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smicycle

Burning Bridges

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Or rather, how to avoid doing so.  

 

I have a client that I kind of started out working for, as in, some of my first jobs in the industry.  When they found out I knew audio (my career story is a bit confusing and would require an entire other post to explain it all) they asked if I could mix for them.  Seeing as I knew I could get it done, I took it as an opportunity to learn as much as I could (plus they were paying me! a lot! well, for someone working retail).  I didn't have any gear, and they supplied a pretty mediocre kit.  I learned a lot about rapid troubleshooting dealing with their shitty equipment.  And so we had our arrangement over the past 2 years.  I would make what I realized now to be "meh" money, a rate that many of you on here would justifiably say was ruining it for everyone else and devaluing what we do.  I completely agree with that low rate hurts everyone mentality, but I wouldn't be here without it, so I simultaneously apologize and don't feel the least bit sorry.  

 

ANYWAY:  After two years of working at it and expanding my client base, blah blah blah, I finally bit the bullet and bought my own kit.  This has really really really strained my relationship with this client, because they still want to pay me jack shit.  Before I was getting $350 to mix, (yeah yeah yeah I know, I know), and they also expected me to show up and load camera/lighting gear, and in general kind of act as a PA. I was fine with that for a while because I knew I wasn't really a full fledged mixer and had to contribute in other ways.  

 

However, now that I have a kit, all they want to pay me is $450 TOTAL.  That includes my mixer/2 wireless/boom/hardwire to 2 cameras usually. They also expect for me to pay for a taxi to bring my gear to the production house first, so that I can help load all the lighting/camera stuff and bring it to location. I am also expected to help load all of the lighting and camera nonsense back to the production house.  Then pay to bring my shit home as well.   I have expressed to them that that makes no f#@king sense, for various (what I assume are) obvious reasons.  Because I can now feel my rage building, and for catharsis, I shall now list them all:

 

1) Why should I pay to transport my gear?

2) Why should I pay to transport my gear to their production house so I can help load all the lighting and camera stuff, which I have absolutely nothing to do with.

3) Why should I help load all of their equipment, which they are definitely getting paid, you know, rental for, when they don't want to pay me the fair market value for my gear?

 

Yeah yeah yeah, I know, be a team player.  I team play the shit out of all the gigs I do.  Tuesday I helped carry a 12 foot roll of seamless up a tiny stairwell 12 stories for them because they asked me to. It wound up being a whole ordeal and took forever and cut into my set up time, and none of it had to do with what I was being paid for, but I still did it.

 

The worst part?  They've told me to take it or leave it.  They maintain that absolutely NO ONE get's $550 for labor and $250 for that basic kit in NYC. No soundies get paid that!  That seems an odd position to hold considering I GET PAID THAT BY EVERY OTHER CLIENT I HAVE.  That is the going rate in NYC and there's no way they don't know that. If I mention that they also expect me to pay for transporting my gear, they tell me to just use theirs.  I'm sure if they brought that bullshit to this forum everyone would tear them apart, and rightfully so.  The difficult part is that there are other mixers who are willing to take that shit rate (older guys, of all people), and it lets the client get away with this nonsense, so I have no bargaining power whatsoever.

 

I figure that at this point many of you are screaming at me through your monitor, spittle spotting the screen and veins protruding, that I should just drop them.  I fear that you may be correct, but I came to see if anyone had gone through a similar situation and how it was resolved - or wasn't. I'm not the same person I was over 2 years ago when I started out, and I've poured countless hours into this so I can get the job done right so that I can earn a proper rate.  They either still see me as a PA or really don't respect what we do.  

 

So what I guess I'm getting at is this: does everyone go through a weird transitionary time like this? I figured there would be some clients that would be like "no thanks," but they seem to be almost hostile to the concept of me not being their bitch. I work for them a fair amount and I've been with them since the beginning, but it seems like I've outgrown them.  Is it time to burn this bridge?

 

tl;dr My oldest client is being difficult and unfair (so say I).  Am I an entitled ass or should I burn this nonsense to the ground?

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I would politely move on..say no thank you.. I have another gig on that date..and walk away.. I would not burn the bridge however... If they work a bunch you may get another shot...with updated rates of course.. Then again, they have been riding your "bitch" horse for quite some time... Maybe not... 8)

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When you were hired you were worth the $350 they paid you, you were happy to get it.

 

Now that you own your own gear, does not change the equation with them, they already own gear, so just need an operator - fine.

