In an average day, I usually have 1-5 songs I’m working on. I would say 90% of my clients are great. 5% are just okay, and 5% are awful. This blog will address those bottom 5%, including what went wrong and the outcome.
I am of course not going to release any identities or disparage these former clients. My goal here is simply to tell you that 1). Bad clients happen, and 2). How you can use my experiences to handle bad clients when you get them.
Songwriters I’ve Fired
The vast majority of my clients are songwriters, but occasionally I’ll have a singer who needs harmonies, an ad agency, a band, or something else. I RARELY recommend firing a client, as I think it’s always best to try to work things out and salvage your business. However, sometimes you really need to just cut them loose. Hopefully these true stories will give you tips on when to fire a bad client.
I also want to say that I don’t believe these clients are bad people. They may have been new to how this works, or they were having a bad day, or any number of things. I’m just saying they were not a good fit for me personally.
1). The Scope Creeper
Scope Creep is a thing, and you’re likely to encounter this if you don’t have solid policies and boundaries. It starts with asking you for a minor tweak here or there. You don’t feel comfortable charging extra, because it seems small. You make the edit, and they ask for another. They ask if you can get it done by tonight. Sure, you’re not busy, so you make the second small edit. They ask if you can make just one more change. Now you’re getting irritated, but since you didn’t say anything for the first two, and you’re hoping this is the final edit, you do it. Guess what? They have more changes.
The issue comes from not setting the tone from the beginning, so I highly recommend you do that up front. Establish boundaries, such as when you will work on the project, when you will respond and how many edits you will do for free. Do you have policies in place? If not, you can see my list of policies to have here. If you’re already dealing with a client like this, here is a great resource.
How I Fired Them:
This one was pretty easy. I simply got so fed up with their constant edits that I told them I’d be happy to continue to edit them but at this point I would need to ask for more money. Shockingly, they didn’t need any further changes after that. When they asked if I would work on another project with them, I said I would but I would make a maximum of two free edits before charging. They decided to work with someone else. I was not sad about it.
2). The Super Famous, Super Unclear Diva
A client contacted me to ask me to sing their song. In their first email, they told me they were “very famous” and sent me a link to their music. I clicked and noticed that they had fewer plays than I do, so if they were famous, I must be Taylor Swift. Still, I agreed to the project and got started. I followed their demo vocal and sent it back. They responded with, “This is wrong.” Since they didn’t follow it up with anything, I had to ask what they meant. “I already sang the lead,” they replied, “I am very popular and don’t need you to sing the lead.” Now I was confused.
“Did you mean you want me to sing harmonies?” I asked, since they hadn’t provided further information. They confirmed that they did. I was still relatively new to session singing and didn’t feel confident enough to ask for more money, so I chalked it up to my mistake and recorded the harmonies. I submitted them and got this message:
“These are still wrong.”
I was irritated. My response was more direct than my previous one. I asked them point-blank what they need.
“All you sent were a cappella tracks with no music and I can’t use these. I’m very famous and I don’t have time for this. I would have you redo them but at this point I suggest you not try since you don’t know what you are doing.”
How I Fired Them:
I sat there dumbfounded at their nonsensical email. Sending a cappella tracks is what I’m supposed to do. The song already had music. My job as a session singer is to deliver raw vocal tracks, unless otherwise stated. Nothing was otherwise stated. I responded:
“Did you want me to mix these into the project? I’m very confused because I don’t know what is expected of me. I do provide mixing services but as I am unclear on the scope of this project. I feel it’s best if we end this arrangement.”
Technically, I guess you could say I got fired, and this was one of those “you can’t fire me, I quit!” situations, but this person remains one of the most bizarre clients I’ve ever had.
3). The “Doesn’t-Understand-Modern-Technology and is Hostile” Client
I require a minimum of three things to start a project:
- The lyric sheet
- An instrumental demo
- A demo with sample or “scratch” vocals
Of course, this varies depending on the project. For a standard session singing job, this is what I need.
I was hired for a song and requested those three items. They sent one. I didn’t respond because I thought they would send the others shortly. After about 20 minutes, they wrote to ask if I received the files. I responded that I received one, but I still needed the other two. They got angry.
“What do you mean? I sent all three of them. If you can only see one that’s your problem.”
RED FLAG: When a client is rude before we even start a project. My intuition was screaming at me to back out now, but I decided to try to continue. I explained that they could create a zip file and send all three that way if they prefer.
Again, I got one of the three files. It was the same file they had already sent. I responded to let them know that I still needed the other two.
“Of course you need the other two! Did you not notice this before? It is YOUR responsibility to check this, not mine.”
How I Fired Them:
Honestly, I just stopped responding. Normally I don’t condone ‘ghosting’ clients, but I’m not dealing with this type of attitude. The money is not worth the stress. Also, they hadn’t paid yet, so they weren’t an actual client.
They did write me one more email a few days later, just to let me know that they had decided to hire someone else. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it was written in an aggressive way. Something like “After losing faith in your abilities, I’ve decided to go elsewhere.” Again, I didn’t respond. It really seemed to me like this person just wanted to pick a fight, and it wasn’t worth my time to engage.
4). The Time-Warp Client
I understand that if you’re not a musician, you likely won’t know how long it takes to finish a project. I don’t expect people to know this, but I do expect them to take my word for it when I tell them how much time I need. If you’re unaware of how long it takes, trust the pro when they tell you.
A client simply could not fathom why it would take me a day to finish a song, since “the song is only three minutes long.” I explained the amount of time involved in learning the song, recording it and making sure it was a solid performance, making any edits or corrections needed, exporting the files and sending. “That still should only take 20 minutes, max!!” they replied. I had to again explain that I have other clients and a schedule that determines the order I work on projects. I also have this thing called sleep, and I don’t work 24 hours a day. I’m willing to put in extra time or adjust my schedule to meet deadlines, but even then it takes longer than 20 minutes. This client also wanted three harmonies, which they had not written and wanted me to arrange myself. Depending on the song, that can be hours worth of work.
How I Fired Them:
I made repeated attempts to make them happy, including rescheduling other (kinder, more patient) clients and moving my personal schedule aside. Yet they still were irritated that they hadn’t received their song as quickly as they wanted. They wanted to hire me for another project, however, after they were happy with the work I did on the first project. I politely declined, stating that my schedule did not allow for their projects at this time.
So, here’s what I want you to take away from these stories:
- You are allowed to decide what kind of clients you do and don’t want
- You’re allowed to set and keep boundaries with clients
- You are allowed to terminate relationships with clients who make your job not worth it
It amazes me how some musicians talk like they “hustle harder” and that somehow means they take on clients that are a terrible fit and make themselves miserable. Life is short, music is fun. Make it with people you like!
If you’re struggling with any of these types of clients, there are plenty of great resources online!
Also…I wrote a whole book on how to communicate with session musicians, clients and songwriters. You can check it out here if you’re interested!
Just remember, what worked for me may not work for you, so feel free to listen to your own intuition and let it guide you.
Ultimately, I’m grateful for these clients because they’ve helped me grow as an entrepreneur and led me to develop new policies and procedures. I wish them all the best and I hope they find a good session singer who fits what they’re looking for.
Have you had to deal with clients that weren’t a good fit? How did you handle it? I’d love to know your story in the comments!