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Why I Stopped Bringing Checks and Cash to Performances

Jared Judge

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Being the leader of a musical group comes with a whole slew of non-musical administrative tasks, and most of them seem to revolve around money. For some reason, money (particularly paying other members of a group) is one of the most difficult and uncomfortable aspects for musicians to deal with.

When I started my string quartet Dream City Music, I wanted to treat my musicians well by being as clear as possible about payment. I knew that if I got payment right, my performers would respect me and would be loyal to the group because they could count on timely payment. I've played for enough groups to know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of shady practices such as not being told how much a gig pays up front, or not being paid on time.

So for my group, after booking a gig I would create a budget with the booking amount. I determined how much would go back to administration and marketing, then budget the remainder to the performers. I made it a point to always tell each performer the dollar amount the gig paid, and how and when they would receive it (check on the music stand at the gig).

This plan worked well for the first few performances, but as the group grew, this introduced a few problems. As we started doing 5 performances in a given weekend, I would be writing upwards of 20 or more checks. This simply took too much time – and my hand would cramp from writing! But, there was another problem: I wasn't going to be at each performance.

I tried to solve this by mailing out checks, but this introduced a new cost (envelopes and stamps), and it also caused some stressful moments when the check didn't arrive on time. I had musicians question me if I had even sent them out.

I decided to try something completely different, and I started using Venmo. Every Monday following a performance weekend, I would sit at the computer for about a half hour and I would Venmo each and every performer that played the previous weekend.

This worked much better than checks because I didn't have to rely on the mail, and I could go much faster being that it was all digital. It was awesome!

But then the worst happened: I got sick and couldn't complete my weekly Venmo session on time. As you could imagine, I had an angry mob of musicians with pitchforks coming after me. Well, figuratively.

This one unpreventable mistake set back all the trust and respect I had earned. I realized that what I thought to be a perfect system had one glaring hole: I had to be as consistent and reliable as a computer to make it work.

When I realized that I could never be as consistent as a computer, I had the biggest ah-ha moment: what if I could have a computer automatically pay my musicians? It could automatically know who to pay, how much, and when to pay. Then, like clockwork, it would send all the funds to each musician's bank account on time. I would be the best-paying group leader of all time!

I decided to make this my number-one priority and put it in the app I had already built to manage my group. Once I did this, I saved literally hours of time each week.

All I had to do was set up a performance in the app and add my musicians to the performance. That's it. The app made it easy for my musicians to set up direct deposit through Stripe (which is the same payment system that Uber uses to pay its drivers).

Once the performance happened, the app would automatically pay the musicians from the client's payments. The musicians got an email notification, and then they could check their bank account and the money would already be in there.

Setting this up took about 2 minutes per performance instead of the hours it used to take. Saving this much time has meant I am able to spend more time marketing my group and getting more gigs, which is why I'm so excited to share it with other musicians!

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