Stiffed: musicians, what do you do when you don’t get paid?

October 24, 2013{ 17 Comments }

Musicians: ever gotten stiffed?Revenge is an EDM remix best served cold

Ever gotten screwed out of a guarantee? Ever produced an album for a band or label that didn’t pay you? Ever engineered a session and had to hound the singer for 14 months to collect your money? Ever played for-hire onstage or in the studio, only to be told that funds are tight and you’d have to be paid in installments?

What do you do in a situation like that, short of bringing the debtor before Judge Judy?

Some folks wait patiently. Some folks apply periodic pressure. Some folks exact revenge.

Such was the case when metalcore band Altitudes stiffed their sound engineer after a few weeks in the studio. Dan, of Dan’s Lab Studios, took tracks from the band’s sessions and created an EDM remix that is anything but hardcore (show below).

The band later stated:

“Basically we just weren’t financially stable at the time but we WERE planning on paying him back. after seeing this its crazy because we never thought he would act in such a way. Were not sorry because our intentions werent to let his hardwork go un paid for. Thats all I have to say. Thank you to the ones who care!”

Bands, labels, club owners, promoters: balance your checkbooks!

Well, here’s a tip from one musician to another: DON’T HIRE OTHER PEOPLE IF YOU CAN’T PAY THEM! Or, if they’ve already done work for you, pay them ASAP via credit card through PayPal, and then work your OWN ass off paying down your credit card debt. Don’t make it someone else’s problem!

If, through some gross oversight or total last-minute curveball of life, you’ve found yourself in this situation and you can’t find any way to pay the person, have an honest conversation with them. Explain what personal, professional, or financial circumstances lead up to this point, and discuss your options together. They might still be pissed, but at least they won’t feel left in the dark — unless they were counting on your payment to keep the lights on (which can be the case for many musicians and engineers that pay the bills session-to-session).

Have you ever been stiffed while working in the music industry? Have you ever been guilty of not paying someone the fee they were promised? What did you do to resolve the issue? Let us know in the comments section below.

Planning Your Next Album 

[“Pay Up” image from Shutterstock.]

  • Christopher Robley

    Wow. Did you have a written contract?


  • Ray DeTone

    Being a for-hire guitarist in the nyc area often meant gigs for unsigned bands in the clubs downtown. After agreeing to a rate many young artist expecting the full 500+ people they "reached" via email etc to show, did not have the $$ to pay my rate when only 5 people paid to see them. I remedied this by stipulating when I walk in the door, with my gear, ready to play thats when I must be paid otherwise I turn around and leave. Unless they are reputable and repeat clients , its how it has to be!

  • StevenCravisDotCom

    One of the first people to make an online system to sell my own digital files owed me about $2000 because I had been overly patient, waiting nearly a year, while he got his own financial situation together. I finally got tired of the weekly and monthly excuses, and posted on my web site a big banner that stated his name and that I was waiting to be paid the large amount, and it stated that I would take this banner down off my site as soon as he paid me, and he paid me within a day.

  • Bruce Botts

    ProgRock Records didn't pay us a single dime for the last album (Song of Times). After 2 years of tying to negotiate SOMETHING with this idiot, to no avail, I sued them for copyright infringement…I won. What I didn't win was the chance to release this record with my best friend and co-writer who died during the making of the record. This release was ruined by this lowlife label.

  • Xan Angelfvkk

    That remix is hilarious…! Well done Dan. The band probably sucked anyway. 😉

  • Coral Capettini

    So a guy gets stiffed on services and makes a video to piss the band off? That's professional. I bet that makes that band want to do future albums with him. Ok, so as a business owner, I can definitely say that if someone didn't pay for services rendered, I really wouldn't WANT to do future business with them, either. However, that client is still important for generating business by word of mouth, so it's best to not burn bridges. What do I do when I get stiffed on services? Simple. There are companies that you can pay a small fee to who will repeatedly call or email the person responsible for paying. If that doesn't work, they will make collection attempts and report it to the top credit agencies. Just make sure you have a contract, emails, and proof of any payments made. You definitely have to be organized for that.

