A Song of Artists and Entrepreneurs: "Hey, you're the pro, I trust your expertise. HOW MUCH?!?!"

You know that feeling of being in line at a store checkout and the person in front of you is complaining to the cashier that everything THEY chose was too expensive, proceeding then to try bargaining with this minimum-wage employee as if it was even remotely their call?  To a certain extent you can sympathize, you’ll never get a deal if you never ask. It’s just that out of the 7 items this person is buying, they’ve asked for 12 discounts. As you patiently wait for the tirade of ignorance to be over so you can pay for your damn M&Ms and go home, sometimes they even turn back to you and say, “Robbers, these stores, I tell ya!”  Whether you retort with a death glare or a fake sweet smile/polite chuckle, chances are you’re calculating the probability of going to jail for assault with a deadly snack. They’re peanut M&M’s, okay? High allergy risk.

In my experience (and this is only based on my 10+ years of customer service jobs so this may just be me) the culprit is normally sporting the classic I’d-like-to-speak-to-your-manager haircut and is, for the most part, completely uninformed as to how these companies establish their prices in the first place.  Completely ignorant to different business models, pricing structures, expense analysis, sales to profit ratios, except, “I’ve been shopping here for years, young man.  This is not how you do business!”

Sometimes I would get the, “Can you apply my special rebate?  This will be for the Church.” Love that. Not discrediting the positive influence faith can have, if it makes the world a better place keep praising that Lord!  Hell, I have respect for a ton of religious ideals, but I don’t think that entitles me to a rebate on my printer toner. My favorite by far, though: “If you don’t give me the price I want, I will go to (x) competitor and they will do it for me.”  Please. PLEASE. I’ll Google Maps the directions for you; I swear I will order your Uber myself. Just go there and have the same argument with someone else, not me. Anywhere but here.

People in retail and service, be you sales clerks trying to get through a day of dealing with any/all of the aforementioned day-makers, busboys and servers aching to urge clients to “wipe their own damn table,” or managers having to direct and inspire an entire crew of these people, you are not alone and I have love for each and every one of you.  Many of you are very happy in your positions; many also envisioned an alternate version of the occupation you accepted in these fields; others were convinced that this stepping stone was the path to great success; some of you probably just needed a steady job. Whatever the story or intention, you are definitely taking one for the team that is humanity itself.  And one of the largest pills to be swallowed, especially by management, is telling entitled people that their perception of what prices should be is oh so wrong, and why.

Recently, I was in a situation wherein the services of my company were being sought out by a few potential clients around the same period.  When the time came to quote them a price we deemed appropriate, we received mixed reactions. Some claimed our prices to be below the median, and seeing as we are a small startup with lower overhead than an established enterprise this is, quite simply, statistical truth.  Some deemed our prices right within their estimate. Some decided that their own budget was not quite ready to execute a pro contract, which I completely understand being that most of my own personal budgets are laughably similar (I laugh so I don’t cry). Of course some of these contracts closed, but some of them did not; completely predictable for a gig-based enterprise such as mine.  Appreciative as I am for all these people, they are not the ones who fuel articles.

Once again, my encounters lead me to those out there who prefer to operate through endless counter-offers, both for price of service as well as what exactly those services should entail.  My favorite people. These genii wish to dictate what someone’s efforts are worth altogether, based on their uninformed opinion of how much they would be prepared to reward you. For example: “Can you bring hundreds of pounds of gear to a place, set it all up, work all day/night, then pack things up and bring it all back?  Let’s just discredit the thousands you’ve pumped into your education and equipment, completely forgetting the countless gigs that have moulded you into the professional that can offer me what I’m asking for. Does ten bucks an hour plus dinner and a drink sound fair?” Slap me with that undervalue, daddy.

The willingness to find a solution that suits them is comprehensible; I would never expect less, in fact.  That is every client’s reality: to find their best deal possible; most bang for the least buck. I also understand that exchanging ideas to save costs is an important part of the discussion for clients’ budget, and there can always be compromises made for equipment, location, props, etc.  Equipment costs are usually the first thing I look at to shave at least 10-20% off a budget anyways. And there are other factors we can discuss that can help cut even more if we are creative enough.

You will note that I have not yet used the term, “negotiation.”  The reason is, at this stage of the discussion, companies like mine will have already offered pricing and explanation for the service part of the invoice, pricing which is not “up for debate” as it were.  To reiterate, I am determined to find ways to cut costs if need be, and if not can happily refer to people/places who charge less if it comes to that. I usually even try to throw in a small token regardless of whether or not the contract closes: a proposed input list for all their instruments; a stage layout for musician/equipment placement; a potential angle or shot list for a photo/video job; hooking them up with a great contact who can help them.  Just a lil’ taste.

What I feel needs clarification, however, is that professionals being told what they do/don’t need to do the job at the caliber requisitioned does not motivate anyone to charge less.  Nor should it, contrarily, inspire a less-than-adequate service or product. All it will do is serve to upset both parties involved in the process of explanation and solution finding. “Why, yes, I did receive my certification for studying in this field.  Yes, I do also have hundreds of hours of work experience! Yes, I am definitely qualified enough to determine a fair price for the time and effort you require from my team!! Sorry, I should charge how much less?”

This is not healthy.  This is not productive.  This is poisonous to what can otherwise be an efficient business discussion wherein we determine what both parties can offer to one another.  My goal when discussing potential contracts is to have clients understand 100% of the following: what we can offer, how we can do it, how all this is advantageous to them, and what kind of costs they may expect as a result.  If I have efficiently communicated to them all of the above, then great because the rest is just out of my hands. I will not start judging how clients should value each of their dollars as it is in no way my place to do so (sadly the 73 Studios Financial Co-Op team hasn’t been put together yet, and Manulife hasn’t gotten back to me so far).

Similarly, prospective customers seeking expertise in a field which they have none should understand that they have no place lecturing a business about how they think said business should operate, fiscally or otherwise.  Should they feel the need to do so, they may consider pursuing similar education as the pros have, acquiring years of experience in the field, then re-evaluating their opinion and trying again. They may be surprised to see that while some companies do indeed overcharge for the product they offer, many are more interested in the artistic vision than raking in “tha dollas,” and therefore they charge very fairly for an above-average quality of service.  Not saying 73 Studios is the final word in artistic vision; just saying we were both artists before we got into the art business, so we try to do unto artists as artists would have done unto them. “Oh cool a religious reference! Do you think I can record my Christian Metal band’s EP for 20% off?”

That’s actually how a lot of us get into business in the first place.  We see potential for a creative vision or method that has not been implemented in our area of interest, we learn how to do it ourselves, then execute to the best of our abilities.  That’s what motivated me to do it, anyways. I took a deep look at music and video production in my area and said, “Man there are some real visionaries in this town, they inspire me to be a part of this community!  But I can definitely do this much much better than like half the other companies out there with even less tools.” Am I the absolute best at what I do on the planet? Likely not. Do I have much to learn and more gear to acquire? Yuh-doy.  Am I going to charge somewhat less for any of these reasons? Probably, yeah. Do I want to pay my rent, eat and be able to feed my crew? Also yes. Does that surprise you? Really?? Ok, I have a solution! Don’t pay your bills. Don’t eat or feed your family or drive your car either, for two weeks.  That way, you can gain two things: perspective, plus the means to actually pay for what you’re asking. Still too expensive? “I’m ordering your Uber as we speak, sir.”

To read more by Mike Gerbasi click here.

Mike Gerbasi is a Montreal based musician and sound engineer who co-runs his own audiovisual production company, 73 Studios.  You can find his bands, The Feedbackers and the Task Managers, on Apple Music and Spotify.