263 – 5 Types of Clients to Avoid in Music

by | Mar 11, 2022 | Podcast

If any part of what you do in music depends on you working with clients, then it’s important to know which types of clients to pursue, as well as which types to avoid.

After all, your survival depends on your ability to bring in an income, and nothing can affect your ability to create an income faster than working with clients who endlessly negotiate, waste time, and refuse to pay.

That’s what we’re going to be looking at in this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 01:19 – Client disaster stories
  • 01:41 – #1: The rush job
  • 03:20 – #2: The “why, why, why?”
  • 04:59 – #3: The fault finder
  • 08:33 – #4: The charlatan
  • 10:08 – #5: The self-appointed pinnacle of virtue
  • 11:56 – Episode summary and additional tips

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:


Hey, it’s David Andrew Wiebe.

In this episode, we’re going to be looking at five types of clients to avoid in music.

This should be a fun one, because I’ll even be sharing some of the details of my own client disaster stories.

And if you have any of your own client disaster stories you’d like to share, drop us a line at musicentrepreneurhq@gmail.com.

With that, let’s get into it.

Client Type #1: “I Needed This Done Yesterday”

There are those who will come crying to you at the last-minute, in all seriousness, saying, “I need a rush job.”

For example, it could be an artist who has all their recording done, but because they weren’t thinking ahead, or they’re already behind on timelines, they will ask you to rush their album artwork.

This is exactly the situation I found myself in many years back. My partner gave me lead on the project because it was my contact. So, I had to deliver.

We rushed the designs and got them out to the CD manufacturer as soon as we possibly could.

But this type of client has other attributes that makes them difficult. For one, they don’t care about the details. Even if there was a misprint on the liner notes, they probably wouldn’t bat an eye. They only care about their project being done, and yesterday!

While the client’s CD was being manufactured, I got a grave phone call from them, which nearly turned hostile. They asked me, “Where are the CDs? You told me they would be done today.”

I said no such thing! But after I gathered my composure, I had to explain to him how business days work, which pacified a potentially volatile situation.

I still misquoted him on the contract, though, so, I ended up eating some costs on the project. Ultimately, no money was made.

Can You Still Work with This Type of Client?

Though not ideal, there are still ways of making this type of agreement work.

You’ll probably want to charge a substantial rush fee to account for errors that stem from the pressure this type of client is going to put you under.

You’re also going to want to keep in regular communication about the project, something you’re not going to want to do, because this client takes themselves a little too seriously and they aren’t fun people to deal with.

Client Type #2: Asks Questions About Everything

Some clients want to know how everything works, as well as why you’re doing things the way you’re doing them.

“Why are you sending an email right now? What’s the strategy behind it? Is there a reason why you rewrote that lyric? Do you really think the guitars should be mixed that way?”

They don’t care about trade secrets. It’s more like they’re a 12-month-old who just learned to talk and can’t stop asking “why?” about everything.

Now, this is distinct from the type of client who wants to be involved with everything. I know people like that, and the relationship can totally work if they reward you handsomely for your work, and you set proper expectations with them.

No, this is the type of client that, no matter how many times you’ve explained the terms of the contract, or why you’re charging a fee, or why websites need to be renewed each year, always come back to you requesting explanations for every decision made.

I had a client like this who I decided to cut off after a few years. It was a small contract, and I was only breaking even on it, so there wasn’t anything in it for me. Once I started charging for time spent in correspondence, the client rapidly backed out of the contract.

Can You Still Work with This Type of Client?

Yes, you can still work with them. They’re probably one of the most benign types of clients on this list.

Constantly having to refresh them on the details of the job is exhausting, though, so you’d better have structures in place for that.

But that’s assuming they agree to your fees in the first place. This type of client is either tight with money or doesn’t feel like they have much to spend on needed services.

If your rates are low, you may attract clients like this. Otherwise, they will either complain about your fees and try to negotiate or avoid your services completely, which is not a problem.

Client Type #3: “Everything is Wrong!”

Some clients have unrealistic expectations. Or they have different expectations once you’ve entered into a new agreement.

It’s understandable that if you’re charging a higher fee, they might want more from you, right?

But what if they had negative feedback for you on a near weekly or daily basis? You’d start to feel like you suck at what you do.

And they will always find flaws in what you’re doing, instead of acknowledging you for being on time, delivering what you promised, keeping to a regular schedule of communication with them, and so forth.

They are fair weather clients. They love working with you when they can get you at a discount and know they’re under-paying you for your expertise. They hate it when the terms are more in your favor.

I’ll be honest when I say I don’t have much patience or endurance for this type of client. They end up taking up a lot of mind space and they don’t even pay rent. If it gets especially toxic, I get an assistant to mediate. The fault finding, at least for me, gets ridiculous fast.

It is entirely possible, though, that they’re going through something in their life that has them showing up this way in everything they do, including business affairs. You can potentially wait it out and see if things improve, but the downside is you never know when they’re going to get back to treating you with the respect you deserve.

Can You Still Work with This Type of Client?

It depends on your tolerance for unwarranted criticism and constant fault finding.

If the money is so good you can’t abandon them right now, then I can’t fault you for staying with them.

But I don’t suggest remaining in a toxic relationship forever, especially when you’re cognizant of the fact that you’re probably just getting the spillover from arguments with their spouses anyway.

