My 5 Rookie Mistakes As A Media Composer
masterclass
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#1
18th December 2012
Old 18th December 2012
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My 5 Rookie Mistakes As A Media Composer

I've composing for TV for many years. Here are some of my best mistakes. Curious to know what are yours?

I was getting lots of briefs asking for cutting edge sounding tracks – which made me really excited. So, I sat and immediately composed a cool sounding track which I fell in love with. Unfortunately most of the programs or channels tend to target viewers with a wide range of age and tastes. What I learned here was: what I consider “contemporary” is most likely to be way too ‘cool’ for my clients. Also it can be a good idea to send your client references beforehand to check they are on board with what you are considering.

I remember sitting doing the 50th cut down on a job and thinking “did we talk about this at the start of the job?” Always try and ask about money and conditions upfront – try and discuss how many cutdowns, versions etc. does the client need in advance.

One day I discovered that the client had used another piece of music on the cut to take to his client meeting, because I had not handed the music in on time. Sending your pitch after the deadline is always a bad idea and it can lead to clients getting used other music.

How many of us make music for the love of it? All of us, right…? However, I learned the hard way that you may be asked to “ruin” your beloved composition for the sake of the job. This may contradict the reason that I went into music, but in music for the media I have had to balance art and commerce in order to satisfy my clients. So, put emotion into your music by all means but don’t get too emotionally attached to it!

There have been many times when I have ended up sending about 50 emails with different changes to my clients. What I realised is that although the internet has given us any wonderful things, sometimes it would actually take less time for them to come to my studio and work on the track together. (plus you get to spend some time with your clients, which is never a bad thing). So, if you can do everything you can to get your client to come to you when it counts.

Last edited by masterclass; 19th December 2012 at 12:57 PM.. Reason: www.onlinemusicmasterclass.com
#2
19th December 2012
Old 19th December 2012
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I'd prefer you to print your info here.
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20th December 2012
Old 20th December 2012
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My Top 5 mistakes.....,.


1. Knew I wasn't charging the client enough upfront,,,,but I wanted to be a nice guy. Never heard from them again. Didn't charge enough to get their respect.

2. Found out later the client deceived me and I didn't charge them enough. Didn't do enough research to make sure I charged enough.

3. After a half dozen re-writes that included getting musicians out to play each time, I realized.....I didn't charge enough.

4. Royalties on a big project ended up at a big $0.00 since the film in question never hit TV. Guess what? I didn't charge enough. The smallest cable show pays more than this flop. They said it was my big break....

5. Looked at my retirement plan the other day. Yup. Didn't charge enough,,,,,,, [sigh....]


Lesson learned : Charge enough.

My plumber lives in a bitchin' house in the hills. My dentist drives an uber-pimped out Vette. My contractor has great new trucks and lots of moto-toys. My business owner buddies take trips to Europe and send their kids to upscale colleges. The teachers I know make close to 6 figures now, and they get 3+ months a year off. Plus they have retirement that's killer.

They all charge enough.


Lesson II learned : make sure my kids don't want to become composers or musicians - at least on a pro level. Mission Accomplished. All they had to do was see 1-5.
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#4
4th January 2013
Old 4th January 2013
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You could always sell off one of the kids...


.... just make sure you charge enough!
#5
4th January 2013
Old 4th January 2013
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Dr B.

You say you didn't charge enough.... As a guys that's still new to the game, I'd say that it's hard to know how much is enough when charging people. Especially when one is just starting out and working on low budget projects.

That said my worst mistakes have been....

Not charging enough
Taking on bad films with inexperienced directors
Spending too much on gear.
Spending too much time working solo.... I think I could have progressed twice as fast with a mentor.
Arguing points about the music with the director
#6
4th January 2013
Old 4th January 2013
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Top tip,

When waiting for clients to show up - get a runner to scope out what car they arrive in - and then charge accordingly..

I did this once and its good. (New Mercedes, very nice! Kah-CHING!) Another time I had charged cut rate price to some very young looking clients - turns out they were computer programmer geniuses and I found out on the day of the session that one of them, a 19 year old, was driving new Porsche! Boy did I feel dumb...
#7
4th January 2013
Old 4th January 2013
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By popular request :

Top 10 reasons to know if you're NOT charging enough......

10. - if you don't have enough money to pay any musicians - you're not charging enough.

9. - if you don't have enough to pay musicians FAIRLY ($50+ and UP per hour - 3 hour MINIMUM) - you're not charging enough.

