“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest, and despair most fits.” Thanks to William Shakespeare for putting it perfectly. Nothing exemplifies the promise and common failing of expectation more than creative collaborations. Unmet expectations can sour even the strongest of musical partnerships. That, my friends, is why agreements are such a powerful tool. Yesterday, we were talking about strategy. The next few days are going to be outlines of strategic documents, tools, techniques, and more that will help actualize expectations rather than erode artistic relationships.
On Day 5 it Was Written, the 29 Days to Diva Challenge is to Make Stronger Agreements.
Client Service Agreements (CSA) are those sexy little numbers that outline the expectations between you and anyone who wants to pay you to sing. This can be one of those awkward transitions for emerging professional singers. When you go from singing your aunt’s, friend’s, pastor’s, (fill-in-the-blank…) projects for experience on both sides to accepting gigs for actual money, you will want to have these ideas in place.
Tossing around creative ideas at the beginning of a collaboration can make colleagues feel like they don’t need an agreement. However, a signed document can be awkward at first, when it feels new, but it saves a lot of hurt feelings later. Furthermore, this could be the difference between a severed relationship and future ongoing projects.
Does this look familiar?
Hey Diva Friend,
Would you want a gig on October 4th singing in Gainesville? Let me know — it’s 3 arias, for a dinner party, the accompanist is the musical director in residence at the opera house. Might be a good contact for you and who knows, maybe future gigs there. Pay is $150.
That could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say in the movie. First, after receiving the email, you check with yourself to see if you really want the gig and if you are actually available. If you want to proceed, then you can move forward with the bullet points of your client service agreement. As you can see, we’ve already covered quite a few of the details in the original email. But, let’s talk about everything we want to have covered before we commit.
Client Service Agreement Basics
- Are you comfortable with the price they listed for the whole project? Do you know how many rehearsals or total hours that encompasses before you agree? You will want to outline what, precisely, you are committing to time-wise for that fee amount.
- You will want to confirm exactly how that payment makes it way to you. This is as simple as asking, “what are your normal payment procedures?” Unless you’re in a position to demand a specific format, just figure out how you should expect to see that payment from them. Will they leave a check on your stand? Are you supposed to talk to the manager after the gig is over? Will their accounts payable send a check in their next payment cycle? Find out beforehand so you can save yourself an even more awkward conversation later.
- There are times that accounts payable will ask you for an invoice. I highly recommend you set up an accounting service now so that you can generate these efficiently. I’m a big fan of WaveApps.
- When dreaming up new projects, delineate multiple deadlines. This ensures that everyone is working toward the same goal at the same time. Plus, you avoid the nasty headache of overscheduling if you know yourself and your working process. ‘I can commit to x amount of hours devoted to this project during this specific timeframe.’ Boom. Done.
- Deadlines for scores. Deadlines for payments. Deadlines for bios and resumes. Oh goodness, it is so much better to work things into your schedule than to scramble at the last-minute trying to fulfill a surprise deadline.
- The inactivity deadline
- This is one of my favorites if you find yourself in dream space a little too often. When fun coffee meetings turn into actual plans, but the process starts to drag on and on. Give yourself an inactivity deadline. (Call it something else if you think feelings might be hurt.) This is the deadline that you set early in the process that means, “if we don’t have x visible progress by x date, then we will table this project for the foreseeable future.”
- In the diva business, this area could be really useful. Think about having some stock questions that are specific to different gigs. If you’re doing indie opera, you may want to confirm whether or not you’re providing your own wardrobe/makeup/hair.
- Think about the last handful of gigs you have done. What question could you have handled earlier in the process to make your experience better and more efficient. Put that into your extras area.
- Boilerplate Legal Language
- If you this is the only contract you have with whoever is paying your fee, you will want to include liability clauses and attorney’s fees language here. If you’re going to sign their contract, double-check that this language is included and see how far it extends into your dealings together. Take the time to make sure you’re protected as an artist before you need to be protected as an artist.
Having these questions on hand will be useful each time that little ding in your inbox signals a new gig. The slightly awkward conversation now saves the larger head/heartache later.
Help a diva out!
Do you have any awesome agreement stories to share? Or, tales of woe when you wish you had set up an agreement beforehand? I’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments below. Or, you can hit me up on Twitter and we can share there @mezzoihnen.