Today we’re talking about a very exciting and sexy topic: contract policies! I know, you’re probably not jumping out of your skin with excitement, but hear me out. This is super important, and you never know when it might benefit you or your client in some way.
Example 1: You are halfway through a project when you come down with the flu. You are bedridden for days, and the client demands their money back. What do you do?
Example 2: You haven’t started the project yet, but the client has a family emergency and needs the money back. What do you do?
These are just a few examples of why policies are so important for session musicians (or any freelancer, really), so let’s get into a few important policies you need as a session musician!
Session Musician Policies
If you work through a professional studio or organization, there are likely company policies that handle a lot of these. If you’re a solo session musician, however, I highly recommend you have these! I will tell you my own policies just in case you’re not sure what you need, but it’s important to tailor these to your own business eventually. What worked for me may not work for you or your clients.
1). Cancellation Policy
This is for both you and your client. What happens if you or they need to cancel? How much time or notice do you need to have? Will any of their payment be refunded? I start working on projects pretty quickly, so I let clients know that if they need to cancel and I’ve already started, part of their payment will not be refunded. Time is money, right? If they aren’t sure if they’ll need to cancel, I ask them to let me know up front so I know to wait a certain time before starting. If I haven’t started yet, I usually provide a full refund. There are MANY ways to work a Cancellation Policy and every creative freelancer tends to have a different opinion on it, so use what works for you!
2). Refund Policy
There are two reasons to offer a refund: 1). If the client cancels (see above), or 2). If the client is unsatisfied with your work. The latter is a bummer for sure, but it’s important to plan for things like this. Not everyone will be thrilled with what you do, and some people are just determined to be jerks. What I did was have a strong Edit/Revision Policy (see below), and if we still couldn’t reach an agreement, I would refund part of their payment. The only time I ever refunded a full payment was if they cancelled before I started. Your time is valuable so don’t feel like you shouldn’t get paid! If you’re worried about a client going ballistic and leaving you negative reviews, you’ll have your policies in place to ensure that the client knew up front what was happening.
You also have the option with a refund policy to not let the client use the work you’ve done. This can be difficult if you’ve already turned it over or if you recorded it at their studio, but it is an option. I very rarely had to give a refund so I don’t want to scare you into thinking it’s an everyday occurrence, but it’s an important policy to have in place!
3). Edit/Revision Policy
This is typically what will save you from having to give a refund. It’s up to you how many revisions you will provide, but I usually kept the cutoff at three. Some people only provide one. What you don’t want is someone who nitpicks the tiniest little things and is still contacting you months later to make changes. You should also have a timeframe where no further edits will be given without a fee. For example, they get X amount of edits before closing the project, but after X weeks, the project is closed and any additional edits will be a fee of $X.
4). Turnaround Time Policy
This ensures that the client will get a timely delivery, and that you get the amount of time needed to complete the project without being hounded about it. I can’t give a lot of advice here because it depends on your schedule, but the average is between 3 days to a week. If you don’t record yourself, you may have to add extra time to ensure that the studio can fit you into their schedule.
This is more for the clients, to assure them that you will not share any of their work without their permission. You can be more detailed here if you like. For example, I often share clients’ finished songs on my social media pages. They enjoy the extra publicity and it’s a great way to connect with others to show them what I’ve been working on. You can add this into your policy if you like. I would not ever share songs without the clients’ permission, so this would be a good way to broach that topic.
6). Work For Hire Release
Many clients ask for this up front, but it’s good to have one ready. There are generic templates here or you can use them as a guide to create your own.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Make or Review These?
It never hurts to have a pair of legal eyes on a document, but I don’t think you need one. Most clients accept policies as binding and if they don’t, you can get a lawyer at that point. Please keep in mind, though, that I am not a lawyer. I’m giving you advice that has helped me in my career in the hopes that it will help you. I am not giving you legal advice, so if you feel like you might need a lawyer, go for it.
Communication is so important as a session musician. So important, in fact, that I wrote a whole book on it. It’s geared toward songwriters, but it will help you understand what you need from them. If you want to check it out, it’s right here!
I am also currently giving private consultations for session musicians. We can talk about whatever you like, whether it’s policies, recording, or any other aspect of running a session business. Feel free to contact me about it here!
I hope this gives you a head start on your session musician policies! Just remember that these are designed to help both you and your clients, and they will make you seem much more professional.