8. - if on the 4th re-write you know you're loosing money - you're not charging enough.

7 - if your slacker buddies from HS are making more than you working as an assistant manager at the local supermarket - you're not charging enough. Same goes for your favorite barista at Starbucks.

6. - if your clients are all driving nice cars, and yours has 200k+ miles on it, is ready to die, and your bank account will not allow you to buy a new one cash up front - you're not charging enough. (Thanks Jules! I actually tell new clients to phone me when they arrive so I can "show them the way to the studio the first time" - as it's a little tricky to find. This allows me to scope out what they are driving. Been doing this for 20+ years! )

5. - if you can't afford a new computer every couple of years - you're not charging enough.

4. - if your unable to purchase the plugins that your looser buddies pick up kracked - you're not charging enough.

3. - if you're over 30 (or maybe 35) and you can't afford health insurance, putting some away for retirement, a wife, 2.3 kids, a mortgage and a decent car - you're not charging enough.

2. - if your wife / S.O. has to work 3 jobs so that you can wait for your big break - you're not charging enough + you're not doing your job. If you can't afford to take care of your wife / S.O., your life is a ticking time bomb. (But that's another thread....)

1. - and the number one way to know if you're not charging enough - if you're doing it for FREE to gain exposure, experience, contacts or any other form of psuedo compansation - you got it - you're not charging enough.


Not charging enough is epidemic, and will signal the end of our craft shortly. Consider this a prophecy if you like. Very soon, the bulk of music for media will be done by 20 somethings who have no need of life's amenities yet. They will actually have to PAY to work in our industry, will do it with kracked software, will employ no musicians in the score, will have no skill sets other than what they learned in two years time span at "how to be a recording studio owner / rock star / film composer" school, and who have no experiential take on marrying music to film.

If your clients all get vacations, have retirement plans, own a home, drive a nice car, etc. why should you work for free? Even if they DON'T, why should you work for free or next to it?

Seriously? Why?

If someone has a legitimate answer, I've never heard it, and I've heard most of them. Before you tell me you need the experience, re-read #1 and know that giving yourself away doesn't work - either short term, OR long term. Scoring a film is NOT like doing a 3 hour demo recording for a buddy. It's a life and 24/7/90 commitment. It deserves better than "OK" compensation.

The HARD part about this job - and yes, it's a JOB - is not writing music. It's managing a career and figuring out how to - yup - get PAID fairly. Figure that out, and everything else falls into place.....

That's my $.02, which is about all I got cause I didn't charge enough when I was 30 - and life got very expensive all of a sudden.....
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#8
4th January 2013
Old 4th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
...
That's my $.02, which is about all I got cause I didn't charge enough when I was 30 - and life got very expensive all of a sudden.....
LoL... those are those "free" life lessons.... that always seem to cost the most!
#9
4th January 2013
Old 4th January 2013
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Mine is not charging enough. I'm not in a position to turn away work. Saying that, as long as there's no re-writes, I can earn 6 times what I did in a day at my old office job and you could probably knock off a couple of hours in my day from browsing the net and recording other ideas to use for something else.

If I knew a gig would less than what I'd earn temping in a crap call centre in London, I wouldn't take it.

Where do you guys draw the line fee wise? I used to always compared it to my old day job but got out of that way of thinking a while ago and since then I seem to be getting paid more for less work.

Saying that, I do everything myself (due to budget reasons), never buy new plugins, use everything that's in Logic's sample library, and have pretty much no business expenses apart from the obvious.
#10
7th January 2013
Old 7th January 2013
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After hearing what a client wants, I will often simply ask "What is your music budget for this?"

This immediately puts them on the defensive...in that...they can't just say "Oh well we were just going to see how cheap we could get it"....so they HAVE to say something...and at that point you can either say (if it's a good one) "OK we can get this done for that," or....if it's a joke, politely say "Well I'm afraid that there is no way I can delivery quality work for you in that range" and work from there....suggesting they limit what they are asking for or however else you want to work it.

I've been doing music for clients of all types since about 1980 and it's never failed. In fact, one one HUGE job I got, I had NO IDEA how much to charge. It was a large music package for a well known network with a theme, done in many genres...they wanted it in country, in pop, in rock, etc...sixties, thirties, tens....it was easy musically, but a lot to get done.

As I said I didn't know what to charge, I knew they were a big company....so when they asked "What will price be for this..?" I said "Perhaps if I have an idea of what you're used to working with budget wise on these types of projects I will try to be in that same ballpark." I'm thinking, I should ask 20,000 for this, right? She replies...."Well, the last time we did this the budget was $65,000.

