Such is the nature of our world in the music business that much of the payment for our services rendered happens in a face to face exchange at the end of any given gig. Of course, in most cases the “gig” in question has probably been one in which some pretty heavy drinking by the clients has been involved. This can make for some pretty interesting if not downright challenging situations during that final transaction. And so I write this open letter to our beloved customers:
Dear (insert special event name) Client,
We musicians realize that much like Dickens’ ghost of Marley we carry the chains forged from decades of bad reputations for not showing up or showing up late and then raping and pillaging your entire shindig. We also realize that this negative stereotype makes your parting with your balance check BEFORE the gig about as likely as head table place settings for the rhythm section. But could YOU realize that at midnight after an entire day of revelry and all the Jack and Coke that goes with it, you’re probably not in any frame of mind to deal with important financial transactions like making sure the band actually gets paid for services rendered?
Let me explain. In many cases where musical entertainment is contracted, a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit (don’t even get me started on this oft-ignored policy) is required ahead of time to reserve the act for your event. Most of the time this deposit is 50% of the total due, with the other half due the night of the event. Fine. This first half of the transaction usually occurs on a weekday when everyone is sober. Don’t get me wrong. All of us in the industry are grateful you’ve contracted our services. But here’s hoping that more fathers of the bride and other special event benefactors realize that after a gig, we’re sweaty, tired and just want to get paid, pack up our gear and head to bed. The challenge for many beleaguered band leaders and DJ’s is actually collecting that balance check in a timely fashion once the lights come up at the end of the night. It’s hard enough finding you among the remaining guests, probably interrupting whatever slurry conversation you might be in and holding our hand out like Oliver Twist asking for “more”. Here are a few classic examples that can make it even harder (you know who you are!):
The Scribbler – Once you actually locate him after 20 minutes, this is the completely snockered dad who can barely hold his checkbook and a pen at the same time. Often the bandleader will politely stand before The Scribbler for an extended period of time while he goes through an inordinate amount of checks, screwing each one up worse than the other. The upside down check….the check where he accidentally writes the same profanity he is speaking…the check he fell asleep in the middle of writing. In the end you usually get a crumpled, damp piece of paper made out to: “Je78XXX7s Prkdd#@# F**CK!”
The Socialite – This is the mother of the bride or similar player who gets that classic look of “What? We owe you money?” look in her eyes upon your approach. She then proceeds to tell you to “follow her”, and like a compensation-starved puppy you are on her tail throughout the entire reception. Of course, making a bee line to the source of the money would be too much to ask, so naturally she stops at every group of relatives for another extended conversation-the bandleader at her side like a personal valet. By the third or fourth stop to chat, she has completely forgotten who you are and where she was going in the first place and finally asks you to go get her another drink.
The Concierge – This is the would-be payer who left his checkbook up in the hotel room. This is easily a half-hour wait and you know once he finally gets up there, he forgot to get the keycard to the room from his wife.
The Hot Potato – This tactic is usually committed by a group of relatives who must be a joy to dine out with once the check comes because their paying-avoidance skills are honed to perfection. These are the folks who deflect you like running backs and refer you to another player like the best man who they think was in charge of disbursing checks…of course Best Man looks at you like you have three heads and you get passed off to Cousin Vinnie….Vinnie to Aunt Fannie..Fannie to…well, you get the picture. By the time this merry-go-round stops it’s 3 am and you’re looking at the busboy wondering if the tips in his pocket would be enough to cover the balance.
So…how to avoid this frustration? Take care of all the business transactions before the reception starts. Organize and write your vendor checks ahead of time and pass them out. Get it out of the way. We totally understand that paying before the party starts makes you nervous. But rest assured, we didn’t spend the last three hours to set up a full ten-piece band and complete sound system only to dine and dash. We’re there, we’re staying and you will get the great entertainment you imagined. The artists at companies with reputations like Jerry Bruno Productions are consummate professionals who only want the best for you and for you to continue referring us to your friends and families. We’ve grown up from our wanna-be rock star days of raping and pillaging your gentile events. So pay up…early. You’ll have a happy and content band and you can party ’til you puke! You’ll be safe and we won’t have to incur the wrath of a drunken Aunt Fannie. Check please.
Geoff Short (aka Oliver Twist)
At the time of this posting, Geoff was the Sales and Promotions Manager at Jerry Bruno Productions (now Cleveland Music Group) and the bandleader for its band The Avenue.