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paying your people

At heart, I am a leader.

It’s a role I fell into accidentally, when I realized that my opinions and my voice were important, and grew into being able to use them for good. I’m not a loud, up-front leader – I prefer to set good examples, be organized, take charge when I need to. Which doesn’t preclude being loud, thankfully, but it’s at least where I started from.

This has naturally translated into my career – I lead five projects of my own and play in about as many more, depending on the time of year.

One of the things I’ve discovered, though, about leading a band, is that it’s not just your own interests you have to keep in mind.

I’ve learned so much about being a people person over the past five years leading my bands – and if you check out my previous post, then you’ll know I’ve had a few bigger fish to fry over those years, too.

So the question I’m trying to address today is: how do you balance taking care of the people you care about and work with…with taking care of yourself?

The employee side: getting paid

paying your people

So I’ll start with the easy stuff.

Someone hires you to do some work – play a gig, transcribe a tune, show up somewhere and help out with minor lifting. If the first message asking you to do the work doesn’t have all the details, don’t be afraid to write back and ask for more information, including how much you’re getting paid. And if they ask you for your rate, this is a good opportunity to think about how much you actually want to make when you leave the house to work.

If you don’t already have a typical rate for your gigs or freelance work, ask your friends what they would charge! The community succeeds when people try not to undercut each other, and if you’re going to take a low-pay gig, have a good reason to do it.

Also worth asking at this point is: when do you get paid?

At gigs, usually I get paid on the day of, at the end of the gig, in cash. If the bandleader seems unsure, I’ll usually ask when I arrive or before I leave: “Do you have cash for me or should I wait for an e-transfer?”

And for other work that I invoice for, I have a net-30 clause at the bottom of my invoice. “Payment due in 30 days by cash, cheque, or e-transfer. Cheques should be made out to [name] and e-transfers to [email address].” Some people have “due on receipt” clauses on their invoices as well, so whatever you decide, figure out what works best for you.

And last caveat: some people just send the invoice after, without talking about the money first. But sometimes that can lead to some tricky situations, so just be careful.

Know your client!

The employer side: paying your people

paying your people

For this one, I can’t stress enough how important it is to look ahead.

Now you have all the easy stuff above – do you get paid day of, before completion, some time after the gig – but you have to figure out: when will you get to pay your people?

There are a few strategies on this one, so again, easy stuff first: is it a performance? Do you get paid in cash?

If the answers to those are yes, then that one solves itself – just split the money on the day of! But say you get paid by cheque. Do you have enough money in your back account to e-transfer your people on the day of? How much do you get charged for e-transfers? Can you take out cash instead? And if you know it’s going to be a long time before the cheque arrives (see: some corporate engagements), do you have enough money to get through until then?

This isn’t a question with an easy answer, but a rule of thumb from me: giving good karma usually results in its return.

When I’m hiring people, I’m very up front about when they can expect money. And I try and pay everybody as soon as possible, sometimes stealing a trick from my friend’s book and paying people ahead of time if I know I have a payday between then and the gig.

What I have noticed among the people I work with is that as long as people know when they’re getting paid the first time, they are way more likely to trust you when things inevitably go south.

My last gig horror story involved me getting shorted nearly $1000 – so I took what little buffer I had saved and paid everybody half up front, and then as I saved up the rest, sent them the difference. It meant that I didn’t make nearly what I was supposed to on the gig, but I felt much more strongly about the people I worked with being able to take care of themselves.

And as stressful as that is when you are also an artist with no money, I made that decision knowing that I had other income that would help me survive the loss – and in the hopes that if I found myself in that situation, some other bandleader would be able to help. (If you’re the kind of bandleader who charges a leader fee – you should be! – then this situation also helps mitigate itself.)

paying your people

In short…

As with most things in life, communication is key. Be clear about your expectations, be fair with your rates (to yourself and to the people you work with), and if things are going to be less than ideal, make sure you have a plan in place to deal with that – whether it’s paying people ahead of time, or just making sure they know that that money won’t be in their bank account for a few more weeks. A little trust goes a long way – and really, when it comes down to it, we’re all just trying to get by.

Chelsea McBride

Chelsea McBride

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Driven by an endless need for expressing herself creatively, young composer and multi-instrumentalist Chelsea McBride has burst onto the Toronto jazz scene. Whether it’s her big band (Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School), her jazz trio (Chelsea McBride Group), her pop-fusion band (Chelsea and the Cityscape), her Latin-soul nonet (The Achromatics) or her video game cover band (Koopa Troop), Chelsea is a diverse musician who refuses to stay in one creative box. Chelsea can be heard around Toronto playing several shows per month. She has released three albums with Chelsea and the Cityscape and two albums with her Socialist Night School.

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