Question on freelance design

From my mail:

Since I graduated from design school two years ago, I’ve been doing some freelance projects here and there [as well as] posting some random work on my site. Recently, I was approached by the manager of a singer who’s recently been signed to a major record label. He is looking to see if I would be interested in designing a few pieces for them to use for photoshoots, appearances, music videos etc and asked me to send him some of my work. I told him that I was concerned about trusting people who approach me through the internet and since then, he has been very helpful in answering all my questions and addressing concerns I have. I asked him how I would protect my work since they are located in the states and I am located in Canada. He advised me of how it works over there but I don’t know how different the laws are here in Canada. Is it as simple as finding a laywer to write up a contract?

I guess it could be as easy as hiring a lawyer. I don’t know. I’m not sure I understand what it is that they want. They want to see product sketches or they want to see what sketches you come up with on prospect? By on prospect, I mean they want you to sketch some ideas, and then you ship them off so they have the luxury of looking them over, and then deciding whether they want to buy them? I wouldn’t do that. The “protection” wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on. Assuming you had copyright protection, you have to prove damages. Technically, you’re only damaged if they made money on the deal. If they just made costumes for the guy, they didn’t make any money so you have no damages. You couldn’t find a lawyer to take the case, not across borders. With no damages, you’d never recover what it’d cost you to bring suit. Now let’s say you didn’t do up sketches for them but just sent what you had lying around, you’d still have to prove damages if they borrowed your concepts. Again, if they only made onesies, twosies, they didn’t make money and you won’t recover anything to justify the cost of a lawsuit, assuming you could find somebody to take it.

Considering all of that, I wouldn’t send them any sketches I had or any I developed on prospect. They already like your style, if they want you to design specific to their purpose, get a retainer based on an hourly rate. So, in answer to your question, I don’t know why this manager isn’t doing a work for hire deal with you. The only protection you need is to get paid. If they’re serious, they should just hire you. What is it really going to cost them for you to come up with three sketches? Not much. If they’re serious and professional, they’ll should pay a retainer. Otherwise, your protection isn’t going to do anything for you.

Now, you can always decide to trust them and send them stuff -they could be genuinely good natured folks- but only do it with the understanding that you may get shafted. As long as you’re willing to accept that possibility, it could be a risk you’re willing to take. Although if you do get the job and they hire you, it’s not as though a freelance designer makes that much anyway.

Also, don’t let your head be swayed that this could be some kind of big break for you. Don’t assume that if you got the job that you’d get other work out of it. Don’t assume you’ll be their exclusive costume designer because they may trade up as the guy makes a name for himself. And, it’s not as though a star is going to tell other stars who designs his stuff anymore than a designer is willing to share her production resources. If you define their look, they won’t share you with anyone. So, get a retainer. If you don’t, and decide to send them stuff anyway, only do so if you can be at peace with the possibility that they can use your ideas and may not pay you for it. If they were serious and professional, they’d just hire you on retainer.

Zoe wrote an article about working as a freelance designer so see that one too. I really hope this works out for you. It sounds like an exciting possibility. If it worked out, there’s nothing to keep you from marketing yourself to other stars for wardrobe design.

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  1. marilynn says:

    I think when you ask for a retainer they’ll run. They’re just trying to exploit you for free stuff. If they tell you this will give you great “exposure”, tell them you’re “overexposed” and that you’re a business. They’ll just go on to the next designer they can find.

  2. Theresa says:

    If a photo shoot is involved they are going to hire a stylist , makeup artist etc. That is what AR departments do to develop a look for an artist. To be honest a lot of times designers don’t get paid for letting a celebrity use their designs. The people representing the celebrity think that you are getting your money worth with the free publicity. I know for people that kill to work with up and coming artist so they can get their name out and just get listed in the credits for the styles and you can put it in your press kit. Not saying you should put yourself in their shoes (just passing on info). Keep in mind do they have people available that can take your sketches then find the fabrics and then find someone to make it (that is a lot of work and they probably have to pay those people as well). Are they going to do all of that leg work? You can do a few things. Ask to be the stylist on set and have them pay you that way (stylist make a bunch of money). Or you can just request that you be listed in the credits and copies of all photos from the shoot and any other media using your designs (I would only do this if they say no to the stylist option). Or just pass and always that thought of “what if?” I wish you luck. Sounds like fun.

  3. Thomas Cunningham says:

    Initially I thought all the “star” business was worth having even if I didn’t make money on it. I’ve changed my mind. I just had a rock and roll guy of some fame (a very pleasant individual — not a jerk) make it plain that he wanted a custom suit virtually free — a year ago I might have spent the money as a “marketing” expense — not anymore. If they want it they’ll have to pay for it like everyone else — we’ll see how this helps/hurts my business.

    Overall, I don’t think the benefit from ‘star’ cachet outweighs the costs of giving stuff away or selling it too cheap.

  4. Shimmy says:

    This Website has been of great value to me since entering into the fashion industry. While my business is getting off the ground I have decided to freelance and the information provided in the blog has answered alot of my questions. Thanks

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