If you are an events organizer, or if you are any kind of planner engaging a speaker, an educator, a curator, an author, a lecturer, a workshop facilitator…really, if you engage any kind of freelance service for pay, then this message is for you.
This is not directed at any one organization or individual, because unfortunately, the problems described here are problems that literally every freelancer has had to deal with at least once in their lives.
Every single freelancer I know has been faced with a very difficult conversation with someone who has contracted them to do a service: the money conversation. Namely, then whens and hows and other processes around timely payment of artist fees. For those of us in the arts, it is the bane of our existence. It is stressful. It can even be traumatizing. Why? Because our business requires us to maintain relationships, and no one wants to do business with people in a strained relationship. It’s safe to say that any strain on a patron’s relationship potentially takes money out of an artist’s pocket. And the unfortunately reality for most of us is that the artist is the first one to be tossed out on their ass when it comes time to make budget cuts.
In this atmosphere, the average artist will put up with just about anything. One of the greatest challenges we put up with surrounds the timely payment of agreed upon artist fees. It needs to end.
I cannot tell you how many times, in the years I’ve been a freelance artist, that I’ve been told one or more of the following sentences:
1) “There is a process involved with payment. Unfortunately, this will result in a delay of your honorarium.”
2) “I’m sorry. We did not obtain the funding we thought we would. We have to reduce your pay.”
3) “That’s not what we agreed to. Here’s the pay we thought we worked out.”
4) “I’m sorry, we have to cancel.” (This happens, most times, the week of the event, sometimes the very day.)
5) “I don’t know when you’ll get paid. That’s another department.”
6) “You are making me uncomfortable with your questions about payment.”
Organizers. Please. I cannot stress this enough: it is fundamentally disrespectful to the person you have contracted to not pay them in a timely manner, or shepherd them off to another department, or act as if they are a problem to confront when the conversation turns to money. Money keeps the bills paid. Money keeps the rent paid. Money allows artists to keep creating more art. You know this, because you don’t do your job for free, either.
When we are contracted to come to your school, your event, your place of business, your slam event, your whatever, you are not hiring someone to show up and distract people for a certain amount of time. Speakers work for a living. Artists work for a living. Teachers work for a living. This requires us to write, to create, to prepare a speech or a lesson plan, to arrange for time on our calendars, to arrange for travel, to plan on audio/video setup and other artist materials, and to plan for a myriad of other concerns that come with showing up to your event; and NOT for the purpose of distracting people, but to keep them engaged, or to convince them of something, or to teach them something.
Organizers. Read this and refer to it often, and share it with your fellow organizers: You must pay your artists and curators on time, every time, without exception. This is proper form. You must tell them about any processes involved with their payment, you must get their paperwork to them on time, and you must make sure they know exactly when they are slated to be paid. And you must let them know these things FAR IN ADVANCE, so that they can plan their lives. That’s basic respect. That is your job as an organizer. I know you may not know this. I know the job may have been foisted on you. But that IS your job. It doesn’t come after you pay the caterer. It doesn’t come after you jump through a million bureaucratic hurdles with your college to get access to the multipurpose room. It is one of your first responsibilities. You are contracting a service, and the service must be paid for. But more importantly, you are dealing with a human being who possess the intelligence, accomplishments, and skill set that you would like your group to be engaged by. And that human being deserves respect.
When an artist has to start asking you fundamentally simple questions about payments, they are not making your life difficult. They are not someone “to be handled.” Don’t bring in a third party to break news you can’t break them. Handle it yourself. Make the calls you need to make to the accounts payable department…because I guarantee you, if you don’t, they will. And if the artist is visiting from out of town, don’t ambush them with paperwork they have to fill out to get their check at some point down the road. Have those processes done and have a check ready when they get there.
An agent will demand exactly that. You can bet your ass that any celebrity or “distinguished guest” will expect to be paid when they get there. Why? Because everyone knows that person deserves respect. But here’s the thing…and PLEASE, burn this into your minds now and forever: EVERYONE DESERVES RESPECT. Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they do, and immediately so. Punto. End of text.
Now, before you object to this manifesto with language about “process,” please save us the lecture. All I have ever asked any client for, and all any freelancer should ask any client for, is CLARITY AND TIMELINESS on the process for payment. If you choose to organize an event, this is a basic need, and you need to get it done. Don’t blame the artist for making your life difficult. Instead, get the artist paid for their time, and don’t make them wait for weeks or months at a time without telling them up front what to expect.
And artists: Please don’t let anyone tell you that you are undeserving of respect. Please don’t believe the lie that you are any less worthy of a timely payment because you don’t have notoriety or fame. You have skills and you are being contracted for them. Advocate for yourselves. Don’t accept poor treatment.
Artists and freelancers deserve respect, not excuses, not ostracization or obfuscation. If you believe this, then please share this message with someone who can benefit from it.