A reader sent in a list of ten good reasons for turning down work:
Requests free work, work 'for exposure', or any other type of work that doesn't provide value to you.
Yes. Budgets are always tight, no matter who’s backing a project, but there should always be agreed upon compensation for your work and time.
Asks for an impossible solution, product or asset.
Coming up with solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles is part and parcel of this zany business. That said, ours is a culture of overwork for low pay, and by not establishing firm boundaries and clear delineations regarding who’s responsible for what, we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of.
Requests for you to work below your normal rate.
I encourage people to be fluid and flexible when it comes to their “normal” rate, and to read the room. Yes, the soul destroying major label country session can afford to pay union scale, and that’s what you should expect. But the cool independent artist, with a heart of gold and inspiring tunes, can’t. My preference is working on good music over money grabs any day. I’m not saying don’t pay bills, but be aware of pricing yourself out of burgeoning relationships.
Offers to pay in the form of project proceeds or other services.
This can get muddy really fast. Generally speaking, I believe in compensation that’s commensurate with the job you’ve been hired to do. If you’re a session musician, you should receive an agreed upon session rate. If you’re a songwriter, you should be credited as such and participate in back end. It should be clear what job you’re doing, and how/when/where you’re getting paid, before the ball starts rolling. If you’re unwilling or not able to compensate people in an appropriate, agreed upon manner, then your project shouldn’t happen. On the flip side, you shouldn’t expect compensation you’re not entitled to.
Keeps expanding the scope of the work without extra pay.
This is super common. Before a project gets going, I’m always careful to outline exactly what service I’m offering, how it looks, and at what point extra money gets involved. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hired to track guitars on one song and been pressured to play on a bunch more “since we have you.”
Wants you to work on areas outside of your expertise.
This one appeals to the ego, but is for sure a red flag. For example, I play piano, debatably well enough to pull off a gig. It’s fun trying new things and pushing boundaries, but if I say yes to a session on piano, I’m going to look like a dumbass, and the person hiring me’s likely not on top of their game.
Owes you money.
100% agree. Often, there isn’t anything nefarious going on, times are tough and budgets are tight and money dries up, but it’s important stepping away until everything’s square. Professionalism begets professionalism
Has unclear objectives.
This one’s become more important to me as time’s gone on. It’s impossible keeping moral high and inspiring people if they feel like they’re throwing time and talent into a black hole. Clear communication, at all times, should be paramount, and is a reasonable expectation.
Has unethical or illegal requests.
Of course. These people suck.
Is uncomfortable signing a contract.
These can be tough conversations, but you should never feel bad about asking for something in writing, and the person doing the hiring shouldn’t take offense or equivocate. Again, professionalism begets professionalism, and if it doesn’t, run for the hills.