I recently participated in an interesting discussion. A junior producer was working with a band on a recording and the band left partway through the project to do their recording elsewhere. And they didn’t pay. In the vernacular, the junior producer got stiffed.
A couple of other people in the discussion suggested that an adequate contract would be an appropriate preventative measure next time. The idea is that with a contract, everyone knows up front what each other’s expectations are and what happens if one party wants out. But what if one party chooses not to abide by the contract…?
I think that if a contract is the only thing stopping your artist from leaving without paying, then you’ve already lost. Think about it from the artist’s perspective – if they’ve decided they want to leave and make their recording elsewhere, having their previous producer (that they no longer want to work with) chase them with legal threats will easily destroy what little goodwill remains. Even before they decide to leave, if they’re even thinking of leaving but they feel locked in to a contract, then it means you’re not looking after them well enough.
Either you’re not the right person for the job, or you need to get better at helping artists understand why you are.
Artists need to work with you because they WANT to. You give them the best results, the best experience, the best support, the best understanding. They choose to work with you because they love working with you. Not because they’re locked into a contract.
Being the “best” doesn’t necessarily mean super-expensive gear at bargain-basement prices. It means knowing your capabilities. It means understanding your artist. It means make sure they’ve got no doubts at all that they’ll get a great recording and have a great time doing it. It means making sure they feel appropriately informed and well looked-after. It means making sure they feel in control (or at least in charge) of the whole process. It means they leave with a smile on their face, no matter what they paid.
Of course, this is about relationships.
The strength of relationships you should be building are well above simply getting paid on time. The relationships you should be building are at the level where your artists have no doubt that you’ll give them what they want. Where your artists enjoy working with you so much that they can’t wait for the next session. Where your artists know they’ll be proud to show off their recordings.
Producing and recording music is a very intimate experience. Songs are presented bare for judgement. Performances are dissected note-by-note. Creative direction can be called into question. For this to be a positive experience, artists have to feel that they’re in a safe place. They have to trust you to look after them. Obviously, you have to be 100%. You can’t phone it in. You have to be thinking several steps ahead. You have to know that you’re the right person for the job so you can engage with confidence.
You have to demonstrate that you are worthy of their trust.
And clearly, contracts have nothing to do with this. Contracts do not demonstrate confidence or invite trust. They demonstrate fear and invite suspicion. So don’t spend your time drawing up a contract. Instead, spend that time understanding your artists. Listen – really listen. Work hard to understand them and work even harder to demonstrate that understanding. Be clear and upfront about how you’re going to work together to make a recording. Be sensitive to values, sore spots and fears.
And don’t forget to smile.
P.S. You can avoid getting stiffed for payment by being clear that you don’t hand over final versions of recordings until the account is settled. Or if you’re prepared to increase your risk for artists you like, don’t start the next project until the account is settled (only if doing so will help build the relationship). Or if you want to decrease your risk, request payment for each session in advance and don’t schedule the session until the payment clears. I’ve been doing this for years and haven’t had any problems. Not even funny looks.