 

You are now more experienced and you get a better rate from others.  No need to burn a bridge, just state that your rate now is $xxx.  If they can't meet it, then don't take the gig.  There may be a gig down the road where they have a big client and need you to come on in a pinch.

 

I have no angst at all against you for the rate you were working at and the fork in the road you now face - the answer seems obvious to me.  What really frustrates me are people that have such weak negotiating skills and are happy to take the good paying episodic work when it's there and then stoop to student rates in between big gigs, just to fill something in (this makes your older guys statement make sense in my experience).  Be that person that sets a rate and sticks with it (normal negotiation ok, not bend over backwards just to get a job no matter what).  The other mantra to keep in mind, give them what they pay for.  Don't bring on gear to a job they are not paying for.  Microphones, mixer, cable to camera, those things are all mandatory to get good sound.  IFB, timecode slates, wireless hops, recorders, those are things that accommodate workflows and are absolutely optional in my book if the money is not there.

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I agree with Alistair and Afew. I don't think you want to fire this client, but it's probably time to move on for now. Your skills and expectations have changed. There are probably some good suggestions on how to say goodbye in this Google search:

How to leave a client

 

Our world (hell, every business world) is small. You may come across people at this company in the future. Treat them with respect, even if you feel right now they don't deserve it. Perhaps they deserve some respect; they did give you a break early on. If nothing else, you don't want them badmouthing you to others.

 

Dig it: When I managed a magazine, I had to occassionaly fire people. That's always pretty sucky for everyone, even when there was clear cause. But I tried to do so in a manner that wouldn't create liability for corporation or undue hard feelings for the person being fired. Basically, I followed the guidelines in the book Managing for Dummies... I was the target market.

 

So a few years after I left the magazine, a guy who was really pissed when I fired him ended up calling me for a (very lucrative) freelance gig. That went well; I did good work, he looked good to his new bosses, no hard feelings. 

 

Take the high road even if you don't want to. Well, that's what I think, at least. Good luck!

 

Good luck!

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Thanks for the advice guys!

 

I failed to mention in my tome up there that these guys are kind of...rigid.  If I tell them my new rate I'll be dead to them forever, there's no going back.  It is a bit like working for the mob.  Same vibe too.  They do this to people all the time.  The guy who got me my first job with them (my best friend since we were 14) is one of those people.  They wanted to continue to pay him a low rate to shoot (now that I think about it, it's a very similar situation), after twoish years he asked for more money and he hasn't heard from them since.   Yeah, saying goodbye is sounding like the right thing to do.

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Welp, we spoke and I was basically told "all the other guys do it for this rate and don't give us any guff, and they are appreciative. you should do it for that rate because of the volume of the work, so I don't know why you're complaining. you shouldn't be turning down any work in this industry."  So that went poorly.

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You've outgrown these guys.  Be glad.  Move on.  All of us have had to make this move in some way or another.  You aren't going to be able to change the way these people do business, and may not be able to change their minds about what you are worth until it becomes clear that other clients value you more.  Some people's minds you can never change about this--they will always see you as the PA/utility you once were.  Them you have to let go.

 

philp

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Are you getting enough other work yet to pay your bills? If yes, move on. Let them train somebody new that will probably be in the same spot in 2 years. I think a LOT of people here have similar stories with a client that booked them when they were learning.

Also, think about this..... At normal rates you can work half as many days and have the same amount of money at the end of the month.

Freelancers in every world go through periods of shedding clients. Either ones that pay low, are difficult to work with, take forever to pay, maybe all of those reasons. There's only so many work days in a year. Try to fill it with the clients you enjoy working with.

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With due respect your former employer sounds like an asshat. You have made a good move to get out from under that kind of derision. Im sure you will look back on this and smile knowing what a good move it was for you.

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You done good, grasshopper!  Move on and remember the good times.  It would appear these folks do not really get it, and probably never will...let them beat up some other poor fellow until he bails, and the next one, and the next one.  

We have all been there, albeit 40+ years ago for me.  And well lived to tell about it.  

 

Congrats on the cojones and your future....

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I *just* upgraded my kit after almost two years of using a small mixer and zoom. I learned SO much these past two years and know that I will have to turn down some of my old client and indie level relationships to pursue bigger gigs but it's all part of the growing process. It's time to move forward! This will hopefully an exciting time! You might think you're burning a bridge but it's more like crossing a small bridge for the last time and moving ahead down the road to other, bigger a s better bridges! Good luck, and wish me luck on my new endevors too!

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I haven't had the opportunity to read all the responses yet, but I imagine several have addressed the same points in different ways.

