As an artist I’ve dealt with all kinds of promoters throughout my career. They can all be clumped into two basic categories:
1. Those that pay on time, &
2. Those that don’t.
Some of the nicest promoters I’ve worked with are also sometimes the most difficult with payment, while some of the most unpleasant promoters I’ve worked with have paid the the next morning. Ultimately, every client is going to be different & you can never tell who you can trust until you’ve got the cash in your hands.
If there’s ever a disagreement with payment, the best thing you can do to make sure you get paid is to set up a booking contract. With a simple booking contract, I have saved myself the pain of having to try explain myself to a promoter because what we agreed to is there in writing. With a booking contract, you can submit your claim to the small claims court and they will make sure you are paid what you are owed, given that:
– The contract is signed
– You held your end of the bargain
– The claim is under R15k
Don’t believe me? It’s RIGHT HERE on the Western Cape Government website. Pretty kiff!
Naming & shaming on social media is another route – and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve given the client fair warning that you’ll kick up a fuss if the outstanding amount hasn’t been paid. It’s also important that you fully understand the situation at hand before making the decision to voice your concerns on social media, as it could easily backfire.
Point is – there’s no formula to getting paid, so I can only speak from my own experience of what’s worked for me and what hasn’t. I’m sharing my knowledge in the hopes that up-and-coming artists and established ones alike don’t have to make the same mistakes I made & that the South African music industry can move forward where promoters and artists have a mutual respect & understanding of each other.
So with all that being said, let’s get into it. There are 3 basic kinds of contracts that I have implemented during the different phases of my career.
How I went about it
(2010 – 2013)
|– played for free / exposure
– worked out a door deal with the promoter
– got paid after the performance
(2014 – 2016)
|– Insisted on 50% deposit to secure the show.
– Client pays outstanding amount after the show.
(2016 – now)
|No pay, no play policy:
– Secure 50% deposit to secure the show
– Client must pay outstanding amount 3 days before performance.
Again I want to make it clear that there is no right or wrong way of dealing with clients. I am speaking purely from my experience & what I have done to implement contracts that I believe are fair. Here’s some more in depth analysis of each phase I’ve been through:
1. Starting Out (2010 – 2013)
Starting out as an artist was a daunting experience. No one knew who I was, and I was rarely treated with any respect. And rightly so – most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing, I was by no means a professional, but I needed to get some stage experience under my belt if I wanted to do this as a living. I treaded lightly. There were certain shows that I was happy to do for free – opening for big bands like Goldfish and certain charity shows etc. (I think Goldfish paid me anyway – kiff okes).
Anyway, if we did agree to a paid show I never want to upset clients for fear of what the consequence would be for my career early on, so my approach to payment was mostly apologetic. I didn’t have a booking contract in place so if a client was delaying payment, I always felt like I needed to appeal to the clients sense of empathy to get payment out of them. My emails often started out with “Hi John, I’m so sorry to bother you as I’m sure you are busy but I was wondering if you would by any chance be able to pay me this week? No pressure, but I kinda need to pay my rent this week, lol”
I hated these emails. I hated feeling like the victim. Luckily most people I worked with were happy to pay as we weren’t charging a lot, but there were times where it became an emotional rollercoaster trying to get clients to pay. Either way, they were technically under no legal obligation to pay me as there was nothing in writing. I had no legal right to complain.
What I did right:
– Stayed humble. Part of my success I believe was not having too much attitude starting out. I knew that respect is earned as the reputation of your band grows.
– I played a lot of small venues and did a lot of door deals, which meant that payment was mostly fair & quick.
What I did wrong:
– I didn’t set up a booking contract. No matter how small your show is, it’s important to set up the terms & conditions of the show in writing before anyone agrees to anything. Get the client to sign the contract well before the event. It may seem like a mission, but it will create a good impression with the client and it also makes it clearer what you’re both agreeing to – it’s to protect both of you and will prevent many apologetic emails.
– I should have insisted on deposit for shows outside of Cape Town. Too often I would spend my own money to get myself to a show, and then I’d often wait months for the client to pay me my fee. If a client is not willing to pay a deposit to cover your transport, that show is probably not worth playing.
– I tried to appeal to the client’s emotions, instead of keeping a level head. As soon as you start saying things like “I need this money to pay my rent” you start to sound like a beggar, and you’ll lose any sense of credibility with that client. Furthermore, by saying something like that you are actually making yourself the victim of a situation where you actually hold all the power. If a client hasn’t paid in time, submit your claim to the small claims court. The slightest mention of small claims court will more often than not get the client to pay you before you even make the claim.
