Gig Business, Using GigSalad (Vendors)

How to Deal with Difficult Clients

By Matt Holland

Relationships have the potential to bring life, joy, hope, humor, and fulfillment, whether that be with family, friends, or business clients. They can also be one of the most difficult parts of life. The unique client relationships that develop can bring about unique problems. Most events you’re a part of are special, once-in-a-lifetime events. With that much pressure and trust involved, issues can easily arise. Knowing how to deal with difficult clients is necessary to be successful in the entertainment industry. Here are a few tips to help you navigate those situations.


Always ask, what’s really going on?

Every difficult client has a reason behind their behavior. Oftentimes, that reason has nothing to do with you. There’s a good chance they’re grappling with stress around the event or perhaps it’s an unrelated issue altogether. When you find yourself in situations like these, put yourself in your client’s shoes and ask, “What could be going on in their life?”

You’ll probably never know the answer to that question, but it demonstrates how much you care. Showing empathy to an upset client is always the first step to take. You may be surprised how quickly an issue is diffused simply by listening.


Kindness goes a long way.

Whatever you do, don’t retaliate with anger. When someone is raising their voice or sending seemingly rude messages, the worst thing you can do is respond in the same way. Remember to take a deep breath, stay calm, and listen. Your clients are your customers, and although you won’t always see eye to eye, it’s important to remember that this is their event and their memories.

Express to the client that you understand their frustrations and needs. If you’re responding in writing, make sure that your messages come across as kind. It’s always a good practice to communicate with respect, no matter what situation you’re dealing with.


Clear communication can prevent most problems.

Most issues can be stopped before they begin. Communicating clearly with clients throughout the entire booking process can keep problems at bay. Be available and quick to respond to questions, and make sure all expectations are entirely understood.

It’s a good practice to set reminders for yourself to reach out. To avoid problems, be proactive and plan to contact the client a few weeks as well as a few days prior to the gig. Showing that you’re organized and on top of things will offer relief to clients who may be prone to worry.


Remember to stay humble.

Sometimes, mistakes happen. We all mess up. When a problem is caused by your own doing, the best thing to do is own it. Be honest and take responsibility. Don’t let ego and pride get in the way. If a disgruntled client leaves a poor review, take it as an opportunity to show how you rectified the situation. People are usually quick to forgive when confronted with humility and honesty, and that shows other potential clients your character.


Be honest about your capabilities.

Is the client making unreasonable requests? Be honest with them, but be respectful. Sometimes a difficult client may not understand what’s being communicated or simply has unrealistic expectations. Ask questions to get to the bottom of the issue. They may need some sound advice or direction, and who better to offer it than an expert like yourself!

Knowing how to deal with a difficult client could mean saving a relationship that may lead to years of gigs and opportunities. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to cultivate that relationship, and be mindful of how you’re speaking with them. You can be the greatest magician, songwriter, or face painter in the world, but if you don’t know how to deal with people, you’re limiting your potential.

As Jerry Weintraub, entertainment industry guru and John Denver’s personal manager, once said,

“Relationships are the only thing that matter in business, in life.”


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  1. Joe June 12, 2017

    If the client is too difficult, cut them loose, especially if they are not generating much of your revenue. It’s not worth the wasted mental energy and resource investment. The 80/20 Rule dictates that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients (usually happy repeat customers) and 96% of your revenue comes from 40% of your clients (trust me, I did the math). That means the other 60% of your clients are only accounting for 4% of your bottom line. If you have difficult clients in that 60% of low return on investment clients, don’t hesitate to politely decline working with them. It won’t dramatically impact your income but will save you tons of stress and headaches. Plus, if that difficult client then goes to your competitor instead, that helps you, because the client will then be usurping your competition’s bandwidth and causing them headaches.

  2. Johnny Kealoha Pal June 12, 2017

    If a client gives early signs of being overcontrolling, substituting his/her bias re music selection or how to entertain, unless they’re paying goo gobs for the excess emotional harassment, politely and respectfully decline. That is unless you think they will feel more relaxed once they see you ploy your entertainment skillset in action. I personally do not like to be hassled or directed by someone who lacks experience in entertaining or who is just a meddling misfit. It also impacts your attitude knowing there is an elephant in the room.

    However I haven’t had to deal with twits like that for some time as I generally play for Hawaiian venues. It seems that the client immediately subscribes to the pleasant sense of aloha and get’s that “hang loose” thing goin.

    Happy entertaining
    Johnny Kealoha Pal

    • Diane June 15, 2017

      As a talent coordinator, our office sees that a lot of you musicians go through the same nonsense from difficult/ musically ignorant clients.

      We commend all of you for putting up with these difficult talent buyers.

      Musically/ production ignorant civilian talent buyers have fantasy/ ideas in their heads. They think $150 would suffice in making their music entertainment fantasy a reality. They have no idea know how much each element would cost.

      They think they have instantly become a show producer – since they are putting on entertainment and booking talent. They pat themselves on their back saving money by not hiring an event planner. OR, an event planner might pat themselves on their back for being a music producer/ director of a concert.

      They fail to see that what they envisioned in their head actually costs thousands of dollars in reality. They only spend hundreds. Then they wonder why the music performance didn’t turn out like how they had fantasized/envisioned.

      They complain , thinking “I hired a violinist/ saxophonist/ but why didn’t it sound/ look grandiose”?

      One answer would be because the record company hired an orchestra for the single, this is what one hears when they pop in a CD. And often, because the buyer likes violin, they think hiring ONE violinist for $150 would do the trick. Then they hear what it sounds like in reality and they complain to the musician.

      We see many musicians that have gone through this scenario while working for CIVILIAN talent buyers.

  3. Neil June 12, 2017

    Managing expectations from the first contact can certainly make for an easier client relationship.

    If a problem comes up, I’ve found that if the person sounds a little nervous when calling to complain about some aspect, acknowledging that ‘it must have been hard to make this call’ can open up the communication and you can talk about what really is at the heart of the issue, and how they would like to have it handled.

    However some clients are disappointed in what you provided despite never explaining what was wanted or telling you ideas than what they actually wanted. Having everything spoken about or written about (emails, texts, mail, notes in person) on written down and hand to explain what they’d actually said can clarify issues.

    Some are just jerks trying to take advantage of you.

    I’ve found that charging a bit more for your service than you’re actually comfortable with can eliminate clients who later become problems – and if someone is really pressuring you to lower your price, they are probably going to be a PITA (Pain in the ***) the whole time and not worth working with, even if they present it as a ‘great opportunity’ – or especially if they present it as a ‘great opportunity’!

    I used to do a lot of graphic design and when I doubled my prices per hour I thought I’d probably lose 1/3 of my clients – but I actually got more clients and they all treated me better.

    I know music is slightly different, many venues just don’t have the budgets they should have – and if someone just doesn’t have the budget for your asking price/range, you can negotiate a ‘special discount’ for them, but consider whether this is a good enough venue or audience to make up for a discounted price.

  4. CARA June 12, 2017

    What Joe wrote helped!
    Difficult clients are grumpy people who naturally criticize -and ask for the heaven while paying dirt rates.

    Certain nationality applies. There are people who still think musicians should work for $50-100 because musicians seem ” to be having a good time while working and what they do looks easy, therefore, why should musicians be paid for goofing around at work?”

    Since Joe did the math and now I see gig income differently. The negative reviews make up 10% of the total reviews. Joe is right.

    The difficult clients are little off to deal with from the beginning- with the way they communicate ( usually there is none, then blame musicians afterwards), their demeanor and hospitality. But we need the work and so go forth. But the end result turns out badly.


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