Bands, Externals & Professionalism.
Being a band member as well as someone offering creative services, I’ve had experiences on both sides of the spectrum. But never have I had one of those “nightmare customers”, known for their lack of professionalism. However, bands are not always the culprits. Lately I’ve been on the receiving end of unprofessional behavior from creative individuals offering their services. And not just me.
Band members have developed a growing tendency to do things DIY. I’ve done things DIY in the past, sometimes quid pro quo. From time to time that’s the best solution you have at hand when starting out. If you’re a band without audio engineers, photographers or graphic artists (a rarity nowadays) or their workload can’t take on their own band, you’re destined to outsource. You can look at and listen to portfolios as much as you want, when time comes and you’re ready to contact them you have a clear vision of who would fit the bill. Sometimes you just check the artwork designer or engineer of a record you love so much, sometimes you get referred to someone. Referrals can come in handy, but are never foolproof. The person I worked with was referred to me by people I respect but, for the most part, failed to maintain a professional attitude.
When you contact someone, the first thing you should do is to establish what you’re looking for. Why do you want to work with this person? What does he/she bring to the table that others do not? In the case of my band, we were looking for someone who could bring new branding and identity ideas to the table and execute them tastefully.
The designer responded swiftly, professionally and explained his payment terms (50% upfront). This seemed fair to us, so we described in detail everything we felt was necessary for the designer to know (that we preferred minimal typography, what elements we wanted in our symbol, etc.) and paid the first half of his fee. He did not explicitly mention that it’s non refundable, but it was defeinitely assumed: these are best practices in the creative world, it will protect the band from losing all their money at once and doesn’t leave the external out to dry when the band suddenly decides it won’t work out.
Also worth mentioning is that the prices I’m talking about come from (former) label employees and are a few tiers higher than from people that are just starting out. Even the advance payment was of a substantial amount. Why do I tell you this? Because more often than not, bands misjudge the pricing in the entertainment business. These are costly endeavours. People get paid once for something that lasts a lifetime, so you will and you should be charged more than what most people think. I’ll give a more detailed breakdown about this topic in the future. After days of waiting I decided to mail the designer again, to see what he had made thus far. The response I got was a lousy excuse, that he had already mailed me a week prior, but that the mail supposedly never arrived. An alarm bell should’ve been roaring there already, but it didn’t.
I will not go into full detail, but on top of only sending one design, the symbol was sloppy and the type just a regular Sans Serif font. We sent him our critiques and he sent back a single, sloppy design yet again. And this kept happening. Not only did he pay zero attention to what we initially described, he ignored several topics we specifically asked to work with. This prompted us to ask what was going on, why he was not paying attention to important details. At this point I was disappointed and irritated. Not angry, but I forced myself to cool down. In situations like these, go water your plants or feed the cat. There’s no solution in taking a deep breath and staring back into the thing that just disappointed you. Especially when you need to write a reply.
Ultimatums ‘n Stuff
The reply we got was an ultimatum of some sorts. The designer replies that believes in his work, he can defend it but won’t. According to him his rate was less than his standard, which is why he “didn’t want to keep going around in circles”. But we never suggested a budget and specifically mentioned that we would work with whatever price he’d charge us with. He offers us one last chance and if things don’t work out he’d kill the project and retain his fee. The designer asks us to, once again, explain our demands in detail. From there on out he’ll make a batch of logos from which we can choose one and he’ll polish that one off.
It all boiled down to this: the designer wants to stop working because we’re not content with anything he’s done for us, but he’ll generously give it one more go. Because according to him, in regular situations he’d already have killed the project. But why didn’t he send multiple mockups from the beginning? Maybe to us our description was detailed, but for him it might’ve been extremely vague. But why not tell us? We discussed this with several other persons who were artistic professionals themselves. Unanimously it was agreed that the designs lacked passion and generally just felt like something done in 15 minutes, without any research whatsoever. The question whether this was deliberately unprofessional was raised as well.
So, now what?
Signs of unprofessional behavior can be unnoticeable the first time around. In hindsight, we should’ve noticed when we received his first design (and his excuse). You’re not always expecting the worst of people (and you shouldn’t) but it results in you missing things you should have noticed.
But let’s think about it for a second. What if the person you’re working with suddenly decides to cash in and disappear? You’re communicating through the internet, maybe he/she is in the same country as you. Maybe they’re not. Maybe you paid through Paypal (if so make sure you use the services option so you get customer support and request a ticket), but imagine what would happen if you agreed to pay through bank transfer. If they delete or inactivate their Facebook account, how would you be able to find them again? Or what if that person isn’t looking for the full payment? That might seem illogical, but sometimes certain events can make people desperate for some quick cash. It’s a clear sign of unprofessionalism if people deliberately boycott their own work. If people prefer delivering a sloppy result so they can take the retainer instead of working a bit longer on it and getting paid in full.
But situation I described is just one example of unprofessional behaviour. There is a wealth of people that are both professional in their behaviour and in their execution. The bad seeds aren’t always noticeable at first glance. Unforeseen events can often lead to terminated collaborations, resulting in the professional creative keeping the retainer. In our case, it seems that the person whose services are inquired refuses to explain why what happened happened. That is, sadly, something that often happens. A good tip could be to contact the bands in the person’s portfolio and ask about his workflow before you agree on collaborating, hearing their stories might help you spot a possible bad seed. Another is to look (or ask) for a contract, even if you don’t think it’s necessary at the moment, it will give you assurance and can be a helpful tool in settling a dispute.
To put this topic to a close, my band was eventually able to settle our differences with our external. We finally received some proper design work from him. I would have never been able to foresee what would happen, but it’s another lesson learned. If you want to follow my band on Facebook, you can find us right here.