You're making something that is quite simple into a defensive confrontation, which results in you coming across as an amateur.

Let me offer some perspective on it this way: If a doctor defensively argued why his rates were justified, would you return to that practitioner, or would you opt for a doctor who approached your health care as a competent professional?

It sounds like you may be trying to convince yourself that you're worth a proper rate. Accept your worth and avoid the angst.

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So what I guess I'm getting at is this: does everyone go through a weird transitionary time like this? I figured there would be some clients that would be like "no thanks," but they seem to be almost hostile to the concept of me not being their bitch. I work for them a fair amount and I've been with them since the beginning, but it seems like I've outgrown them.  Is it time to burn this bridge?

 

Their biggest problem is that they aren't showing you respect as a fellow coworker, right?

 

Why do you think they've been a**ing you around to begin with? Because you let them do it.

 

Here's a lesson of life; when you don't get the respect that you think you deserve, then demand it! It can be done in many ways, but if nothing else works, well tell it to their faces! Life's too short for a**ing around licking peoples butts!

You already know that they won't give you more work if you up your rate, so you might as well tell them that you feel that they've been mistreating you and not respected your contribution to the productions. Just tell them!

 

Burning bridges or making a statement, call it what you will. (they will respect you for it)

 

Regarding the money, you started out as a newbie and got paid accordingly. Now you've honed you skills and bought you own equipment (just because you wanted it to sound better and improve your work situation on set). Now it's time to start charging proper day rates and equipment rental.

 

Think of work as a leather jacket. If you pay $50 for it, you will wear it washing your car in strong headwind. Well, if you paid $500 for the same jacket, it's a nice jacket right, only to be worn when you want to look good. Same analogy goes for hiring people, if you're low-cost then you simply don't have the same worth as more expensive colleagues.

 

As a freelancer it's always scary to lose or leave a big client, but it's part of the business being a hired gun. You'll get used to it!

 

 

The best of luck

Fred

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All very good advice above. I just had a similar situation with a post client where (due to several misunderstandings) I realized that he was well below my usual rate. I didn't confront him about it, but brought it up the day before we started and said, "hey, I get that you have no budget to work with on this project. Let me see if I can find you a replacement you can work with," and I made a couple of calls and was able to get a sub in 24 hours. The person who got that job was hungry, had 1 day free (it was a short job), and wanted to do a low/no-budget job purely for the experience. 

 

As far as I'm concerned, it worked out well: I never lost my temper (though I was a little miffed), the client was relieved, and the replacement guy appreciated the work (if not the pay). And I know the client was grateful with the end result.

 

The guy almost used the "labor of love" line with me, and I had to restrain myself from saying, "yeah, but it's my labor and your love," but it didn't get quite that heated. It all ended well, and I'm busy with other things so life goes on.

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I *just* upgraded my kit after almost two years of using a small mixer and zoom. I learned SO much these past two years and know that I will have to turn down some of my old client and indie level relationships to pursue bigger gigs but it's all part of the growing process. It's time to move forward! This will hopefully an exciting time! You might think you're burning a bridge but it's more like crossing a small bridge for the last time and moving ahead down the road to other, bigger a s better bridges! Good luck, and wish me luck on my new endevors too!

Good luck!  2015 will surely be interesting for both of us.

 

I haven't had the opportunity to read all the responses yet, but I imagine several have addressed the same points in different ways.

You're making something that is quite simple into a defensive confrontation, which results in you coming across as an amateur.

Let me offer some perspective on it this way: If a doctor defensively argued why his rates were justified, would you return to that practitioner, or would you opt for a doctor who approached your health care as a competent professional?

It sounds like you may be trying to convince yourself that you're worth a proper rate. Accept your worth and avoid the angst.

Sorry if I came across that way.  I may have sounded whiny on here because it's a safe space but I didn't use the same phrasing/attitude when speaking with the client.  The difficulty with dealing with this particular client is that they immediately escalate and start stonewalling.  The conversation went: "I think we should revisit my rate, it's been two years and I have equipment now, and I'd really like to keep working for you guys." His immediate response? "I don't know why you're giving me guff.  Everyone else accepts that rate and they don't complain about it, so I don't know why you are,"  and so on.  I was really really really trying to avoid having it go that way because then everything shuts down and it's impossible to have a meaningful dialogue.  There's no way that conversation is ever going to go well, especially when one side comes to the table knowing full well it would rather scuttle the entire relationship than budge.  The only real valid point he has going for his side is that the jobs are frequently simple set ups (though I am expected to still help with lighting/camera as well).  This is a point that I conceded.  He conceded exactly 0 points. 

