It’s a problem for anyone who owns a studio. You get a call from a band, and they want to book some time. You put it on the calendar, and look forward to working with the band. The day before the session, you get the call. The guitar player can’t get the day off work. They need to reschedule. You’re a good guy, so you work with them. Two weeks later, the morning of the session, the call comes. The bass player had to go out of town. And so on.
Where did you go wrong?
There are numerous ways to avoid this problem, let’s start by talking about the most obvious one, the deposit.
Many studios require a deposit, maybe 25% or 50% of the first day’s rate. This can work well, but it’s not enough.
You need to explain to the band that booking time is like booking a plane ticket. There’s no refund, no changes. If something comes up, and they can give you at least 2 weeks notice, you might be able to reschedule. After that, they forfeit the deposit. You have to be working to keep your studio open. If they cancel at the last minute, the odds that you can book something into that slot get slim. They need to understand this. They wouldn’t book a trip and buy a plane ticket without getting the day off from work, right?
Some bands have financial issues. In this case, you can always do a layaway plan. They give you what they have, and once they have enough for a deposit, you book the date, making sure they will be able to pay the remainder. They can even continue making payments if they prefer. You can use Paypal to automatically collect small payments every month, or the band can drop by with some cash.
You’re going to need some decent bookkeeping to track this stuff. You can simply create a folder for each band with a piece of paper in it, and write down the payments they’ve made, etc. Just don’t screw it up.
Another issue that can come up concerns booking hours or days, then not using all of them. You’ll have to think hard about this. If a band comes in and puts down a deposit for three days, then knocks out their tracks in one, do you refund them some money, and sit there with the studio unbooked for two days?
Personally, I’d ask that they book the days they will need and no more. This may be difficult, but usually work can expand to fill the time available. If they need more time, they’ll have to book it, possibly for weeks or months out. They need to understand this possibility, and book enough time to finish. Help them plan, give your best estimate, and be honest.
Another thing that can help is booking days, or half days, as opposed to hourly rates. Tell them that the day starts at 9 am, and ends at 9 pm, or whatever you’ve decided. They buy a day, they pay for a day, extra hours are at your discretion, at a rate that’s maybe 25% more than the day rate. If you do 12 hours at $480, that’s $40/hour. If they want to stay longer, those extra hours are $50/hour. Go higher if you really hate super long days (I do!)
If the day ends up being a bit short, they still pay the full day rate, unless you want to give them a break, so they can go home, and you can leave. That should be your call, you’re planning your month around these days being booked at the full rate. Discounts are going to cut into your profit, so be careful here.
You have to convey to your clients that your studio isn’t just a fun hobby, it’s a business, and if you don’t get paid, you don’t eat. If they are having you hold a date, you can’t sell that day to someone else.
If you take your studio business seriously, clients will take you seriously, too. I’ve worked in studios where the owners were easy going, not too concerned about getting paid up front, didn’t mind if you canceled, etc, and I have to say, I thought of those studios as amateur operations. The guys who were strict about the money were the ones I respected, and those were the facilities that I most enjoyed working at, too.