Free "favors" - How do handle them?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Mar 03, 2006 9:21 am

Requests for "favors" from "friends and acquaintances" are endemic to any business. In my view (which others need not share, necessarily), one has to strike a balance between using them as a business-building tool and having them become overwhelming.

Over the years, I've heard lots of musicians and teachers complain about all the favors they are asked to do. Many claim that they will do "nothing" for free. Others find themselves inundated with free work because they can't or won't say no to any request.

With that in mind, how do you handle requests for free work (performances, teaching, contest monitoring, etc.)? Do you have a set policy in mind, if not written down? How do you make decisions about which requests to accept and which to decline? What are your criteria for this? Do you find such requests inherently irritating or do you consider them on their merits? Is there a reasonable middle ground between simply refusing all such requests and granting them all?
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Postby Mins Music » Tue Oct 24, 2006 7:14 pm

Yep, another old thread I'm digging up ...

I had this happen just the other day. My next door neighbour rang to ask if I would give her grand daughter a singing lesson for free. They can't afford it because their parents are going through divorce ... actually there was a LOT more, about fifteen minutes more, but I tuned out and looked at the scenery around my home. Why? Over the years you learn what you have to do to survive. I know a LOT of people. A LOT of people have a hard time in this ole life. I'm a 'nice' :D person. That combination can be deadly -for me.

Forutnately I didn't have to go into the whole, 'well, one singing lesson won't really do that much' speal, because I am actually booked up completely and I don't give lessons (now) outside my 'business' schedule. I used to - any time that was convenient for them. So If I was out and about I HAD to be home by a certain time, and sometimes they themselves wouldn't bother showing up. So I don't do that anymore. I haven't given a free lesson for years - unless it's by accident :p Sometimes (...no, pretty much ALL the time) I find it hard to leave the 'teacher' bit of me behind, and it was only the other day that I was over friends place for lunch and the little boy got out his guitar - well away I went, showing him this, and THAT, until finally the mother said, "I should pay you for this lesson".

I gave my next door neighbour the name of two other singing teachers in the area. She asked if they would do it for free. I told her she'd have to ask them. She was disappointed. And I was OKAY with that.

I think I've developed an automatic 'sheild' now when people either hint or come straight out and ask for favours. I don't need to build up my business, I'm actually thinking of cutting back AGAIN. But in all brutal honesty which will probably come across quite harsh, I don't want to deal with people in my studio where the basis has been a 'favour'. You're really teaching them that you are the kind of person who IS ready to hand out favours, and they just get confused when you suddenly say no to the next one... or tenth.

I've had other friends who've asked to use my PA systems and mics to host karaoke nights in halls etc - one in particular was VERY offended that I said no, but she got over it and we're still good friends - they now ask someone else who is in the music sound business - he feels obligated to let anyone use his stuff because it's now expected of him.

I don't say no to everything. Another friend was getting a skit ready for a going away party. She asked me to get the music together for it. I did. No problem. The people leaving were mutual friends, so I felt I was contributing something. At the party, she thanked me for it and there was no need to do that publicly (btw the skit went well), but it showed she appreciated me.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Oct 25, 2006 10:59 am

Not long ago I was asked to play background music for some civic event--for free, of course. I politely said background music was not my line, and--as usual--the good lady was quite perplexed and a little put out. I've had a lifetime of experience with people who think musicians are fringe members of society who live off of inspiration and should be available free to those "real people with real jobs".

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Postby Stretto » Wed Oct 25, 2006 2:18 pm

Mins,
Your neighbor and grandaughter story reminded me a lot of an experience I had. A grandmother who was a friend of mine was teaching a grandchild piano and because of long-term illness would no longer be able to. The grandmother asked if I would teach her granddaughter but she was willing and did pay for the lessons. However, I didn't realize it would be the mother bringing the daughter to the lessons rather than the grandparents. The mother had been recently divorced with all the added responsibility of a single parent, working and trying to go back and get a degree and had no interest in music or even any commitment in wanting to bring her daughter weekly to lessons. There was last minute cancellations all the time and no-shows and when the mother got a new boyfriend, her head was so much in the clouds that she thought of little else. I felt guilty billing the terminally ill friend for lessons her granddaugther didn't come to so I often didn't charge and didn't say anything. They did eventually quit on their own.

So with your neighbor wanting her granddaughter to take voice lessons, I would talk to the mother first if you were to decide to in order to find out if the parent and child are committed or is it just the grandmothers idea?




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Postby mirjam » Wed Oct 25, 2006 2:41 pm

One of the most popular cabaret artists of The Netherlands was asked to do a benefit-performance for a (rich men's) organization, so they could sell the tickets and donate the money to a charityfund. He said he'd love to do that, and was willing to help supporting this fund. "But" he said, "I do 200 performances a year, so when I'll do this one for free, I'll give up 1/200 of a years salary. So I'm asking YOU to pay 1/200 of YOUR years salary for the entrance ticket for this evening, and I'll do my show!" Of course, that was not at all what they meant.. they wanted to have a good evening and make good cheer with the money 'they' ??? raised. The evening didn't take place....
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Oct 25, 2006 2:57 pm

Thanks Mins for "digging up" this old thread.

