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  • Carl
    Carl Swanson

    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?

    replies to "GETTING PAID"
    • Amy
      Amy Walts

      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!

    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Amy- Do you mail a bill for the balance or just expect them to remember to pay on time? I find that people are in the habit of paying bills that come in the mail. If they don't get a bill, they forget. Is that your experience?

    • Amy
      Amy Walts

      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.

    • Patricia
      Patricia Jaeger

      On the contract there is a line to be filled in by the musician who is using the AFof M  contract:: Purchaser Will Make Payments As Follows.For wedding jobs where I am the harpist, I always write:" Day of the event, before the music begins, usually by the Best Man". I don't ask for a deposit, but in the interval before I start playing the Preludes, I make sure to find the Best Man. It has always resulted in complete payment. Handle it with a little humor when the bride is interviewing you, perhaps remarking that the Best Man would feel like a fifth wheel with not much to do unless he has envelopes for the caterer, photographer, etc. in his pocket before the wedding ceremony.

    • Janet
      Janet King

      Hi Carl!  I have only had a problem once, in all my years, and it was a gig that came in a week before the date, which was also my birthday!! 

      I always take a deposit to hold a date -- and I don't know how anyone could run their business without doing so, because without a deposit the customer may not really be committed to me when they ask me to hold their date.  (Dates in my calendar are valuable real estate!)  The week before the wedding I reconfirm everything in a phone call: the balance is due there, in cash.  I remind the bride of this, of the exact amount, and then I ask who will be handling payment that day, and sometimes I even recommend that it not be herself.  After this conversation, I am confident that I will get paid, and I always have been.

      The one problem I had was when the call came in the week before.  So I only had a verbal agreement.  I went and played prelude for a looong time because the bride was late for the ceremony -- like 45 minutes -- and I had to leave (to have birthday lunch with my parents!!) by the time she was on premises, so I went to find her for payment, and she said to me, Oh, I left you a message on your answering machine cancelling!!!  OOOoohh no.  The caterer meanwhile was telling me how she was trying to cancel bits and pieces of her wedding -- like, the cocktail hour -- for lack of funds.  I refused to leave unpaid.  They offered me a personal check, I refused.   I went and stood in front of all her guests -- who had been gracious to play for -- and began to make a scene ("Did you appreciate my playing?"  "Oh, yes!!"), while her attendants tried to beckon me out of the room.  I told the caterer I was going to be a problem for him getting the ceremony off because I was going to stand there in the middle of the room until I got paid.  He told me he couldn't get directly involved because I wasn't booked through him... but he would call the police if I wanted.  Meanwhile, the groom was getting in my face, trying to intimidate me -- it was a black family, and he was clearly pulling the race card with me, doing that.  I stood firm.  Finally, I approached the minister -- clergy!!-- appealing for help, as a man of God!!  He offered a personal check of his own, which I hesitatated to agree to, but I did, but then he said it was in his car, parked far away, and after the ceremony he'd get it.  NO.  Holding up their ceremony was my only chance.  Finally, I think the minister got them to muster up some cash, and I got paid -- the full amount due!  I would have accepted less, just to end the scene.  I hightailed it out of there, with a story I've told many people since.

      The lesson I learned from this is, for last-minute gigs, always have paperwork: I fax or email a statement of agreement, which the customer signs off on and sends back to me, and I'm sure to take it with me to the gig.  I've never had a problem since.



    • Kay
      Kay Lister

      My clients are told up front that I require 20% down to hold the date along with the return of the contract AND that the remainder of the payment be made no less than 1 week before the event.  ALL terms are spelled out very clearly in the contract.  IF I DON'T GET PAID - I DON'T PLAY.  If for some reason the date changes and I am available - all funds are applied to the new date. If the new date does not work for me,  the deposit is returned. If (after receiving the deposit) they change their mind for what ever reason, the deposit is MINE. 


    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      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.

    • Rosalind
      Rosalind Beck

      Carl--deposit? Yes.  Balance two weeks in advance, yes. If the deposit and signed contract are not forthcoming, I assume they were merely shopping and have made other plans. If they miss the balance deadline, I let them know the date has passed, and I also inform them that I must receive the balance BEFORE the musical performance can begin.

