Payment Models for Gigs

For those of us who play for paid events, there is more to consider than just how much to charge the client. How and when you expect the client to pay can be a complex topic.

I have been playing harp for paid gigs for about 15 years, and I’ve changed my policies probably a dozen times through the years. There are pros and cons to the various models, and ultimately each harpist needs to choose for themselves what they want and then enforce it with clients. Let’s look at some of the options.

HOW TO PAY

What payment types will you accept? Cash? Personal check? Cashiers check/money order? Credit card? Payment through a service or booking agency? What about a trade in goods/services?

You are the performer, and it is your decision what you will or will not accept. Do not let the client bully you into accepting something outside your payment policies. This is why your policies must be written down and easy to refer to and share with the client.

Personal Checks
Pros: Easy for clients, most people have them, easy to mobile deposit
Cons: Check could bounce

Cashiers check/money order
Pros: Guaranteed funds
Cons: Costs the client money and a trip to the bank, cannot mobile deposit

Cash
Pros: No depositing required to spend funds, no fees
Cons: Has to be hand delivered, if you need it in your account you have to make a trip to the bank, can be hard to spend large bills ($100s), counterfeit money

Electronic payments
Pros: Client can use their credit or debit card, can be done online, deposits straight to your bank account
Cons: Usually costs you a fee of around 3%, if using a booking agency they may take more (5%), may take extra time to see funds (up to 5 business days)

Trade of goods or services
I have only done this on rare occasions, but it can be quite beneficial to both parties if the monetary values are similar. For example, harp lessons in exchange for babysitting, or playing a gig for a restaurant in exchange for a gift card to that restaurant in the amount of your regular fee.

Personally, I like to offer my client options so they can choose what works best for them. But whatever method they choose to pay me, I always require full payment before I play my first note or hold the first harp lesson.

While most people are honest, there are those who are not and will take advantage, intentionally or unintentionally. So get paid in advance.

There are a variety of models for when to get paid, which each have pros and cons.

Full payment in advance
Some performers require the full amount in advance, such as 1 or 2 weeks before the gig. This gives time for the payment to clear, ensuring the check or other payment method does not bounce. However, some clients may feel uncomfortable, worrying you may take their money and disappear. It can also be disheartening to drive to a far away gig and spend hours playing and then not leave with money (having already received it).

Deposit in advance, balance at gig
This is the method I currently use. I ask my clients to pay a $100 deposit when they sign the contract to book me. Some performers ask for 50% as the deposit. Whatever you ask them to pay up front, it shows that they are committed and not just window shopping and planning to cancel at the last minute. Clients can choose to pay the full amount up front for their own convenience. If they do not, I require they pay the remaining balance when I arrive. For example, for a 6 pm wedding, with a prelude starting at 5:40, I put in my contract that full payment is due by 5:30 pm. This is usually done through a check given to me by the wedding coordinator or other individual helping run things the day of the event. If it is 5:45 and I have not received payment, I do not start playing until I have it. Because once you play, you have no leverage with which to encourage the client to honor the contract and pay you.

A third option is to receive full payment at the event. I do not recommend this, as they could cancel and you would receive nothing for the time you spent on the consultation, putting together set list, and practicing, not to mention other gigs you turn down for that day. Always get a financial commitment, even from friends and family as they too can back out without warning, not understanding the financial consequences it will have on you.

Which payment options and methods do you use? Do you stick to your policies and enforce them? As we approach the beginning of a new year, this is a great time to self-assess and update your policies. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.