I was surprised that there was so little interest in it initially, given all the complaining I've heard from musicians over the years about "freebies" that people want from them. I guess I'll probably tick some people off by saying this, but I think there are some community service activities that musicians should be willing to support with their donated talent - at their choice.

It troubles me to hear some people say basically "no how, no way" to such requests, given that those of us who are not musicians are constantly asked to support (i.e. donate to) musical organizations which pay the salaries of many musicians. One can't do all requests for help, but community service should be a part of all responsible and caring individuals' lives. The trick is deciding which ones and how much time to give to them. So there! :D
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Postby Mins Music » Wed Oct 25, 2006 5:45 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:those of us who are not musicians are constantly asked to support (i.e. donate to) musical organizations which pay the salaries of many musicians.

Really? Constantly asked? The only thing over here that is constantly asked for is actual charity organisations. I've never even HEARD of a musical charity in Australia! We get bombarded with Austar and Telstra people - multimillion dollar organisations, always wanting us to use their service, I've been asked by the Blind Dog society and cancer research, but never a 'poor musicians fund'! Maybe I should start one of my own! :D

I think people's generosity towards community is personality and life experience based, not what they do for a living. I aslo think that community service donated does not have to come from ones' living. I do community service each week, but it has nothing to do with music.

General rant and rave: I think in any profession there are those individuals who have a striving desire to give back to people/society ....including in the music industry, Bob Geldof, Bono ... but that there are plenty of doctors and lawyers and .... politicians .... who probably think their job IS helping society and dont have to do anything else ...and then there's the average worker -blue or white collar- who battles so hard that they kind of 'resent' the idea of having to give back to community when they're flat out just looking after their family.

A survey was done a few years ago and most people today don't even know the names of their next door neighbours and couldn't give two hoots about their 'community'. We've become a society of 'meism' and it hasn't just affected musicians - in fact I personally believe that educators in music are generous by nature. Just read what most piano teachers are willing to do for their students - and at the school my hubby works at, the music teacher is the most loved AND the hardest working and caring teacher there.

All people are taken advantage of - it seems that's what we do to each other. When on holiday, my hubby gets asked to 'tutor' friends kids all the time - and they get really put out when he doesn't want to. Would we really ask a dentist to work on our teeth for free, just because he lives next door, or would we take our car to get serviced by a mechanic aquaintence down the road and then not expect to be charged? Sadly, some of us would like to try!!!

(*steps down from soapbox and looks around nervously*)

The trick is deciding which ones and how much time to give to them.


I think my criteria for deciding this is whether whatever is asked of me will emotionally drain me, or fill me. Resentment is counterproductive. "There is more happiness in giving than reveiving." In my experience this is true. Conversely, there is no happiness in letting people 'take' from you.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Oct 26, 2006 7:53 am

Mins Music wrote:
Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:those of us who are not musicians are constantly asked to support (i.e. donate to) musical organizations which pay the salaries of many musicians.

Really? Constantly asked? The only thing over here that is constantly asked for is actual charity organisations. I've never even HEARD of a musical charity in Australia! We get bombarded with Austar and Telstra people - multimillion dollar organisations, always wanting us to use their service, I've been asked by the Blind Dog society and cancer research, but never a 'poor musicians fund'! Maybe I should start one of my own! :D


The trick is deciding which ones and how much time to give to them.


I think my criteria for deciding this is whether whatever is asked of me will emotionally drain me, or fill me. Resentment is counterproductive. "There is more happiness in giving than reveiving." In my experience this is true. Conversely, there is no happiness in letting people 'take' from you.

Sounds like the funding model for music organizations in Australia is immensely different than in the U.S. "Constant" was exactly the right word to describe the donation requests I (and, of course, many other people) get from such groups here. I average about one request a week from musical organizations (symphony, opera, chamber orchestra, teachers organizations, student groups, etc) both local and national. I think all are probably worthy of support. I don't (and can't) honor them all, but, rather, honor the ones I feel some connection to. Ticket prices to musical events don't come close to paying musicians salaries and benefits here, so the gap must be filled by donations and grants from state and Federal taxes.
I aslo think that community service donated does not have to come from ones' living. I do community service each week, but it has nothing to do with music.


I agree wholeheartedly that giving of oneself in community service is valuable. In my view, it's more important than donating. Indeed, my point in starting this thread was to get some ideas from teachers on how they handle such requests and what criteria they use in making decisions. I would really like to hear from teachers how they give of themselves outside of paid lessons, since I think the stories might be inspiring and interesting. I started a whole thread on that issue in Topic of Note, but there was very little interest shown (my thanks to those who did post there) in it. :(




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Postby Mins Music » Thu Oct 26, 2006 6:06 pm

Ticket prices to musical events don't come close to paying musicians salaries and benefits here, so the gap must be filled by donations and grants from state and Federal taxes.