I almost passed out. I said..."Yeah...well, we can get it done for that." LOL

TH
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#11
7th January 2013
Old 7th January 2013
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Had a similar experience, but not quite:

Starting out, I had to quote for doing the music for 3 x 1 hour documentary. Did my best to put it all down on paper as clear as I could, but probably overdid it.

Producer behind his desk: "Well, this quote is within what we wanted to spend, so I see no problem there.."

Me: "Great! I think it's a very fair quote for 3 hours of quality music, looking forward to it..."

Producer: "Oh, this is your quote for all three episodes, I thought this was the quote for one of them..."

Me:

Quote:
Originally Posted by oceantracks View Post
After hearing what a client wants, I will often simply ask "What is your music budget for this?"

This immediately puts them on the defensive...in that...they can't just say "Oh well we were just going to see how cheap we could get it"....so they HAVE to say something...and at that point you can either say (if it's a good one) "OK we can get this done for that," or....if it's a joke, politely say "Well I'm afraid that there is no way I can delivery quality work for you in that range" and work from there....suggesting they limit what they are asking for or however else you want to work it.

I've been doing music for clients of all types since about 1980 and it's never failed. In fact, one one HUGE job I got, I had NO IDEA how much to charge. It was a large music package for a well known network with a theme, done in many genres...they wanted it in country, in pop, in rock, etc...sixties, thirties, tens....it was easy musically, but a lot to get done.

As I said I didn't know what to charge, I knew they were a big company....so when they asked "What will price be for this..?" I said "Perhaps if I have an idea of what you're used to working with budget wise on these types of projects I will try to be in that same ballpark." I'm thinking, I should ask 20,000 for this, right? She replies...."Well, the last time we did this the budget was $65,000.

I almost passed out. I said..."Yeah...well, we can get it done for that." LOL

TH
#12
7th January 2013
Old 7th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oceantracks View Post
After hearing what a client wants, I will often simply ask "What is your music budget for this?"
Absolutely! +! x1000

You have to know what language they are speaking before you attempt to say "hello"
#13
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
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turning away from the money side...

- thinking that any client that dresses down and is young will be cool to whatever you say. even if its the client assistant or a young producer. its still a client. and if you are an assistant then be even more careful.

- follow the temp track. if they say, i know it sounds classical in the temp but we want a non orchestral score then better get a new temp track. you can build it or them.
cause just going by how they are imagining it it most likley fail. they would bel ike i wanted to make it sound like 300 , all synthezisers. or non orchestral like new total recall. both of those score rely heavily on orchestra but have synth and organic elements for which the client rememebers one section he liked.


- director/producer lingo is hard to grasp. they say much but nothing at the same time. so ask for music reference. to send you an mp3 or link.
#14
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gsilbers View Post
...
- director/producer lingo is hard to grasp.
....
lol

" Exactly like that! ...only different!"
#15
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
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#16
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AwwDeOhh View Post
lol

" Exactly like that! ...only different!"
On playback:

Client: "What is that high thing?"

Me: "That's a flute."

Client: "Oh. Was that on the demo?"

Me: "That was the demo."

Client: "Oh, OK."


TH
#17
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
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Seriously... personal first-hand experience. Cue was about 30sec of string orchestra.

Director: It's a good start but I think we need to add some strings to make it more emotional.

Me: OK.
(create volume automation crescendo that night)
(next day)

Director: See adding the strings made all the difference. It's perfect.
#18
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spiderman View Post
Seriously... personal first-hand experience. Cue was about 30sec of string orchestra.

Director: It's a good start but I think we need to add some strings to make it more dynamic.

Me: OK.
(create volume automation crescendo that night)
(next day)

Director: See adding the strings made all the difference. It's perfect.
Too funny We need a thread "Yes...They Really Said That" or something lol

TH
#19
8th January 2013
Old 8th January 2013
  #19
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Here are my mistakes (wish I read this before I was about to make them, lol)
5. Working on bad projects (terrible directing, production, everything, etc.) with the same group more than once.
4. Not giving a client demo’s early enough so that big changes could be made by deadline (unless I stayed up all night, which I did). Also, just to make sure I was on the right track with their vision.
3. Working exclusively with one director for a year or two- guess what, she move to another state and is never heard from again. I should have been networking more
2. Never taking the time to get that demo “Reel” put together so I could effectively market myself better.
1. Doing everything for free. Yes, I did that. I loved it so much, I didn’t care at first. But I really think it hurt me more than it gave me “exposure”, etc. I always retained the rights to my music, but that never really earned me any $$. I think that while I got great appreciation, I did not get respect.
I also, thought that I could maybe attach myself to an up and coming director and ride their coat tails. Maybe it would have been better to shoot higher from the beginning?

