Here is part 1 of a two-part series on setting rates and getting properly compensated on your gigs and sessions. Today, we will discuss 15 of the nasty tactics some clients will try to get your rates down or take advantage of your time and skill.
- Withholding pertinent information. Anything that would change your price or put doubts in your mind needs to be on the table. Ask questions, and don’t accept vague answers. I once accepted a gig, not knowing that it was 4+ hours away. I only found out on the day before about the travel. If I had backed out then, based on the deception, I would have been slandered as unreliable. They wouldn’t have told everyone what they did… only my response. My only choice: hold my nose and do the gig.
- Getting a commitment from you before “dropping the bomb” of the low price or unpleasant details. Often these calls start with “Are you available on X?” to which I respond, “Not sure… I will have to check… What kind of gig is it? What’s the pay?” If I say “Sure, I’m free” I may have to tell them “no” anyway. An awkward moment, for sure. This is their purpose in asking without telling.
- Calls at odd hours. This seems far-fetched, but it has happened many times to me: I get a call at 7am or some other “non-standard” time to check on my availability. Usually the above tricks are also in the call. The purpose here is to get you while you are half-asleep and get a commitment. (I know.. you think I’m making this up.)
- Last minute changes: These “sudden” changes in the gig were probably there all along, but you weren’t told because you would have wanted more money or turned down the gig. Hard to dodge this one other than by learning who does this and not working with them again.
- Belittling your value: You will get this from time-to-time when you quote a rate. You may get something like: “You’ve got to be kidding!” The rule here is to stay calm in the face of this insult. Either they are a complete novice (and a rude one) or they are pulling this on purpose. Stick to your guns and be willing to politely decline the gig.
- Fake price comparisons: ”Joe Blow charges $X” is the opener here. First, don’t slam Joe Blow, speak highly of him, but don’t match the rate. You can try to explain why you charge what you do, but in the end, you probably will have to tell them to hire Joe, and that they will be happy with him. They were probably lying about Joe’s rate and will either come back to you or pay Joe his real rate.
- Fake referrals: Often they will drop a name of a friend or colleague in order to put you at ease, and even to make you want to do the gig in order to work with some friends. Once I was contacted for a dubious gig and told that the rest of the band consisted of some good friends and great players I knew. When I got further into the situation, I realized they had been brought in thinking I was already on board. In the end, none of us did the gig, since it was a deception.
- Getting offended by your questions. It’s appropriate to ask about the pay and conditions. Some people will act offended when you ask, as if you are insulting them. Be advised: this is deliberate tactic, not true emotion. Sure, I do gigs with trusted friends where I really don’t know the pay, but it takes a long time to earn that trust. Furthermore, they wouldn’t be offended if I did ask. Watch for this one.
- Wanting endless “Extras” such as writing the charts, providing equipment for others, giving people rides, finding recordings etc. Often there are suddenly things needed to save the gig that only you can do. Now you are in the position of putting everybody out of work unless you do this unpaid stuff. Once this is in motion, the only way out is to do what is needed and cut your losses. People only get this from me once.
- Bogus “quantity discounts.” I once had a client forcefully ask me if I could cut my rates substantially because I was recording two projects for him. My response was that my rate was my rate. Economy of scale doesn’t apply to hours of our lives, only to mass-produced widgets. He then resorted to dropping the names of some other studios he could use instead. (See fake price comparison above) To which I responded that he would get great results with my competitor, and if that better suited his budget, he should go there. I ended up with the work (though it was high-maintenance.)
- Finding your weakness: Either they want a huge list of credits to prove you are worthy, or perhaps some “magic” piece of gear. I had a client ask me “Do you have a Neumann mic for my voice?” I don’t have one, and I suggested a rental. What he really wanted was to put me on the defensive, so he could pay less.
- Fake “exposure” is a way of making the gig seem like a career-builder you would do for any price. Usually the “big names” that you are expecting either don’t show up or are not paying attention. I have played for a lot of celebrities, and seldom has it gone anywhere. Networking is great, but when somebody else is taking your money and time, it rarely pans out.
- Mystery bartering (especially after the fact) is a way to cut your rates. Usually the return favor never comes, and you give up. Now, I have bartered many times with friends, and always with mutual prior agreement. This is fine if you trust one another. But make sure there is a very clear end to it, at which point you are “square.”
- Plain old pushiness: Artists are usually kind people and non-confrontational. Sometimes we give in simply because somebody else has such a strong, aggressive personality. It takes a while to develop the personal “gravity” to fend off these assaults. Experience is the key here.
- Pathos and guilt: Some people give you a long story about how hard things are and how little they have to spend. Usually this is brought up far enough into the negotiation that it would be awkward to shut it down. They know this, and are counting on you doing them a “favor” and “hooking them up” with a ridiculously low price. Oddly, these people often make a 180 after the prices are set and become the most demanding clients. Beware.
- Have you been taken advantage of in the negotiation process?
- What tactics did they use on you, and did they work?
Next time, we will discuss setting your “standard” rates, and how to work within a dynamic pricing market.
©2012 Randy Hoexter