Friday, November 07, 2008

Freelance Collaborative Pianists: Do You Charge Clients for Same-Day Cancellations?

If you've ever worked as a freelance collaborative pianist, you've probably got a call similar to this one:
"Um, hello, this is Dave. Sorry to give you such late notice but I can't make our coaching this afternoon because my throat is a little sore and my teacher told me I should go on vocal rest for the weekend. Can we reschedule for next week sometime?"
So what do you do? Reschedule the coaching for later and make up the lost income then? Or charge him for the lost hour and risk offending both him and perhaps his teacher as well?

This is one of the trickier questions I've come across in the freelance world, and although most music teachers (both private and institutional) have no problem charging students for lost lessons, collaborative pianists are usually expected to swallow their pride and dutifully ask when a good time might be to reschedule.

You can register your vote either on the sidebar or on the poll's home page.

And please feel free to leave comments and kvetches below...

Previous poll:

Which of the following is the most important in building your performance career?


  1. I'm one of those teachers who doesn't really like to charge students when they don't show. So I give them a warning the first time and usually a second warning if they blow it again, when they are irresponsible. After that I do charge them. If they cancel due to illness I don't charge. (I don't want a sick person in my house anyway!)

    If I were dealing with a collaborative pianist I suspect I'd expect to be treated the same way. If it's an illness I would hope the person would let me off. If it was irresponsibility I'd assume I'd have to pay (even while I do let it slide), as long as the player had made that policy clear when hired. I suspect that if I were charged if I were ill I'd be tempted to find a different person from then on. I know it's a tricky issue, though.

    Just my thoughts. And I'm only an oboist!

  2. I think the best way around this and a compromise all round is to charge half your fee for a last-minute no-show. Illness included. That way you're still paid something for the time put aside, and the singer learns that time is money, regardless of how legit the reason is for cancelling. I would even go so far as to get this agreement at the start of the working relationship in writing (email is fine) so it's documented. It can all be done in a friendly matter, of course!

    What do you think?

  3. Ellen Johansen6:17 AM

    I always think the best of those that work with me. Be that as it may, when a client claims sickness often, I am honest and let them know that I cannot hold a regular time for them in my schedule. I want to be treated fairly and compassionately and I need to remind my clients of this. When I work with adults (I am a piano teacher and a collaborative pianists so I work with many clients from parents of newborns through 85 year old singers) I make it clear that my time is valuable by letting them know from the beginning what my cancellation policy is. When a client wants to book a series of lessons or coachings I ask for at least five hours up front. I make it clear that there is an expiration date on those five hours and I work in one extra week into that date for unexpected events or sickness. This way if an adult wishes to be irresponsible or does not treat me well, as my husband loves to remind me, I already have their money.

  4. For my own private collaborative gigs, I don't charge for missed rehearsals. I would if I thought I could pull it off, but I'm not sure I could really manage to institute that policy since I've gone so long with just rescheduling. Luckily, people are really good about not cancelling, or at least giving me enough notice that I'm not stuck twiddling my thumbs for that hour and use my time productively. They all know my schedule is really tight and they know the likelihood of getting another good time is so slim that they would rather come than not. So I rarely get any really capricious or inconsiderate cancellations.

    The school I teach at does not require teachers to make up student absences, and I get paid whether the student shows or not. We give a certain number of credits to the kids for religious holidays not worked into the teaching schedule, which is a good thing. I like to make up student absences when I can, though I don't make up everything: I do not make up lessons missed for soccer games, and I do not make up same-day cancellations. During my crazy seasons, I make up nothing. But if I'm given plenty of notice, I move their lesson or something. I am required to make up my own absences or have the students credited and get docked the pay.

    For the kids I accompany at the school, it's a mixed bag. Sometimes they are quite flaky. But I'm salaried for accompanying school stuff for a fixed number of hours per month, whether they get used or not, so again, I get paid if they come or not. But I often find myself really stuck at the last minute doing schedule magic for a student that didn't schedule a rehearsal in time, flaked out on a time, or something else, and I end up really killing myself over these things sometimes. The dark side is that no matter what, I have to make sure kids are ok for their recitals or what not. But the comfort is that when I do more hours than I'm salaried for, I can turn in time sheets and get paid for overload (this generally happens all of April and May). Teachers are pretty good about followup with their students about rehearsals - in fact, they're mostly pretty saintly, with only a few exceptions. When I do a studio recital, the teachers often schedule blocks with me a month in advance and fill in the students themselves, which makes me supremely happy!

  5. Thanks for the comments so far. I'm still undecided on the subject, although at a busy time of the year, soloists need to realize that if they cancel a rehearsal at the last minute, I might not be able to fit in a make-up time at a convenient time.

    Perhaps it would be fascinating to see how the results might differ for a parallel poll geared towards piano teachers.