      Years ago I was stiffed by an agent for a convention gig I played.  I went straight to the corporation for which he booked me, and I let them know what happened. They were very gracious and assumed he had pocketed the money (I did have a contract signed by this bozo). The corporation reimbursed me, and I also wrote letters to every harpist in the area to warn them not to work for this jerk.

    • Tiffany
      Tiffany Envid

      My deposit is non-refundable as stated in my contract.  However, unwritten... I have in the past refunded some of it if I feel the circumstance allows.   For example, I had a bride's mother call and cancel 7 months before the wedding date.  The Bride's mom explained to me it was an answer to prayer for the family as they all didn't feel it was the right guy for her daughter.  So, since she cancelled in enough time for me to possibly reschedule another wedding for that same date I explained to her that the deposit in non-refundable, but I would refund half since she called with 7 months still left for me to re-book the date.  (I think the deposit was $100, so I wrote her a check for $50 and mailed it to her).  I think it showed her that I was still very professional in the business sense, but also personable, reliable, and respectable, as she has since referred me to someone else for another wedding.   So, I guess what I'm saying is that in my contract the deposit is strictly non refundable, but then I can personally change that if I feel my situation allows a change - that way I'm always guaranteed the deposit for booking them in the first place.

      Also, whenever the harpist has to cancel for any reason it's almost a given you should refund 100% of the deposit - possibly even a little extra if you had to cancel last minute (which thank God I've never had to do!).  I am currently pregnant with my second baby.  When you're not planning a pregnancy you can be completely thrown off with gigs when you find out you're booked with weddings, etc. the entire month of your due date!   So, obviously in any type of situation where you had to cancel for any reason I would definitely refund the entire deposit.  

    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      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.

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      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.

    • David
      David Ice

      Hi Carl,

      I get a $50 deposit, non-refundable, and the balance is due 2 weeks prior to the event.  I mail out two self-addressed envelopes with the contract, one with a sticky note that says "Contract and $50 deposit" and the other with a sticky note that says "$xyz  balance due October 12, 2007" or whatever.  That way they have the envelope and the amount right there.  It has almost always worked beautifully.

      If the bride moves the date and it's available, I'll transfer the deposit.  And on rare occasions I will refund it--like the wedding that was postponed due to the groom (a police officer) who was seriously injured while on duty. 

      Only once have I told the groom and best man that I must be paid cash before I unloaded the harp.  The bride had sent me a totally invalid check (out of state bank, with the amounts crossed out and re-written) and I told them that technically and contractually, I didn't even have to show up for the wedding since they had not fulfilled their part.  But I would play for the wedding IF they paid the balance in cash before I unloaded a thing.  They grumbled and paid me, and I handed them back the totally bogus check.


    • Amy
      Amy Walts

      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...)

    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      That is a glaring example of the situation a musician can find themselves in. And the only leverage they have is the performance. No money, no performance.

    • David
      David Ice

      I've often told others that you can't reposess the music once it's played.  The photographer can hold the photos and the minister can refuse to sign the license, but once we've played it's done!

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I require a non-refundable deposit to reserve the date.  The remainder is due 2 weeks before the wedding -- I send a little friendly reminder a week or so before that. 

      If the deadline is not met, they must pay me in cash or a money order in person before I will move my harp.  That way I don't have to worry about the late check bouncing, or worse, getting to the gig and having to track down someone to pay me, or worse, getting stiffed completely.  I've been really lucky though, almost all of the brides I've played for have been wonderful - easy to work for and paid me on time (*knock on wood!*).

      Amy -- all I can say is... WOW!  what a story (and very cool of that bandleader to stick up for you)  yikes

    • Jeralee
      Jeralee Stewart

      I have had only one instance 8 years ago where the mom of the bride was two weeks past the date paying me.

      Now, I require a $50.00 non-refundable deposit to be sent back with the contract to secure the date.  The final amount is due no later than 1 week prior to the event.  I usually email them and remind them, or call them. If I weren't to hear anything, I would call and remind them that I reserve the right to not show up if the amount in full hasn't been paid prior to the wedding.   I did have someone that hadn't made the final amount by the designated time.  They told me they would put a check in the mail.  I told them that since it was short notice, it was highly unlikely that it would get there in time, and since they were local probably what would work best is for them to bring the payment by my house.  They showed up with cash and all was good.

