Think about it. Block a day or two out of your life. Don’t plan anything else, not even sleep. Plan to work yourself into a sweat and take orders from random people. Plan to spend your own money for lunch and gas to be there. Now. Plan to go home empty handed. No check. Wasted day. Hard work. Aggravated. Time taken away from your family. Cost you money to be there. It happens. Unless you plan ahead.
Don’t worry about them not calling you again. Don’t worry about losing that show. Do you want days like that? The legitimate clients understand that people need to get paid. The hustlers and hacks are the ones trying to get away with that crap. You don’t need their work anyway.
One of the crews I worked for taught me how to handle that. I saw this more than once.
We were hired to provide stage, sound, lights and techs for a local concert. They brought in some good bands and a good headliner. They rented a local stadium for about 3,000 people and expected to fill it up.
Our contract required a 50 percent deposit to hire us with the balance due as soon as the rig was up and operational. No exceptions. Not after the show or even after soundcheck. As soon as lights came on and we could check microphones we were to be handed the second payment.
The promoter had paid the deposit, but didn’t have the rest once we were live. He actually expected to raise it from walk-up ticket sales. He hadn’t sold enough to cover it by the time we finished setup.
The owner calls me over, tells me the story and has me pull power.
As the bands are setting up and the audience is listening to house music, I pull the power cables off the main racks. Everyone starts to freak out. We are an hour from the first scheduled soundcheck. Five bands waiting to set up. No sound or lights.
The owner apologizes to everyone, but clearly informs the people in charge what is about to happen.
“All of these guys on my crew are being paid to be here. Those trucks have burned a lot of fuel to haul this stuff here. That gear could be on another paid show right now, but it’s here because you signed a contract and agree to pay us before soundcheck. I’m not spending any more time or money on a show that isn’t gong to pay for it. Your deposit breaks us even as of right now. If the balance isn’t paid by soundcheck, we are loading it back in the trucks and going home.”
That promoter got busy. I don’t know what bank he robbed or if he raided grandma’s mattress, but that money was there by soundcheck.
Make sure the gig is worth your time. In the early days, you end up working free or cheap, just to get established. Nobody walks into six figures as a rookie tech. Get past that. You can find out what reasonable day rates are for the type of work you are doing. You can find out what is a fair price to run a whole show.
Do your homework before agreeing to waste your life. Do the math. If you will make more money working at Walmart, just do that. That nice check may sound great until you break it down over 14 hours, gas money and lunch. Not to even mention the steady job you could have instead of this hit and miss show money.
So. If you like working for free, keep that volunteer status. If you want a real career, learn the business side. If you aren’t willing to negotiate and discuss money, you will always be a volunteer. Whether you planned to or not.
If you need extra backup for the contract and collection side, check out the other way I make money on my blog. I work with a company that makes sure I have all the legal counsel I need. No more bad decisions or stupid advice for me. Watch the introduction video and see for yourself
M. Erik Matlock is a 20-plus-year veteran of pro audio, working in live sound, install, and studios over the course of his career, as well as owning Soundmind Production Services. Erik provides advice for younger folks working (or aspiring to work) in professional audio at The Art Of The Soundcheck—Random Stories and Wisdom from an Old Soundguy. Check it out here.