So I haven’t had a gig in about 2 or 3 years since all my “up and coming” directors grew up and moved away. Back to square one. Obviously this was not my day job, haha.
#20
9th January 2013
Old 9th January 2013
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Not Charging Enough?

Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
Lesson learned : Charge enough.

...

Lesson II learned : make sure my kids don't want to become composers or musicians - at least on a pro level.
Boy, that makes things sound bleak!

So is your lesson learned? Are you charging enough now?


If not, could it be you are not generating enough real opportunities so that you can turn down the work that is not really worth your while, or to demand more from the people you are working with?

That's the real issue my experience, but if I am diagnosing the problem wrong, then I can't find the right solution.
#21
9th January 2013
Old 9th January 2013
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My mistakes

My big blunders are:

1. Being overconfident in the music I was pitching. Not that I didn't do good work, but loving what I did doesn't necessarily mean the director or producer will love it- and if they don't, their opinion is formed. Hindsight shows I could have measured a few more times before I cut on certain jobs..

2. Not putting in enough time to generate more opportunities. This is a big one for me. I hate marketing myself, and when I get a nice job, my ego is fed, and the impulse to pound the pavement somehow diminishes. But that is the best time to hound for more work. I would have much less to complain about if I obeyed this rule.

3. Not worrying about gear so much. I have talent, I don't need much to make great music, but that is so easy to forget because insecurity lurks. Also, getting gear is a good outlet for laziness.

4. Not asking for help. I am a do it yourself kind of person, but we all need help sometimes. I need to constantly remind myself to get and accept help and advice from others further on the path than me, and paying it forward. Get out of my box.

5. Making/keeping financial goals. I was never a business plan kind of guy, but in this business, we have opted for self employment over the easy "boss, tell me what to do and pay me my check" route. Part of that is being responsible for how much I make. My income varies so much from year to year, its hard to fill out forms. Some of that is the business, but I have to accept the blame for some too.
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#22
10th January 2013
Old 10th January 2013
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Don't know about not charging enough - any tv jobs in the UK normally come with the charming "we've got x amount for music, do you want to do it?". Oh to be in the position to name my price!
Or the other one - "We don't have much money for music". To which I always say "Well, don't have much music then."
Then they'll want half your publishing (You can try the "OK, if you write half the music" line if you want).

I was doing a documentary with a quite nice comedic opening sequence recently, so I did a piece that reflected it well and went down a storm with the director. When the Exec producer saw it they said, "No, this is a blue chip documentary (Blue chip??? WTF?) - we need it to sound more expensive."

I love my job, but there are some eejits about,

best wishes

Barrie
#23
15th January 2013
Old 15th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
By popular request :

Top 10 reasons to know if you're NOT charging enough......

10. - if you don't have enough money to pay any musicians - you're not charging enough.

9. - if you don't have enough to pay musicians FAIRLY ($50+ and UP per hour - 3 hour MINIMUM) - you're not charging enough.

8. - if on the 4th re-write you know you're loosing money - you're not charging enough.

7 - if your slacker buddies from HS are making more than you working as an assistant manager at the local supermarket - you're not charging enough. Same goes for your favorite barista at Starbucks.

6. - if your clients are all driving nice cars, and yours has 200k+ miles on it, is ready to die, and your bank account will not allow you to buy a new one cash up front - you're not charging enough. (Thanks Jules! I actually tell new clients to phone me when they arrive so I can "show them the way to the studio the first time" - as it's a little tricky to find. This allows me to scope out what they are driving. Been doing this for 20+ years! )

5. - if you can't afford a new computer every couple of years - you're not charging enough.

4. - if your unable to purchase the plugins that your looser buddies pick up kracked - you're not charging enough.

3. - if you're over 30 (or maybe 35) and you can't afford health insurance, putting some away for retirement, a wife, 2.3 kids, a mortgage and a decent car - you're not charging enough.

2. - if your wife / S.O. has to work 3 jobs so that you can wait for your big break - you're not charging enough + you're not doing your job. If you can't afford to take care of your wife / S.O., your life is a ticking time bomb. (But that's another thread....)

