recurrent client. What should I do? Should I give him back the money? Renegotiate my price so he would keep me as a composer for future projects?
What would you have done?
I reached out to my mentor about this, and he said very calmly to think back at the situation.
- "Did he look at your work before paying you?"
- "Yes, he did", I replied, - "Actually, he sat next to me through every single piece."
- "What do you mean? I thought you wrote this at your place..."
- "No, I worked at his place most of the time."
- "Did you tell him how much you would charge him?"
- "And he agreed?"
- "Then I don't think that you did anything wrong. You delivered what you were asked to satisfaction, working at his studio, for his convenience, while he was overseeing every step of the project, and he changed his mind after the transaction was done. Do you really want to keep doing business with someone like that?"
Any business major, owner, or negotiator would tell you that you should never make a deal that you're not willing to #walkawayfrom. If you approach any deal from a position of weakness, of vulnerability, you set yourself to be abused. We don't think of music as a business, and that's a problem. It is the #MusicBusiness! It is literally stated in the title. As a musician, you're a gear of the music business machine, hop on the train!
Now many people would argue that it is "better to have some income than none", or that "better to have a bird in hand than two on the bush", etc. In a few words, to give back the money to the guy so I could make more money out of that client in the long run. The problem with that is, if this person is trying to bully you into something like that now, nothing is stopping them on doing it again, and again, and again until you end up working " in exchange of exposure", or some of the other fallacies musicians are told to #workforfree.
I learned that, as artists, we have to measure risk and reward intelligently. I've heard of composers, producers, engineers, and even studios taken advantage of over and over again, losing money and time over fear of client backlash. This is not a phenomenon of just musicians; film makers, screenwriters, graphic designers, anyone with a creative job that is primarily classified as "contractor" can fall on the same psychological trap. I was lucky that I had the best guidance at the moment to make the best decision, but I want my experience to serve all of those who read this post:
Always sign a contract. You don't know who you're going to be dealing with until you do, and there shouldn't be any issue in signing a contract that protects you and your client.
Be professional all the way through, regardless of how a client behaves or treats you. You will have your reputation untarnished and others will see and appreciate you more.
Do not work for free, or for exposure, or give money back because now the client doesn't like your work. Your worth is important, and you know it. Fair is fair, and your skills, abilities, and knowledge was paid with money and hard work. Make sure those long hours count.
And if you ever feel like indulging someones toxic opinion on you, remember this quote by an amazing teacher and friend:
"You're not who they think you are, they are who they think you are." - Phil Mancusi