Hilton Cardiff Residency, Part 1. Starting Out.

Welcome, In this Three Part Series we will look back at my time as the resident harpist at the Hilton Cardiff and everything I learnt in that time.

Let’s go back to January 2015, I was busking next to Natwest of Queen Street and the lounge manager saw me and gave me his card.

A note about being an unemployed/self-employed musician just starting out is that you are always free to reply to emails and you think people taking more than an hour to respond is ridiculous.

So there was an email exchange and they had me in to play a trial. for three hours…. for free…. Firstly, If someone wants you there for a trial and aren’t going to pay you, only play for 30 minutes. Because if you are playing for three hours and they don’t want you then you have just waisted three hours working for free… and not in a ‘I’m playing a charity concert because I’m a good person’ “playing for free” way.

Think of it as any other profession, for example, if I were only going there as restaurant staff and they had be for three hours and didn’t pay me then that would be a ridiculous thing to do to a human being.

A (much more reasonable) 30 minute trial is what I did for Cathedral 73, and then they paid me for my time afterwards. The Hilton, did not. and it would’ve been fine if it had been an hour, but Three is a red-flag! and I should’ve known better. But I didn’t, because I was a young musician earning £200 a week busking on the street with a £500 harp that you couldn’t flick the levers and had to re-tune to change key. If you are going to do a trial there you need to be paid for your time, even if they hated you, you need to be compensated for them waisting your Saturday afternoon.

They booked me for another trial later that month in what turned out to be a private event…

Anyway, two months past and in March they booked me for Mother’s Day, for a four hour day split between myself and a pianist. From my performance, and because they couldn’t get the baby grand piano into the restaurant, I was booked for a regular spot, Saturdays and Sundays 2-4pm. I was paid £30 an hour, which at the time was a get! (Let’s remember during my first year of being a self-employed free-lance musician I made £8,000… and was charging around £50 for a wedding ceremony because my degree taught be the entire history of wagner and not what I should be charging for a standard event…)

On special occasions I charged £40 an hour for the four hours I was there a week, which was great for me! I had just come out of University and had no idea how to do business and ensure that I was treated properly. Similarly, they took 4 months to pay me at first. I started on 15th March and wasn’t paid until July. This late a payment could’ve been charged at 8% inflation for late payment but at that point I was more concerned about being liked and keeping hold of this job.

It wasn’t till one year later that I realised how raw a deal I had gotten.


Next week: Things Fall a Part… The Good-ish, The Bad and The ‘I’ve worked here for over a year now…’


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