1. - and the number one way to know if you're not charging enough - if you're doing it for FREE to gain exposure, experience, contacts or any other form of psuedo compansation - you got it - you're not charging enough.


Not charging enough is epidemic, and will signal the end of our craft shortly. Consider this a prophecy if you like. Very soon, the bulk of music for media will be done by 20 somethings who have no need of life's amenities yet. They will actually have to PAY to work in our industry, will do it with kracked software, will employ no musicians in the score, will have no skill sets other than what they learned in two years time span at "how to be a recording studio owner / rock star / film composer" school, and who have no experiential take on marrying music to film.

If your clients all get vacations, have retirement plans, own a home, drive a nice car, etc. why should you work for free? Even if they DON'T, why should you work for free or next to it?

Seriously? Why?

If someone has a legitimate answer, I've never heard it, and I've heard most of them. Before you tell me you need the experience, re-read #1 and know that giving yourself away doesn't work - either short term, OR long term. Scoring a film is NOT like doing a 3 hour demo recording for a buddy. It's a life and 24/7/90 commitment. It deserves better than "OK" compensation.

The HARD part about this job - and yes, it's a JOB - is not writing music. It's managing a career and figuring out how to - yup - get PAID fairly. Figure that out, and everything else falls into place.....

That's my $.02, which is about all I got cause I didn't charge enough when I was 30 - and life got very expensive all of a sudden.....

Unpaid work is good for you to learn your craft and get on that ladder. but unpaid work leads to just more unpaid work.

From my experience, by all means treat pro-bono work as a learning experience if you are not yet confident / lacking in a decent portfolio to show prospective collaborators / clients. but unless there's a very good reason, just be aware that people appreciate more what they pay for.

it comes to a point where one has to just say "no more. time to get paid".
#24
16th January 2013
Old 16th January 2013
  #24
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My biggest mistake when I started was assuming you're being told the truth about a project.

Nowadays, I ask lots of Q and shut up for the entirety of each A.
#25
16th January 2013
Old 16th January 2013
  #25
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Looking back over my work from the last year, I need to use less reverb.
#26
16th January 2013
Old 16th January 2013
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nick-the-sax View Post
Unpaid work is good for you to learn your craft and get on that ladder.
I'd say "unpaid work" is the defacto standard that young guys use to try to get their foot on the ladder. It's not the only way, and IMO, certainly not the best way. But you're right, it's a way.... Use it at your own risk.
#27
16th January 2013
Old 16th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nick-the-sax View Post
Unpaid work is good for you to learn your craft and get on that ladder. but unpaid work leads to just more unpaid work.

From my experience, by all means treat pro-bono work as a learning experience if you are not yet confident / lacking in a decent portfolio to show prospective collaborators / clients. but unless there's a very good reason, just be aware that people appreciate more what they pay for.

it comes to a point where one has to just say "no more. time to get paid".
There is no reason to do unpaid work, really.

Make your own demo reel if they want to hear something.

Don't work for free. Work for peanuts when you are starting, but not for free.

TH
#28
16th January 2013
Old 16th January 2013
  #28
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There is always SOME form of remuneration that a client can provide. Mow your lawn, paint your house, wash dishes, buy you food. SOMEthing. Free is a very bad idea that casts your persona into a low class system where it is difficult to climb out of.
#29
28th January 2013
Old 28th January 2013
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amber View Post
Looking back over my work from the last year, I need to use less reverb.
+1

I always drown everything in my beloved Random Halls.
Mrx
#30
29th January 2013
Old 29th January 2013
  #30
Mrx
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jules View Post
Top tip,

When waiting for clients to show up - get a runner to scope out what car they arrive in - and then charge accordingly..

I did this once and its good. (New Mercedes, very nice! Kah-CHING!) Another time I had charged cut rate price to some very young looking clients - turns out they were computer programmer geniuses and I found out on the day of the session that one of them, a 19 year old, was driving new Porsche! Boy did I feel dumb...
I've done that and I had a real hard time forgiving myself afterwards because they gave me endless grief.

On the subject of top 5 blunders. For me this is a bit like going to confession or 12 steps and I am really happy I am not the only one who make mistakes.

Mine are:

1) Not negotiating when client knocked my daily rate down by 40%.
2) Accepting unreasonable terms because I had nothing else on.
3) Not charging enough
4) Trying to save money by hiring average musicians.
5) Not promoting myself.

Some of these mistakes I've made several times but I am learning from my mistakes and there has been plenty of victories as well.

I feel a whole lot better now.
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