    Also, I charge a 25% deposit. That usually scares away anyone who's not serious enough to pay in full. Of course, there's always the fantastic trick of not giving the client the finished product until it's paid in full. They will scare up the money pretty quickly in that case. Anyone who's ever had a problem paying me in the past, next round of services requires a 100% deposit. Ever since I implemented these rules, I haven't got stiffed on pay, and it's been easily 10 years since I last got gypped.

  • David Roper

    I got stiffed on payment a few years back while working as an engineer and studio musician. The studio owner and I were both promised payment which we never received after recording an r&b singer. We refused to release the masters which were the only copies. The artist then threatened us physically. Some people suck.

  • Angela Russ

    I was stiffed by Tapeworm Distributors in Valencia. They didn't pay me about $1000 when they sold my media. I have 2 pieces of advice: 1) Don't let debt go too long. My lesson, working with a "reputable" business doesn't always mean you get paid. 2) See if you can get the money in exchange for services….a trade agreement. Many musicians have handy jobs and talents that they can offer in exchange for money. Pool cleaning, gardening, house cleaning, car detailing, web building, graphic design, ….and so on. These labors come with an hourly rate – nothing ridiculous, but what is owed can be worked off. How about multiple discounts where they work?

  • Angela Russ

    The problem is that we have a system that allows it to happen.

  • Carolyn McDonald Ole

    We got stiffed by a club owner – at the end of the night, they only paid half of what they owed us (despite the fact that we played a really good show and the crowd liked us a lot). The owner said she had never agreed to our price, which was total b.s. We play in a lot of small towns, and if we insist on a contract, most won't hire us, so we pretty much have to rely on trust and honor. We didn't have too many options. We did write her two formal letters requesting payment. We sent a complaint to the local Chamber of Commerce. We told every musician we know to require payment up front if they play there. And we went on several biker pages, telling our story and requesting that they boycott the bar.

    • Dan Rubin

      If you had had an AFM contract, you would have been paid because the AFM's legal department would have pursued it for you. The power of membership in your national professional organization.

  • Patrick Woods

    Sounds similar to the prog label Magna Carta. From what I hear, they were one of the worst labels to be on for prog rock.

  • madisontruth

    Although the industry is currently neutered by lack of a retail level product (read-cds are no longer the juggernaut they were), it would make sense to create an internet database of venues (similar to Yelp) where venues, labels and producers can be reviewed.

  • Bert Lee

    I was stiffed by Flying Fish, and then Rounder Records. They sold an album I was involved in to EMI international and they had a check for the band they just 'forgot' to turn over. It took a year of hounding and finally making a connection to a disgruntled secretary at the company to get the money. The check was written out and cashable… the ripoff was utterly unnecessary… and then I found out the album had sold well in Japan, and BMI is still stiffing me. Come to think of it, BMI has continued to stiff me and thousands of other people for years by simply only tracking people who sell over a certain arbitrary level. You better play music because you love it… there's no other reason.

  • Lavon Ford

    Hey, I was supposed to make a million off of my song I know that man/L2daCapitalV and I got two after 17 years not right. I tell you…/09-the-diagnosis-of-i-…,

  • Christopher Gray

    Treat your business like a business and conduct yourself like a pro. Give respect, and expect it in return. Only take on reputable gigs or clients. If you whore yourself out desperately to every possible lead, that's how you will be treated. Anyone unwilling to give you any portion up front is a financially risky scenario to begin with. This is the age of the internet. You don't need to drive 3 states away *possibly* for gas money to play to a crowd of..well, the other bands and their girlfriends, all in the name of 'promotion.'

  • Ebone East

    Yeah we're guilty of not paying our artist on time but we try to work out better deals to keep them satisfied.