I know orchestras etc do get subsidised and they have corporate sponsors too. Ticket prices here aren't cheap - I went and saw Nigel Kennedy a while back and the ticket was $120 (Aust). The only requests from any type of musicians here are from buskers down the street!

We do have a bit of a different system here. For example tipping is just not a part of our culture and it takes a bit of time for Aussies to get used to the idea when they holiday overseas.

Mate! Once a week isn't 'constant' - it's harrassment!
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Oct 26, 2006 7:46 pm

I'm glad, too, to see this topic generate some discussion and clarification. I should have done better with my last post, which must have sounded as though I'm opposed to all volunteer service. What I'm opposed to is letting people or organizations take advantage of you when they are glad to pay for other professional services but assume musicians don't really belong in that category.

But I do believe strongly in giving to those who are forgotten or in need. One of my favorite ways is going to nursing homes at Christmas time and playing carols for them. Also, in this border state, there are many poor elementary schools, and some in our area have had numerous visits from our faculty members and students--I've even had to tune their pianos before I can play them!

Perhaps some will recall that quite a while ago, under "Performing", I suggested that students could get some public playing experience by performing in nursing homes, hostels and the like. There are no audiences anywhere that are more appreciative.

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Postby Stretto » Fri Oct 27, 2006 10:38 am

I think there is a difference in asking for help, favors, donations, etc. between ASKING or EXPECTING.



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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Oct 30, 2006 11:21 am

Stretto wrote:I think there is a difference in asking for help, favors, donations, etc. between ASKING or EXPECTING.

Yes, I agree, though an analysis of that difference gets tricky. ASKING has a specific and definite denotation, about which reasonable people agree. EXPECTING is a connotative term which implies a step of reading the mind of the person making the request to get at the unsaid motivations, if any, behind the request. Sometimes we can make that read correctly and sometimes we can't.

I think Mins basically said it earlier. If doing a certain type of community service makes one feel good, then he should do it! If one finds oneself resenting the service and/or the request to help, then he should politely refuse. However, we should remember that it's at least as hard for the person to come to us "hat in hand" as it is for us to say no. Anyone who has done fund-raising for good causes knows that all too well.

One other thing to keep in mind: I have said in another thread that doing community service is a really good way to meet people and bring students into your studio. As long as you carefully document the time for unpaid work, you can also take a tax deduction. I don't mean to trivialize community service by saying it should only be done for selfish financial reasons, but you may find that the benefits of doing it extend well beyond the "feel good" aspect. :)
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Postby Stretto » Mon Oct 30, 2006 3:19 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:Requests for "favors" from "friends and acquaintances" are endemic to any business. In my view (which others need not share, necessarily), one has to strike a balance between using them as a business-building tool and having them become overwhelming.

Over the years, I've heard lots of musicians and teachers complain about all the favors they are asked to do. Many claim that they will do "nothing" for free. Others find themselves inundated with free work because they can't or won't say no to any request.

With that in mind, how do you handle requests for free work (performances, teaching, contest monitoring, etc.)? Do you have a set policy in mind, if not written down? How do you make decisions about which requests to accept and which to decline? What are your criteria for this? Do you find such requests inherently irritating or do you consider them on their merits? Is there a reasonable middle ground between simply refusing all such requests and granting them all?

I kind of get the feeling there are two things going on in this thread: One is the free favors asked for by individuals such as free lessons if you are a neighbor, friend, or relative of the piano teacher. Mins gave such an example of the neighbor asking for lessons for the granddaughter. These tend to typically fall in the category more of "expecting" a favor because you "know" the piano teacher. This sort of requests for free work or time from those you know in a more personal way can tend to fall in the being "expected" category unless it was someone in real financial need that couldn't afford lessons otherwise. Asking for free work because you happen to know the person happens in all kinds of businesses.

Then there are the requests or opportunities for community service that have been discussed on the thread as well.

I guess the term "favor" could be more clearly defined. I don't think of requests for help that would give back to the community as community service a favor but merely being asked to help.

I think of "expecting" a "favor" as those who make a point to let you know of their dissapointment in a way as to almost be mad at you for saying "no". For example, a relative wanting free lessons and then letting you know how uspet they are that you won't comply, almost an adult version of pouting.
"Asking" for a favor on the other hand I think of as asking in a respectful manner and also being respectful of the person's "no" without trying to inflict guilt. If I were to say "no" to someone asking for community help and they were respectful of my "no", I might be more willing to help if able if asked by the same person or group the next time around. Whereas, someone who comes close to pouting, throwing a fit, or purposely making their dissapointment known to inflict guilt, I probably wouldn't help if able to the next time, unless it were helping the greater good beyond just that one person.




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Postby Mins Music » Mon Oct 30, 2006 5:36 pm

My little MacQuarie dictionary simply says a favour: "a kind act; something done or granted out of free will rather than justice or renumeration."
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