If you insist on working with them, suggest coming up with a new agreement. Reduce your workload, restructure the fees, and see how they respond to the new arrangement. If working conditions improve, you know their expectations were probably unrealistic to begin with.

Client Type #4: Claims to be an Expert and Doesn’t Know Anything About Their So-Called Expertise

What if someone came to you and said, “I love ABC independent artist. I want you to choose 10 of their songs and cover each of them. I will pay you well for the project.”

Sounds like a sweet deal, right?

Only, they don’t know that ABC artist has only ever written, recorded, and released five songs!

Sounds absurd, but trust me this happens…

So, when you come back to them with your five covers, they will make you wrong for not having followed their instructions. They wanted 10 songs! Keep in mind, they are a self-proclaimed expert in this field. They know everything about ABC artist, and if you question them, they’re going to show you how wrong you are.

The first time I encountered a client like this, there were no initial warning signs. I worked hard and pulled late nights to get the first draft of the project out to them, because it was a big project.

After requests for revisions came, I knew what I was dealing with – someone who had somehow risen to the status of expert in their field but didn’t know anything about the topic they were supposed to know so much about. If they knew, they wouldn’t have requested the revisions they requested.

Fortunately, I was working through an intermediary. I requested payment for the work I’d done to that point, and left changes in the capable hands of the intermediary’s team.

Can You Still Work with This Type of Client?

Sure, but it’s going to take patience.

Expect them to request a lot of revisions, which you may not even be paid for.

Also, you want to avoid embarrassing them and telling them that they’re wrong. You want to come up with a suggestion that makes the project workable, and then make it sound like it was their idea all along.

Client Type #5: “Money’s Not a Problem”

This type of client will tell you that “money’s not a problem” while expecting you to work on performance. They won’t even pay you a deposit upon beginning work.

They will talk about how great and honest they are, how they are different from everyone out there, and go on about how they are the shining example of integrity and virtue… and you will be wowed and impressed.

But at the end of the day, they have no intention of paying you in full, and they don’t care about all the trouble you might go through just to accommodate them and their needs.

A few years back, I made the mistake of taking on a client like this. I started getting up at 6 AM each morning just to take on a few extra hours of work each day.

What did I get in return? My client immediately began burning bridges with my contacts.

I told them that when you’re just getting started in PR, if someone so much as asks you what your favorite hamburger is, you answer them. Plenty of people who know nothing about anything are featured on radio and TV newscasts daily and are made to sound like experts.

But no, this client’s great virtue and pride would not allow him to talk to someone with a different philosophy on life.

I learned my lesson on this one and cut ties with him as soon as humanly possible.

Can You Still Work with This Type of Client?

If you take on a client like this, you should either expect to earn a fraction of your quote or nothing at all.

I don’t suggest arguing with the “money’s not a problem” type. It won’t get you anywhere. After all, they don’t think their poop stinks.

I took on a client like this recently, and in the first few calls, he cut my expertise down to size, saying he didn’t even need to hire me and that he could do all the work himself. I am not expecting to make money on this contract. I’m doing it as a favor. But rarely will you find me associating with this type of person. Eventually, they push most people away.

My recommendation – stay away from these types at all costs.

Episode Summary

  • The first client type to avoid is one that needed it done yesterday. If you can accommodate rush jobs, adjust your margins to make money on the contract, and set expectations with this type of client, you can still be successful. But if you can’t dedicate the time and attention needed to complete the contract speedily, don’t bother.
  • The second client type is like a child who can’t stop asking “why?” They don’t care about your process, but they are critical of it. They don’t have trust, and that trust can be built by constantly reassuring them and giving them timelines. Even then, sometimes, they will prove difficult to work with.
  • The third client type has it that everything is wrong! There is no satisfying them, no matter how well you execute. They will find fault with everything.
  • The fourth client type is pretty sure they know better than you do, even if they haven’t done their homework. This is often problematic in new and emerging fields that only have a small established presence. Prepare for constant revision requests which you will not be paid for if you intend to work with them long-term.
  • The fifth client type is convinced they are smarter and better and more talented than anyone. When push comes to shove, the fake gold plating always starts to peel off, but they will never own up to that. These clients are difficult to work with, and you should never take on a long-term project with them. Even if you do take on a short-term project, you should not expect to be compensated fairly for your work.
  • With each client type, there usually is a way to make things work. But I don’t recommend trying to maintain a long-term relationship with client types #3 and #5. Your profitability will suffer because much of your time and energy will go towards putting out fires with them.
  • If you’re doing a lot of client work, consider adopting a “red rope policy,” as Michael Port suggests in his book, Book Yourself Solid. Some people shouldn’t even get through your filters. Your pricing strategy makes a big difference here, and you can also do quick interviews with your prospects before taking them on.

Closing Segment

So, I’ve often been asked whether it’s even possible to make an income in music these days. Look, I know full well that streaming royalties often don’t add up to much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make an income from your music. It just means you need to be able to look at things from a different perspective.

In my free training, Music Money Machine, I talk about two powerful methods you can use to earn on your releases. Learn more at davidandrewwiebe.com/machine

This has been episode 263 of The New Music Industry Podcast. I’m David Andrew Wiebe, and I look forward to seeing you on the stages of the world.

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