Becoming a payments pro in the music industry
99 problems but getting paid ain't one
Ker-ching! Of all the music in the World, the sweet sound of money hitting your bank account is perhaps the most welcome. Balancing the dream of doing what you love as a musician, and living in a material world mean that practicalities have to come into play. You may know your Miles Davis from your Morrissey, but how clear and clever are you about getting paid quickly?
Invoices in the UK are being paid, on average, 21 days late. Here we speak to people with first-hand experience of the challenges of getting paid in the music industry, with 4 music teachers, 1 online platform Music Gurus and our free invoicing app Albert, all sharing our expertise on how to speed up the payment process.
Set your own stage
Life as a musician offers a variety of clients, all of which have different payment etiquette. For corporate customers, 28 days terms are regularly expected but with concerts you may expect payment on the day. While enjoyable, the variety can also make it complicated to stay on top of what precisely you are owed and where.
Jazz musician Peter Komor has been playing music from a young age and, having worked consistently since leaving the Royal Welsh College of Music, he finds the most effective method is being upfront from the get-go. “The best way to make sure everything goes smoothly is always lay out the fee and payment terms in advance. If I am dealing directly with clients I always make sure that they know what to pay, when to pay and how to pay it!”
Taking on the responsibility of setting your client’s expectations means you have defined the path forward and can plan for what to expect. Your client also has clear boundaries which will make them more likely to act.
Pianist and lecturer in composition Carl Lewis goes one step further: “Always make the time to send a contract before you do any paid work. Be sure the client understands, signs and returns it. It can be a very useful aid to pursue a case if need be.” Having your payment terms printed with fully fledged out consequences will increase your client’s likelihood to pay promptly and, should it ever come to it, you are legally protected.
Get by with a little help from these new friends
Even with clearly set out boundaries, some customers may still insist on their own terms for payment - this is particularly true of music students where cash in hand is often expected. While this is, at least, immediate, should a student forget or make an error with payment, you are potentially faced with an awkward conversation on your hands.
One way around this is to do what guitar teacher and jazz enthusiast, Joseph Hannis, does and offer lessons in blocks which have to be paid for in advance. In this case, the student has clearly defined rules to follow that will enable you to know exactly where you are financially prior to any service exchange. You also have some commitment from your customer and this avoids having unnecessarily difficult conversations about money on a weekly basis.
Tom Rogers, a former music teacher and co-founder and CEO of Music Gurus, has found other tools to get around this: ‘When I worked as a music teacher charging students was always a challenge. Some people would be happy to pay for blocks of lessons at one time but others would insist on cash in hand on the day. It's always kind of embarrassing to ask for cash payment at the end of a lesson! An invoicing tool like Albert that automates and de-personalises invoicing is a great idea. I founded MusicGurus.com to make taking lessons and paying for them easier. We also charge on behalf of teachers for tutoring sessions that take place on the platform, so there is no invoicing to do at all! Everything happens online and we transfer the funds directly to our tutors' accounts every month."
Investing in these types of tools and helpful agents is particularly helpful with the freelance lifestyle that so many musicians have. You don’t necessarily have to be next to a computer to use them and the service they offer is excellent, and in some cases free.
Our co-founder, Ivo Weevers, has found that timing can play a huge part when you are requesting payment by invoice. “It’s been proved that the quicker you send through your invoice after a job, the faster it will get paid. It’s only natural that when you have recently finished a job, you’re fresh in the mind of your customers and closer to the top of their to-do list. The later you invoice, the distance of your work will make you seem like less of a priority.” This so-called Recency Effect will also serve to improve your one-man business, as invoicing quickly will seem efficient and therefore make you appear more professional to your customer.
Guitar teacher Joseph Hannis believes faster invoicing has other benefits too: “Do it all as soon and as quickly as you can. If you don’t keep up with your books as a sole trader, it’s easy for it to get out of hand.” This may seem a little tedious from day to day, but the benefits will be obvious as soon as tax time comes around and may in fact help you save some precious pennies.
Many musicians also still request payment by cash or cheque, but when invoicing offering electronic payments will help you get paid faster. Think about it – the time it takes for your customer to write up a cheque or even deliver the cash to you in person is far longer than what it would take for your client to hit a few buttons on their mobile. These types of payments are also easier to track when doing your taxes, so all in all, a winning approach
We know you’re not in it for the money, but even the most dedicated rock and rollers need a steady stream of cash to keep their lives and work afloat. With a little thought and these careful steps, you can put yourself in the driving seat, the maestro of your own payments, guiding the customer to the position best-placed to hit the pay button.