Payment Models for Gigs

For those of us who play for paid events, there is more to consider than just how much to charge the client. How and when you expect the client to pay can be a complex topic.

I have been playing harp for paid gigs for over 20 years, and I’ve changed my policies probably a dozen times through the years. There are pros and cons to the various models, and ultimately each harpist needs to choose for themselves what they want and then enforce it with clients. Let’s look at some of the options.


What payment types will you accept? Cash? Personal check? Cashier’s check/money order? Credit card? Payment through a service or booking agency? Apps like Venmo, Zelle, Cash App, and PayPal? What about a trade in goods/services?

You are the performer, and it is your decision what you will or will not accept. Do not let the client bully you into accepting something outside your payment policies. This is why your policies must be written down and easy to refer to and share with the client.

Personal Checks
Pros: Easy for clients, most people have them, easy to mobile deposit
Cons: The check could bounce, it has to be given in person or mailed

Cashier’s check/money order
Pros: Guaranteed funds
Cons: Costs the client money and a trip to the bank, cannot mobile deposit, it has to be given in person or mailed

Pros: No depositing required to spend funds, no fees
Cons: Has to be hand delivered, if you need it in your account you have to make a trip to the bank, can be hard to spend large bills ($100’s), risk of receiving counterfeit money

Credit/Debit payments
Pros: Client can use their credit or debit card, it can be done online, the money deposits straight to your bank account
Cons: Usually costs you a fee of around 3.5%, if using a booking agency they may take more (5%), it may take extra time to see funds (2 to 5 business days), client could contest the payment

Bank ACH or Wire
Pros: Funds are guaranteed, deposit directly into your bank account
Cons: May cost you a fee of around 1%, typically takes several days to deposit, is a little more work on the client’s side to set up, typically only worth the extra effort if it’s a very large payment where the difference in percentage is a lot ($2,000 credit card payment at 3.5% fee is $70 versus 1% ACH fee is $20) or if it’s a recurring payment, such as a harp student, that can be set up once and auto charge each month.

Payment Apps (Zelle, Venmo, Cash App, PayPal)
Pros: Can be done remotely, many apps have no fees on either side, easy to send and receive, can be set to deposit straight to your bank account
Cons: Not always secure, client could contest the payment, may take a day or two to get to your bank account depending on the service

Trade of goods or services
I have only done this on rare occasions, but it can be quite beneficial to both parties if the monetary values are similar. For example, harp lessons in exchange for babysitting, or playing a gig for a restaurant in exchange for a gift card to that restaurant in the amount of your regular fee.

Personally, I like to offer my clients options so they can choose what works best for them. But whatever method they choose to pay me, I always require full payment before I play my first note or hold the first harp lesson.

While most people are honest, there are those who are not and will take advantage, intentionally or unintentionally. So get paid in advance.

There are a variety of models for when to get paid, which each have pros and cons.

Full payment in advance
Some performers require the full amount in advance, such as 1 or 2 weeks before the gig. This gives time for the payment to clear, ensuring the check or other payment method does not bounce. However, some clients may feel uncomfortable, worrying you may take their money and disappear. It can also be disheartening to drive to a far-away gig and spend hours playing and then not leave with money (having already received and spent it). This is the method I currently use, with the balance due 1 week in advance.

Deposit in advance, balance at the gig
I used this method for many years. I asked my clients to pay a $100 deposit when they signed the contract to book me. Some performers ask for 50% as the deposit. Whatever you ask them to pay upfront, it shows that they are committed and not just window shopping and planning to cancel at the last minute. Clients could choose to pay the full amount upfront for their own convenience. If they did not, I required them to pay the remaining balance when I arrived. For example, for a 6 pm wedding, with a prelude starting at 5:40, I put in my contract that full payment is due by 5:30 pm. This was usually done through a check given to me by the wedding coordinator or other individual helping run things the day of the event. If it was 5:45 and I had not received payment, I did not start playing until I had it. Because once you play, you have no leverage with which to encourage the client to honor the contract and pay you.

A third option is to receive full payment at the event. I do not recommend this, as they could cancel and you would receive nothing for the time you spent on the consultation, putting together the set list, and practicing, not to mention other gigs you turn down for that day. Always get a financial commitment, even from friends and family, as they too can back out without warning, not understanding the financial consequences it will have on you.

Which payment options and methods do you use? Do you stick to your policies and enforce them? As we approach the beginning of a new year, this is a great time to self-assess and update your policies. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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