2. Getting Traction (2014 – 2016)
I started getting some songs on the radio, I signed a record deal, people were starting to hear our name popping up & I started working with a reputable booking agent. I also had a ton of stage experience with playing small, mostly crappy venues. Things were looking better for me and I could start asking for bigger fees. Having a booking agent made dealing with clients easier as I didn’t have to speak directly with promoters anymore – our agent dealt with them directly. It became my job to rock up at the venue, play the show, and our agent dealt with the rest.
Our booking agent made sure that 50% deposit for the show was paid and that the client covered the cost of transport & accommodation over and above our gig fee. We didn’t have an exclusive agreement with our agent so I still did some of our own bookings, so for our own bookings I started doing the same thing – insisting on deposit, accommodation & transport over and above our fee as part of the deal.
Most clients were happy to cover these costs. I started becoming less apologetic & more confident in my dealings with clients, because I started to realise the value that my service as an artist brought to an event. Most clients we’ve dealt with have been great – especially corporate clients who we get quite a lot of work from with year end functions etc…
However, we still have issues with certain promoters who made life really difficult. This became incredibly frustrating, because the time I wanted to spend in studio was now being replaced with chasing clients for payment. It’s also incredibly difficult to get in the right headspace when you have to keep reminding yourself that a client still hasn’t paid you.
Most events we play are successful, but for whatever reason we sometimes played shows that didn’t get the kind of numbers that the promoter wanted. Understandably, it’s a risk to throw an event with big overheads and various factors at play – the weather, other events in the area, ticket prices and where you advertise all contribute to whether an event is successful or not. But whatever the reason, clients who don’t want to pay will often try and blame you that the event wasn’t successful. It was extremely important for me to realise that it was never my fault if an event didn’t do well. I provided a service, I expect payment for my service regardless of whether the event was a success or not. Even if there are only 10 people in the crowd, we will put on a fantastic show for those 10 people. The same goes if we’re playing to 10,000 people, because the quality of our performance doesn’t depend on how many people are there, it depends on what we’re getting paid.
What I did right:
– I had the right contract in place.
– I knew my worth & never let promoters guilt trip me into accepting anything less than what was owed.
– I was always firm, but fair. If you hold up your end of the bargain, then there’s nothing that the client can use against you. I was always on time for soundcheck & for shows, put on consistently good shows, never drank too much & never did drugs. A huge part of my success has been my reliability & professionalism.
What I did wrong:
– I never had a lawyer to advise me. Having someone to give me good legal advice would have saved me a lot of time and energy with getting payment from clients. There were many times where I struggled to get payment from clients, but never knew that I could take my claim to the small claim courts. It does however become a little trickier once you’re trying to claim amounts over R15k, so having good legal representation can be pricey – but at the end of the day, a lawyer will probably end up saving you time and money. I’m lucky enough to have an old school friend as a lawyer & his legal advice has been extremely useful.
Download a template of my basic booking contract HERE.
3. Established (2016 – now)
Not to blow my own horn (no pun intended), but I’ve reached a stage in my career where I feel like most South Africans have at least heard of The Kiffness – well at least the people reading this. We’ve started headlining events & festivals, and I’d like to think that we pull a crowd & put on a great show. I’m at a point now where I have to turn down shows, because we’ve either been booked for other shows and/or I want to make space in my schedule to make time for my wife & my family. It’s a great place to be in, and I consider myself very lucky to be my own boss and call my own shots.
When you’ve reached this stage in your career, you can start looking at a “no pay, no play policy”. This is a phase that I’m transitioning into now. To recap, this means I am beginning to insist that the client pays 50% deposit to secure the booking, and pay the outstanding amount no less than 3 days before the show. If the client agrees to these terms & payment hasn’t been made 3 days before the show, then I am under no legal obligation to get on any plane or a stage until I have received payment in full.
The reason for implementing this policy is simple – I don’t want to waste time on following up with payment. If a client wants to book us, they must know that we will be there on time & we will put on an excellent show. We have a proven track record. And if for whatever reason we can’t make the show, I will happily refund the client. There is no reason why we should have to only ask for the outstanding amount afterwards. I’ve noticed that clients seem more than happy to pay a deposit to secure the show, but if you have a contract that stipulates that the outstanding amount needs to be paid only after the show, that payment often just seems like an after thought.
I made this to make the South African music industry a better for both the artist and the promoters. It’s easy for us artists to make the promoters the bad guy, but when South African artists set the standards so low we can’t blame the promoters for walking all over us. Every time we set a precedent for the service we provide, we are not only doing ourselves a favour, but we are setting higher standards for fellow South African musicians.
Whatever phase you are in with your career, I hope you got something useful out of this article.
And finally, last but not least: to all the promoters who have been good to me & all the other South African artists over the years – thank you! Your efforts don’t go unnoticed.