Hello and Welcome to the final chapter of this exploration of my time as the Resident harpist at the Hilton Cardiff and everything I learnt during the 22 months there.
This final section is devoted to everything I learnt from my time and what I would’ve done differently given the opportunity.
So, we shall start with what I learnt.
The main thing I learnt was WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN!!! This was the down fall of getting out of this gig was that I had no written confirmation of bookings so when they said ‘We don’t want you anymore’ I had no formal writing to back up me billing them for cancelling bookings. which is a shame. If you find yourself in a contract-less informal gig like this get every single booking in writing the month before because otherwise you get screwed on the dismount.
I learnt that you need to throw your weight around and ask for what you want. Unfortunately I never actually applied this to my work there but I learnt that you need to do it next time around. otherwise you don’t get treated like a person.
The two most important things I learnt were; firstly, these people are not your friends. They are not. They are a big company or hotel chain or whatever your particular situation may be, they are not your friends asking you to help them out. They are not your friends asking you to play for a charity. They aren’t a charity you care about and want to volunteer your time for. They are a business and, guess what? Surprise, surprise, YOU are a business. This is the most important thing to remember. If you come off as a total butthead who has insane demands that might be a little intimidating… so maybe not a full 10/10 but a cool 7 or 8/10 when you have meetings and reassessments is important. During my time I was too busy hoping they didn’t fire me that a year and a half in I was still being paid £30 and cancelling more lucrative work because I felt I had some sort of ‘duty’ to this place I ‘Worked’.
Secondly, I learnt that it’s important to perform as if you’re getting fired that week! I spent too long being a quiet singer and trying not to be too loud and when I finally knew my time was coming to a close (I guessed, they actually were very rude and abrupt with cancelling their bookings with me, more on that later.) I started performing! Really performing and I got applause every time because I wasn’t just playing in the corner.
What I would’ve Done Differently:
This is very easy looking back and I could just say one word,
When you start a grown up job you are given a contract, you have a trial period of about 6 months and then you are either let go or given the job. Now, in the free-lance world it’s a little different because gigs don’t usually last for 22 months, but a contract for work that you are going to be doing is important if you’re going to be there. It happens with Music in Hospitals and it happens with some of my private events that I will get contracts and confirmation before the event. If you’re going to be doing a residency that’s longer than six months at an international company, get a contract! You can actually get some form of basic benefits! set dates, set hours, a definite beginning and end date, sick pay, maybe a discount to the gym! All I wanted was a discount to the gym and not to have to come in when I’ve just thrown up. Which, for the record, happened twice… I threw up in the morning or was incredibly sick, came in for my two hours and went home to throw up some more or continue being ill and had to do it all again on the Sunday. Honestly, if you’re been at a place for almost an entire year at that point you deserve to be able to not have to suffer through that. Similarly, you can actually get some advertising and acknowledgment for your work. At the Hilton they would just advertise with ‘Our resident Harpist’ as if they had 5 or 6 on rotation… nope, it was just me. and for their Mother’s Day advertising this year (after being there a year I asked them to put my name next to the advert and they did).
This brings be to my second thing I would’ve done differently, it links to them not being your friend.
THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND!
Throw it! You want to come into the restaurant and have a space specifically for you. THROW YOUR WEIGHT AROUND And tell them that they need to do that before you get there. You want a glass of water waiting for you every week? THROW YOUR WEIGHT! make a member of staff cry! why not?! …actually… don’t do that… that’s a little extreme. However, the one thing I would have done differently is not been afraid to make a lot of noise about what I wanted and what I needed to be able to work. I spent too long trying to be quiet and liked and hoping that people would hear me and they didn’t. Take up space! I find this is a real issue when I’m busking as well, I will be all alone in a big wide street and I will take up the smallest amount of space possible…and I play the harp… which is not a space saving instrument… They can make space for you. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you’re there every week…
The final thing I learnt was that I shouldn’t have given them priority over my other bookings. I didn’t take a lot of weddings this summer because I had already confirmed with the Hilton that I would be there every weekend in the summer as I thought I had some job security there due to the fact that they said I would be there after the refurbishments…. I was not and they didn’t give me any notice once the refurbishments were done. So I had turned down better paying work for something I had thought was more permanent.
If they are not going to give you any benefits or any real reason to give them priority over other bookings that may come your way, then don’t give them it. It’s a give and take and during my time at the Hilton I gave far more that I took.
Next time, here are my demands:
(this is a small collection of things I will be, at the very least, asking for if I get another residency)
- I want a Latte waiting for me every time I come in. I screwed it up only asking for water, I want a Latte and if it’s late afternoon I want a G&T.
- I want a Gym membership and unlimited access to the pool…. Not a discount, a full membership, I might not even use it but I will ask for one!
- a raise every year. This is a serious one, I didn’t ask and I didn’t get. The childhood saying ‘Want doesn’t get’ is wrong, you need to be able to say to whoever is in charge of you ‘I want a raise’.
- my car cleaned every month… you have a valet… one of them has a vacuum cleaner somewhere and I’m very VERY lazy and don’t wanna do it myself…
- SICK PAY! I want to not have to come to work when I’m sick, I get sick once a year and it’s a horrible nightmare. I don’t want to have to come to work with the flu. Very simple and basic employment right really…
- Advertising/Promotion. I got none of this at the Hilton, with it’s thousands of twitter followers and facebook likes, I would’ve loved a mention monthly, bi-annually…EVER!
- I want a chair waiting for me, even if I brought my own chair, I want one waiting for me. or at the very least a designated space.
- I want all the staff to know me and fear me. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single person who worked there that I didn’t email. I was at the Hilton Cardiff for 22 months (1 year, 10 months) and I don’t know anyone’s name who worked there. The Valets that I had witty banter with every week, the bar staff… the lounge manager… couldn’t tell you! So next time around I would like all the staff to know my name and be very fearful of my vengeful wrath! like a 16th century church sort of fearful! I want them to know that I could get them fired for looking at me funny…. again, this is a ridiculous request that is a joke and would never be brought to an actual business meeting. But in an ideal world I would like the staff to be a little afraid of me so they don’t walk so damn close to where I’m playing. Honestly, the Hilton was a mess, they would put me in stupid places where large parties would have to walk past and there was around two feet of room between me and the closest table, wheelchairs, pushchairs, groups of 15 people would all have to come right past me through this tiny gap because they didn’t thing of just bringing them the other way round the restaurant to make life easy… because they didn’t FEAR ME! so… it makes sense now doesn’t it!
- The ability to stay and/or work anywhere I wanted for free… I wish this had happened when I was working at a large multi-national hotel chain where the staff can actually do that. They can work anywhere in the world… I talked to one girl who had worked at the Birmingham Hilton…. WILD and far fetched I know! But anyway, I would’ve really enjoyed being able to do that! Take my harp and play all over the world! how fun would that have been!!!
- scheduled breaks. It’s really awkward when you’re playing and you stop. So the solution to this, in my mind, is to just keep playing… and I did for the first year, I played for two hours straight, like a crazy person! In my next residency I want scheduled, union mandated breaks. Like a person and not an animal in a circus.
I think I covered everything… I’m sure I’ll add things as I learn and grown as a professional. The most important thing to remember is, you are a person not a commodity. you are not a dancing monkey they throw peanuts at, you are a well trained, experienced musician who deserves more.
That’s all folks!