The Songwriter's Dog Bowl: or, Why I Charge Extra for PSD Files

July 09, 2014

Admit it—you're mesmerized by this GIF of Dr. Hartman. 
Let's say you're a musician who's writing a song for an up-and-coming band.

You've put together some sick lyrics, a guitar solo that'll melt the Devil's face off, and a slammin' hook. You help the band record the track and by the end of the process, you're proud of the result. The song represents your style and your abilities well. Hell, it's so solid that you don't feel like you should change a thing about it.

(You're probably realizing that I don't actually know how song writing/producing works—just keep suspending that disbelief for me, capiche?)

A couple days later, the band tells you that they want to make a few small changes to the track and that if you give them the files and the studio for a few hours, they'll do it themselves and spare you the trouble. Sounds like a good deal, right? You hand over the files and key and let them do what they want to do. After all, it's only a few small changes.

A few days later, the lyric video premieres on Youtube. In the "about" box is a credit line with your name and website; can't miss it. Pumped, you press the play button and rack the volume up. People are going to love what you did with Zombie Hamster Metal. You just know it.

And then you realize that you done fucked up.

It's up to you whether this plays out externally or internally.

It's not necessarily that the changes are horrific—it's that the details which made the song a source of pride have been replaced with things which don't reflect you, your expertise, or your existing body of work.

Friend, the reason you're feeling this way because your name is plastered on something you weren't 100% responsible for. Yes, you technically created it; but in making those changes without your input, the band turned it into one hugely misleading advertisement for your services.

What are you supposed to do? Beg the band to add a disclaimer about how you arranged everything except for the chord progressions around 1:25-1:35, the bizarre octave jumps on the guitar solo, and the erratic harmonization throughout the entirety of the song? That's ridiculous; of course you can't do that. If you try to take matters into your own hands by going around and pointing these facts out to anyone who'll listen, you'll going to look like a total ass.

No, the best you can do it politely distance yourself from and/or downplay your involvement with the work.

 That shit is going to be permanent.

And it sucks.

But what sucks even more is when it's well known that you write that band's music. No one knows that the guys took some last-minute liberties on Hamster Wheel of Doom. Everyone—including your potential clients—will assume that every last aspect of the song was, quite literally, orchestrated by YOU.

Now, let's say you design dog bowls. Your client wants ten bowls of similar size and shape, so you spend a considerable amount of time designing the first bowl. The work that went into creating the first bowl is now the boilerplate template necessary to create the remaining nine bowls.

You figure that when billing the client, you'll spread the cost of developing that initial boilerplate template (i.e. the hardest part of the process) over all ten bowls (which are easier to create now that you have that template to expand upon) instead of making the first bowl significantly more expensive than the rest. The client pays for the first bowl on this basis and surprisingly requests a copy of the source file; so not wanting to lose their business by being too uptight, you oblige.

I'm not saying that this is guaranteed to happen and that all people are jerks, but seriously—don't be surprised if that client uses your source file to create those remaining nine dog bowls themselves or with a designer who will do it for less. Hell, don't be surprised if the client starts using that source file for their cat bowls too.

To them, it's smart business. To you, it's an unmitigated nightmare.

"Ow! BITCH!"

To me, PSD files are sacred. Releasing them into the wild means that I run the risk of having my design abilities perpetually misrepresented, losing out on the opportunity to provide revisions down the line, and experiencing the ultimate double whammy—having my work used as a template for subsequent designs that I was supposed to create and get paid for.

I shit you not, hundreds of dollars are at stake when a designer hands over their PSD file. Changes to my design could negatively influence potential client's opinion of my work and cost me their business—it's no trivial thing.

So I try to account for all of these possibilities in the my PSD pricing. My thinking is that $100, while certainly not enough to cover the damage of a badly edited design to my reputation, is definitely better than nothing. Besides, that means it's far less expensive to pay me for extra revision time (which is really in both of our best interests).

I want to end this little story time by telling you that these things have only happened to me a few times and weren't all that devastating when they did. Overall, my clients are kick-ass people...and I'm thankful for that. *thumbs up*

I'm also thankful for this desecration of a song from my favorite album.

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