I guess the moral for me is that some people are just very difficult to deal with.  

 

To everyone else: thanks for the kind words and encouragement.  They're making me feel a lot better about this.  I'm also amazed the Senator hasn't chimed in to call me an idiot yet.  WONDERS NEVER CEASE.

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to me this sounds really really simple - if you know anyway that they won't budge a bit, then the question comes down to:

do you want (or need) to keep working under these conditions or not?

chris

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Thanks for the clarification.

Part of my point is that many times mixers become defensive and engage in a debate that serves only to convince a client that they're not dealing with a seasoned mixer.

Why? Because a seasoned mixer has the confidence to quote a job and, if the prospective client balks at the rate, to simply say, "Thanks for considering me," and walk away without any futile attempt at justification and the angst such a confrontation causes.

There are exceptions, of course, but given how upset the situation made you, there might be some benefit in considering a less stressful approach.

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"I don't know why you're giving me guff.  Everyone else accepts that rate and they don't complain about it, so I don't know why you are,"  

 

​Either he is working from a pool of newbies, or being dishonest. Maybe they used to have a staff person doing this, but that's totally different. Freelancers give up some $ to become staff because it comes with benefits (health care, paid vacation, guaranteed steady paychecks). Doesn't matter if it's easy days, you are still worth more. Maybe you can leave on good terms and if you have a slow period, you might take a day here and there if you need to make rent. 

 

I don't know the kind of work this guy is doing, but one thing to remember.... If they "don't have the budget" to properly pay you, they got the job by undercutting a company that pays their crews proper rates. That's how they cut costs..... by paying the sound mixer half the going rate (and everyone else too). I took a few jobs for people like that years ago, and when I realized what I was basically contributing to, I became unavailable whenever they called. I don't want to work for somebody that cuts every possible corner. It's stressful. 

I've had other freelancers (in a different field) say "you do NOT want to be known as the cheapest in your line of work, you will only attract the cheap bottom feeders". It's totally true. They will use (abuse) "interns" instead of paid PAs. They will balk at paying for travel/parking. Lunch will suck. Crafty will suck. I hope they never put you up in a hotel, because I'm sure they will use the internet for the cheapest possible spot. 

Maybe that all is fine when you are young and cutting your teeth, but if they are "seasoned professionals" and never moved up the ladder, then they found their spot in the food chain and are staying. It sounds like you have bigger desires, so take a stab at it. It also sounds like you have a decent kit to pay for! Go earn what you're worth! Consider your down days as days to sit at the computer and shoot out some of your credits and/or make some phone calls. Also, if you worked with some other people that left that company, maybe hit them up and see where they are now. You may have some like minded coworkers that have can vouch for your work ethic (which it sounds like you have a decent one, lending a hand where needed). 

 

In terms of helping carry and set up lights etc, nothing wrong with that on simple small crew jobs (non-union interview type stuff). The one thing is to make sure the sound kit is ready before you help another department, or it makes you look like a slacker. Break down your kit first, then you can help break down light stands and wrap cables. 

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I've had 4 significant "Parting of the Ways" in my career.  My exit dialog goes kinda like "Thanks so much for the opportunities and good times, but I've been offered biscuits and honey by a few other clients, Thanks"  I always had anxieties and doubt. And once a little DooDoo got flung at me.

 

I always have been rehired by those folks....... sometimes, several years later, and the conversation was NEVER about the breakup, but always about current lives and the good old days of low budget horrors.

 

Make the jump enthusiastically. 

 

"This too shall pass"

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smicycle : " because they still want to pay me jack shit. "

IOW, you had set your price...

and you said: " plus they were paying me! a lot! "

and it was apparently a mutually beneficial relationship, somewhat symbiotic, too.

" all they want to pay me is $450 TOTAL. "

we are discussing kit : labor in several threads, it seems...

I work for a huge major client that typically insists on my using their gear, and pays me only for labor.  while some mixers pass on their gigs, I don't!

BTW: did they ask you to buy your own kit, or did you do that and it is you asking them to now rent yours when they already have a kit that seems to have been serving you both well..?

" they supplied a pretty mediocre kit. " and I'm guessing that you demonstrated that it isn't about the clubs, but about the golfer.  they, like most of our clients, have been paying you for performance and results, not so much for shiny toys.

" dealing with their shitty equipment " oops, it has been demoted... now it is shitty equipment ?

