Unsurprisingly, the “Landing Composing Jobs” blogposts have turned out to be my most popular series. I must apologise for the lack of updates. It’s been approximately a month, and I know I said earlier in the year that I intend to do a post every Friday. Well, life gets in the way. I’ve been overseas, busy setting up my home studio, taking up more composing work and have recently begun producing for other artists.
Today, I want to talk about a relatively touchy topic: Getting Paid Your Worth (while landing composition/production/audio engineering work).
Have you been asked to work for little to nothing? Ever been told how much exposure you’ll get if you choose to undertake a project? Are you still in this position? Well, I think most of us in this industry that are doing this either as a serious side hustle or professionally would have such encounters.
Many creative service providers struggle with increasing their prices or even charging. Here’s the bottom line: Charge what you think you are worth. Do not be afraid to ask for XX amount in payment in return for doing a job, and ALWAYS protect yourself with black and white contracts.
No work should commence before the terms of the contract are met. This can range from a signature for an agreed amount of money, fixed payment plans, publishing rights, downpayment percentages… the list goes on.
If a prospective client seems dodgy or unable to agree to those terms and conditions, do the necessary negotiation BEFORE you commence work. I CANNOT reiterate this enough.
Likewise, do NOT be afraid to say no or to pass on projects. This is a separate topic for another day, but I just had to leave this here. In the meantime, I’m going to bust some myths and share how you can respond to difficult clients:
Difficult Client 1: “We do not have a budget for music”.
Response: You need to know the nuances of this project. Would this project boost your portfolio even if you don’t get a financial or tangible return from undertaking it? Would this project consume so much of your time that you will likely have to put off other potential clients that might be able to pay you? If all the signs are telling you that this project will not benefit you in any way, perhaps it’s best to decline politely. Remember, you are a service provider. and not a charity.
Difficult Client 2: “You know that Bob Composer only chargers 1/3 of what you’re quoting us?”
Response: Thank you for letting me know. Please feel free to engage Bob’s services then. (No offence anyone named Bob). Can I be brutally honest for a second? Ultimately, there are a lot of people that charge a cheaper rate than me. So, why did you come to me? If the end goal is for me to add music to your commercial that could assist in spurring thousands to buy your product, should the price you pay me for me to compose bespoke music for your project matter in the long run?
Alternative: This is the first time we could be working together. Do you think it’s very fair to ask for a discount right from the very first project we embark on as a team? Do you want to start off our professional relationship this way?
Note: These replies might sound a little bit snarky, but I’m trying to emphasise a point. Please reword your responses accordingly. In a world where musicians constantly get asked to work for little or nothing, you have to stand up for yourself. Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you.
Next up, Myth busting:
Myth 1: “I’m just starting out, so I have to work for free”.
No. This is not true unless you lack a portfolio, SoundCloud link, or something to showcase your capabilities. Everything DEPENDS on how you sell yourself (or your services). As per any job application, if you can convince an individual or a company why they need your services or how much more value you can add to their organisation, you’re pretty much there. This is why even experienced composers can sometimes struggle to get work. It isn’t the number of years in the field that matters in this case. Everything boils down to your work ethic, confidence, networking, luck, salesmanship and more.
Of course, none of this matters if you can’t walk the talk. You have to be stellar at your craft.
Myth 2: “If I raise my prices, all my clients will disappear”.
This is probably one of the biggest lies I’ve heard from the freelance community. If you raise your prices, you will likely and inevitably lose some clients; the rapper who constantly raps about how much money he has in the bank, but for some reason cannot afford your beats or your other services, the poor student who has yet to graduate college, the self-proclaimed next big thing rockstar that wants to pay you in profits… etc.
When you increase your prices, you command a higher level of authority. Your prices speak about the quality of your work and the value you’re confident in bringing to the table. The clients you’ll attract thereafter will be people who take you seriously because of the prices you charge. Let’s pretend you are a movie director trying to get in touch with professional composers to score for your upcoming film. If Hans Zimmer quoted you $50 for a film score, would you be certain that he’d put his best foot forward in writing your soundtrack? Even though he’s Hans Zimmer, I’d still be doubtful.
The next time, when you’re talking to a prospective client, always include your rate card in your exchange, be it verbal or electronic. Yes, this applies even for the people “who have no budget”. If it’s too costly for them, they’ll let you know, or they might not even reply at all. If they can pay what you’re asking, that’s great! But either way, you’ve maintained your professionalism and they cannot fault you for that.
It’s not necessary to do the whole “Oh, try going to the supermarket and ask the cashier if you can get a carton of milk in exchange for exposure. I’ll share this with my community you cheapskate.”, as it is unwise to burn any bridges no matter how annoying the other party may seem.
Remember: Know your worth. You do NOT have to justify yourself to anyone. If a client is being troublesome, learn to deal with the situation professionally and know how to draw your own boundaries. This includes knowing when and how to say no and not being afraid to state your terms of compensation. This would hopefully result in better clients and bigger projects.