Most 28 Days topics are aspirational and are intended to give steps for doing more and doing it better. Today’s topic is one that we do not really like to talk about. Sometimes a project is not what you expected or it’s not happening at all. Sometimes you are not adequately prepared. Sometimes a contract is deceiving about your actual duties. Sometimes a production is going down in a raging ball of flames. Should you always be like the musicians aboard the Titanic and go down with the ship? I am not so sure. It is possible to walk away from a voice engagement. But, how do you do it without ruining your reputation? We’ll talk tough on Day 21 about knowing when to jump ship.
There are very few feelings more difficult to deal with than when you need out of a creative agreement. The negatives that we try so desperately to keep at bay seem to rush through in this situation. This makes you almost completely unable to deal with a business decision that should be very carefully considered. Oftentimes we are also working with people we consider friends and mentors. These personal associations can make it even more difficult. This is your long-term career though. An occasional misstep, especially when young, is forgiven or even forgotten over time. With this in mind, you must make a careful assessment of the hazards and the rewards to prevent putting your career in jeopardy.
Do Your Research
Before you accept an offer (for a gig, role, from a school, etc.), do not be too eager to just get it on your résumé. This harkens back to Day 3 – Practice Mindful Scheduling. Part of doing your research is making sure that you can actually commit to the entire process: being able to technically sing the music, memorizing if required, and attendance at rehearsals and performances. Getting fired from a gig because you did not do the requisite work is a huge career blunder that can stick with you for a while. Even if that company asks you to come back, the colleagues that you disappointed in the process are not as forgiving. (What? You mean other singers would gossip?)
If you aren’t already doing so, obtain a physical agreement outlining the details. It does not have to be an oppressively thick legal document but get more than just an email or a verbal confirmation. Everyone will take the terms more seriously.
Now, let’s talk about leaving after you accepted the gig and contract terms. If you really need to walk away from something for any reason, remember to read the fine print of that contract. Will you be financial responsible if you are unable to perform the duties listed? Cautiously measure whether or not you can afford those financial or social costs. If you are required to perform tasks that are not included in your contract, you may have some wiggle room. This could require some legal backup.
Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome
Opportunities will present that seem better than what you are currently doing. For example, your current gig is offering you x amount of money; but a new gig comes along that is offering more. What freelance musician wouldn’t be tempted to forgo an agreement to take the higher paying gig? The other heart-breaking situation is saying yes to an opportunity lower on the totem pole only to be offered a leading role after signing the contract. Making smart business decisions in this situation is necessary. Be honest with yourself about whether or not the new opportunity is worth burning bridges over. Before broaching the subject with the first contract-holder, use your powers of personality discernment to imagine the ramifications. Also, think creatively about negotiating different terms on both sides if you are able. Singers often fail to look strategically at their opportunities when they are in this situation. They often do not consider the long-term growth that could be with a company or ensemble. However, if Company/Ensemble A is less established than a future with Company/Ensemble B, it could be the right decision for you to move on. You have to be able to decide for yourself with a clear entrepreneur’s mind. You are running your own small business here after all.
Remember to be as honest and open as possible. Treat others with lasting respect when you have these conversations. They are trying to run their small business to the best of their ability too.
Know Your Role
Singers have an amazing ability to maintain psychological safety by nurturing their own positive image. Instead of trying to make the best out of a situation, the awkwardness can trigger a fight-or-flight response (heavy on the flight.) Do not let your own “confirmation bias”, attending to information that only confirms your preexisting beliefs, lead you into short-term planning. Taking the example from above, what if your production is going nowhere fast, think carefully about whether or not you should leave and cut your losses or stick it out and just do your best. Perhaps before leaving a project or production, you can have a direct-yet-private conversation with the director to address your concerns. If you are serious about jumping ships, work with an ally or mentor to figure out the best and worst case scenarios.You can also identify whether or not this is purely an emotional decision or if you are operating from a position of measured assessment. Also, practice having a rational conversation to mitigate the ramifications of leaving. Then you can ensure, to the best of your ability, you will not allow your emotions to take over this business decision.
You are truly striving for a healthy work-life balance. There are certain projects, productions, or situations from which you will need to walk away for any number of reasons. Pitfalls and mistakes abound that are very different from traditional corporate structures. Every offer is unique. What is right for you and for your long-term career could be disastrous for your friends or colleagues. It is important that you look at your options with a critical eye that is looking inwardly as well as outwardly at the situation. Remember that your story is your own — your path is your own.
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