If I could go back in time, I would definitely hire a manager to help me with my career when I first started singing (back when I was only 14 years old). I had so much passion as an artist and so for some reason (looking back now, I guess they were stupid reasons) most of the singing and acting gigs I booked I happily did for free. I was naive and so clueless about the entertainment industry. Now that I know how it works, I can’t help but feel so sorry for the young me who sang her heart out for free when the others who were in the same shows got paid.
While some of the gigs I had were great because they helped me prepare for the bigger roles and performances I took on down the line, I realise now that I should have confidently charged for those jobs because they took up my time and I was offering my talent and services to other people (who were also making money from those projects and shows). The thing is, when you’re a young artist, sometimes, you can’t help but have this idea in your head that somehow, you can make something out of this gig you’ve taken on and perhaps see it as a stepping stone towards something bigger and better in the future. Even though some of those gigs have taken me to places and given me plenty of other opportunities, I still look back now and think about how people abused my talent and services back then and in hindsight, I feel like I only had myself to blame.
I’ll share some stories with you to show how I’ve learned to stop feeling guilty about charging for my services.
MY TALENTS AND SKILLS ARE VALUABLE
We all have different talents and skills and they are things we should all be proud of. All of us have amazing things we can bring to the table in any situation. You may not be the greatest when it comes to scientific subjects but if you know how to handle and manage businesses well, you’re a talented business manager and that doesn’t mean that you’re less smart or valuable than the genius scientist from Oxford.
I learned to value my skills and talents because I know I can deliver great results when I bring those to the table. When I sing in festivals and shows, people compliment me and the show organisers who hired me pay me in full. I even paid thousands of pounds to study my craft and to hone my skills and talents. Why should I then feel guilty about charging people (including friends) for the services that I spent money to study for?
Remember to always value your time and skills. When you do so, you will feel less guilty about asking for payment when someone asks you if you would be willing to do x, y, z for them.
OTHERS CHARGE TOO (WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY)
You would be willing to pay someone for their services too and we do this everyday. When we pay for something, someone, somewhere is getting paid for their work too. So why should we feel guilty to charge for our hard work? If someone asks for your assistance, they are asking for your help and in order for you to help them, you will need to take time out of your schedule and do whatever needs to be done to do so.
When I was 17 years old, a company approached me after watching one of our theatre shows. They asked if I could perform for them at a festival. They said they had a couple of slots for one of the afternoon performances and they wished to fill it. I told them I was only free for one of the slots they mentioned and they were so grateful that I agreed to do it. They didn’t offer any payment and perhaps they waited for me to mention it. Sadly, I didn’t bother to ask either and I didn’t have an agent managing me at the time. Since I was free anyway and I wanted to enjoy the rest of the festival after, I agreed to do the show and performed three songs. Looking back, the only thing I got from that show were free tickets for me and my friend which were £15 each. It actually cost me around £25 to put gas in my car to get there and paid £3 to park. Looking back I can’t help but feel sad because I found out that the other acts were paid and a lot of people actually asked to take pictures with me afterwards and told me that they loved my set. I also know that they made so much money from the festival which was attended by thousands of people over the weekend. The afternoon I performed, there were at least 2,000 people in attendance in that one section alone. Thinking about it now, I feel so disappointed that I didn’t charge them because I can’t help but feel taken advantaged of by the organisers and I feel disappointed that I allowed them to do it.