" what I realized now to be "meh" money, " and now you are getting more ambitious..?  -- BTW, it really is not about what we here charge or think of your rates,  you seem to be discussing you and this client.

" they also expected me to show up and load camera/lighting gear, and in general kind of act as a PA. " I don't know the details of your specific situation, but this is not all that uncommon on many gig's with many clients... typically smaller ones, and so called full service production facilities.

JP agrees: " In terms of helping carry and set up lights etc, nothing wrong with that on simple small crew jobs (non-union interview type stuff). The one thing is to make sure the sound kit is ready before you help another department, or it makes you look like a slacker. Break down your kit first, then you can help break down light stands and wrap cables. "

" They also expect for me to pay for a taxi to bring my gear to the production house first, " It is usually up to us to get to work.

"   I have expressed to them that that makes no f#@king sense, for various (what I assume are) obvious reasons. "

perhaps from your POV, but perfect sense from theirs;  the question seems to be: do you still want the gig they have to offer you..?

thus Q#4: why should they meet your recently added demands..? maybe they should go find someone like who you were and give them this opportunity for: " plus they were paying me! a lot! "

they are used to a PA/grip/utility/sound tech, and you want to be a DPS.

" They've told me to take it or leave it.  They maintain that absolutely NO ONE get's $550 for labor and $250 for that basic kit in NYC. No soundies get paid that!  That seems an odd position to hold considering I GET PAID THAT BY EVERY OTHER CLIENT I HAVE. "

you are in a different world than they are. both of these worlds exist!

They have the jobs, and there are, as we keep saying in other threads, plenty of people, --just like you were!-- who would maybe kill for these gigs...(maybe someone still working retail ?)

" If I mention that they also expect me to pay for transporting my gear, they tell me to just use theirs. "

yep!

" The difficult part is that there are other mixers who are willing to take that shit rate (older guys, of all people), and it lets the client get away with this nonsense, so I have no bargaining power whatsoever. "

yep...

that is (show) business

" I'm not the same person I was over 2 years ago when I started "

yep, but the gig has not changed; it is the same gig it was before... as you have summed it up, a chance to learn, and grow " plus they were paying me! a lot! "  " while working with this company doing the job(s) they needed done at the rates they were paying.

" I've poured countless hours into this so I can get the job done right so that I can earn a proper rate. "

yep... elsewhere

 

They either still see me as a PA or really don't respect what we do. "

it is the former, more than the latter!  it isn't what they see you as, but what they see their gigs as.

 

" to see if anyone had gone through a similar situation and how it was resolved - or wasn't. "

yep, and yep.

 

I am a bit surprised that they are giving you $100 more for your gear at all... they already have their own!

let me point out that I have been building this reply as I first read your post, and I have yet to see what others have said here...

 

I'm already convinced that you are ready to become less available (if at all) when this client calls to book you. (that is the how to resolve it)... real simple, and they won't bother you more than once or twice.

after all that you already know: " it seems like I've outgrown them. "

it is up to you, how you part company, as there are: 50 ways to leave your lover  and there is that old saying about being careful about whose toes you step on while going up the ladder, as you may meet them again on the way down...  you may meet these folks again, elsewhere...

 

" My oldest client is being difficult and unfair (so say I)."

they could well be saying the same thing about you...

 

Am I an entitled ass "

possibly, but that is not the topic here...

.

 JF, and AFM (+ more) said it well...

and you may meet these folks elsewhere with bigger budgets!

AD's first comment was fine, but then he added: " With due respect your former employer sounds like an asshat. "  and I disagree with that.  the little production house is no more an asshat than the OP.  The OP has grown, the gig hasn't!

CM: " It would appear these folks do not really get it, and probably never will.. "...

I disagree with this as well...  actually they get it, the OP doesn't get it.

KS: " You might think you're burning a bridge "

that depends... on how the exit scene is played.

I like what JB said : " You're making something that is quite simple into a defensive confrontation, which results in you coming across as an amateur... Let me offer some perspective on it this way: If a doctor defensively argued why his rates were justified, would you return to that practitioner, or would you opt for a doctor who approached your health care as a competent professional? "  and some folks get great care (and have their lives saved) at the Free Clinic.

 

simi: " So that went poorly. " no it did not!

 

 

I'm also amazed the Senator hasn't chimed in to call me an idiot yet.  WONDERS NEVER CEASE. "

sorry I'm late... just got here...

note that I did not call you an idiot, but you have unreasonable expectations ...(of your client)

Edited by studiomprd

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