      The only time I collect payment on the day of the gig is usually when I am playing for a corporate event, since large businesses do things differently.  And I make sure I know exactly who I need to talk to or who will be paying me the day of the event.  I make sure I am paid before I even start playing.

    • Tiffany
      Tiffany Envid

      Carl - you're not being critical.  Like I said in my original posting "...thank God I've never had to cancel last minute".  There is only one other harpist in the area that I refer who is at the same playing ability as myself.  We live in Chattanooga, TN and the other nearest professional harpists are in Atlanta, Knoxville, and Nashville.  I would definitely refer a bride to someone else, although (with the current case of my pregnancy) I had 7 months advance notice for my due date - and was able to give some gigs to the other local harpist.   I ALWAYS help bride's find other harpists as I often get asked to play in Atlanta.  (Which I don't play in Atlanta since I stay busy where I live and there are many other Atlanta harpists).   So, luckily, the only cancellations I've EVER had to give were with 7 months advance notice - and all of them I helped find another harpist by me personally calling and checking their availability, prices, etc.

    • David
      David Ice

      Hi Tiffany,

      One thing I've tried very hard to do here in the Phoenix area (and I think I've succeeded) has been to develop a spirit of cooperation and "friendly competition" among all the professional harpists here.  I routinely refer other harpists if I'm unavailable (and they return the favor) plus we all know that we're here for each other in case of an emergency.  One harpist called me, in a panic, with a broken pedal rod--and a wedding starting in a hour.  I just told her, "tell me the address and I'm on my way with a harp."   Another harpist called me to see if I could cover for her, and I could tell something was really wrong.  Finally I said, "Sweetie, what's wrong?"  She started crying--a family member was in a horrible accident and they were on their way to the emergency room.  I told her, "give me the time and address and I'll be there, no worries."    And similarly, when I needed emergency surgery about 18 months ago, I called 3 harpists and told them, "I need help!  I am having surgery tomorrow and will be out of commission for 6 weeks."  They all dropped everything and said, "Just give me the dates and times, and we'll get everything covered for you."   It's great to have backups, and I urge everybody to develop a "friendly competition" with local harpists...and it sounds like you've already done this yourself.  Brides are always astounded when I give them referrals if I can't play their date ("wow, you guys must really be friendly!") and it's great to know that if we ever have an emergency, others will quickly step up to the plate.  I've always felt that every time the harp goes out on a gig, it creates more work for EVERYONE.  Maybe I don't get the next gig, but somebody does....and on and on and on. 

      Keep up the good work!

      Dave Ice

    • Carl
      Carl Swanson

      Tiffany and David- You've both touched on something very important, and that is cooperation within the professional harp community. This takes several forms. It can mean being available on an emergency basis, which is extremely important. It can also mean sharing work, i.e., having others to call, and being willing to call them, when a job comes your way that you cannot take. It can also mean agreeing on minimum fees for various types of jobs, transportation, etc. so that no one is stabbing anyone else in the back, consciously or not. Sometimes students fresh out of music school will charge idiotically low fees because they have not added up the expenses, which heretofore have been paid by mom and dad, that go into owning, insuring, transporting, and maintaining a harp as well as simply making a living. You can also get the occasional harpist, usually an adult amateur, who is giging 'for fun' and charges low fees, because she has a husband who pays the bills. Either way, this is undercutting.

      As a harp technician who has come in contact with many harpists over the years, the most common complaint I hear from professional harpists about their colleagues is that the handed off jobs go in one direction only. "I've given her a lot of work, and not once has she ever passed a job to me" is the sort of thing I've heard many times. Something like that is what causes hard feelings and mistrust in any local harp community.

      I would suggest that once a year, all of the professional harpists get together to discuss all of the issues associated with freelance work. And there should be an agreement that everyone can talk freely and openly about issues important to them. Maybe this would foster better relations among the working harpists in a particular area.

      On a completely different note: the recent change of direction of the threads and posts is very refreshing. I had not posted for a long time because I had lost interest with the nonsensicle stuff that was up. It's nice to see some interesting discussions again.