BUSINESS IS BUSINESS
A former friend of mine who I was really close to and used to be in a band with asked me to do her a favour. We will call her ‘Laura’ in this post. Laura wanted me to sing a song she wrote for her girlfriend at the time. She said this song is a gift for her girlfriend and nothing else. It had been a while since we spent time in the studio; it had been years in fact. She told me that she wouldn’t be able to pay me but that she was going to get us lunch and take us to dinner to say thank you for the work I will be doing for her. So technically, she asked if she could pay me with food instead. At the time, the stupid me would have done it for her with or without the food anyway. She asked me to work on this song for 8 hours and to record it in 2 hours in the recording studio which was about 100 miles away from where I live. She proposed that I drive to her house halfway and that she would drive us to the studio. Her house is about 60 miles away from where I live (so I had to pay the petrol money for that). She booked the studio session and paid for it herself a day before I was due to fly to Japan (a 16 hour flight across the other side of the world) and she didn’t give me any leeway because she wanted to record it before I go. She didn’t give me enough time to learn the song- probably only a couple of days or so. So, you can imagine the stress I was in. I found myself learning a song for a friend of mine’s girlfriend (a last minute request) and packing and preparing for Japan (another last minute trip). Because she was a friend of mine, I agreed to do it without pay like she asked and although I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to prepare the day before for my trip to Japan, I agreed to do it because that’s what friends do right?
So, I did what I was asked by my friend to do. We worked in the studio for 10 hours. I recorded my vocal parts for the song within an hour but I stayed with her until she finished recording her guitar and piano parts. She ordered a large Dominos pizza for us to share with my fiance who came to keep me company.
Laura was thrilled with the result and I was happy that I was able to help her out. I thought that the song was a sweet gift for Laura to give to someone she loves and I was happy for her. She said thank you and as far as I was concerned, that was that. She took me and my fiance to a Chinese buffet for dinner- it cost her around £38 for me and my fiance to eat at this buffet and while we were both grateful for that also, I believe that £38 for a Chinese All -You-Can-Eat buffet is a small price to pay for a professional singer like me to spend 10 hours with her in the studio to record her song.
A few weeks later, I found that Laura had started to share our song on social media pages and told all of her friends about it. At first I thought that she was most likely just excited about the song she wrote and wanted her friends and family to hear it so I was fine with it. A few people thought that we started our band again and I was very clear and told some people who asked that it was a one-off recording as a gift for Laura’s friend. A few more days passed and I noticed that Laura had submitted the song we recorded to a radio station. I believe it was the local BBC radio station who aired the track. She posted the link on Facebook and she sent me the link also. She didn’t ask me for my permission to do this and I started to get really concerned about her actions. First of all, I would have appreciated it if she asked me or gave me a heads up. It is my voice after all that’s featured all over that track. I only found out once the track had been aired and so I was really disappointed that my thoughts were not given any consideration (well, I wasn’t even asked in the first place). Second, I was concerned because the talent agency I was working for at the time may have had a problem with it. (Luckily, they were okay with it.)
I let it slide, although I felt a little uneasy and betrayed by a close friend of mine. The final straw was when I found out a few days after the radio incident that Laura had entered a song-writing competition without my knowledge. She submitted the track (with my vocal recording) to a competition and didn’t tell me. I only found out again, through a link on Facebook. Needless to say, I was so angry at this point and felt so betrayed by a friend of mine. I confronted her about it and told her what I felt. I told her that it is unacceptable for her to use the tracks for other purposes other than what we agreed and although I understand that she may want to take it further, I would have loved to have been asked. I also told her that had I known she was going to use it for other purposes, I would have charged her the same rates as others who hire me as a singer. She responded with a defence so unacceptable, it hurts to think about it now. She said that she paid me because she bought me and my fiance a £38 meal and a pizza for lunch. I was gobsmacked and totally shocked that a friend of mine who I’ve worked with in the past for so long would respond in that way. She basically indirectly just told me that that’s what my voice is worth even though she knows that nowadays, I charge a few thousand pounds for studio sessions and live performances.
I ended our friendship right there and I never looked back.
This story is a reminder that when it comes to our services, we must always be clear with the boundaries. When it comes to our talents, we must always be clear with what our terms and conditions are. Write up the contracts and stick with them. Companies do it to protect themselves and so should we. People who respect and love you and what you do will know your worth and will always support you if you ask for payment. Business is business after all and you should never feel guilty for telling them what your rates are.
I hope that you find value in this post and I hope that you have learned some lessons from the mistakes I’ve made in the past. Never let anyone take advantage of you and if they do, trust me… they’re really not worth it.