The Heat Beat:  When Phoenix Radio Inspires Your Career

by Jess Szabo

What does it mean to be an independent artist or contractor? 

    Previously, The Heat Beat shifted from discussing the music we listen to, to addressing those who create the music and host the music programs. This month, we continue our series for those whose enjoyment of Phoenix Radio has inspired them to work in the music industry, with a look at the differences between working as an employee, and working as an independent artist.

    If you are hired as an independent artist, you do not have a job. You have a client of your business as an independent artist.

    This means you are responsible for deducting 20-30% of each check you get and setting it aside. This is the amount of money you will need for your taxes. At the end of the year, your client will give you a copy of the 1099 tax form they also submitted to the IRS. When you file your taxes, you will probably need an additional $100 for the fee most tax preparation companies charge to file your taxes as an independent business person.

   If you are hired as an employee, you have a job working for that company or organization.

    Make sure you fill out a W-4 form. This allows the employer to take taxes out of your check. You do not have to file a 1099 form at the end of the year, unless you do additional work outside the job. Your employer will give you a W-2 form at the end of the year. Many tax preparation companies offer free online tax filing for those who only have a W-2 form and meet certain income requirements. If you are not given a W-4 form when they hire you, then you do not have a job with the company.

   Employees’ schedules are controlled by their employers.

   Once you start working as someone’s employee, they have every right to tell you what days and times you need to show up for work. They must follow labor laws in terms of breaks and lunch hours, but within the law, they have the right to set limits. You can be fired for showing up late, taking a long lunch without permission, or taking fifteen minute breaks when you are scheduled for ten.

    Independent artists control their own schedule.

   Treating an independent contractor as an employee is illegal. The client is not allowed to ask you to punch a clock or come in at a certain time, unless you have agreed to provide time sensitive content. A DJ who agreed to provide a show from 7AM until noon every Tuesday has to show up at the radio station or podcast studio ready to go on the air or online at seven and remain on the air until noon whether they’re a staff member or an independent artist. They can’t fire you in that they can’t tell you that you are no longer a DJ  or program host professionally. But they can terminate the work you do for them, meaning you no longer have a paying client.

    Employees must adhere to staff expectations.

     Dress codes and day to day expectations can be set by employers. If everyone has to wear a blue shirt, you have to wear one too. If the whole staff pitches in to answer the phone or clean the bathroom, you have to do it too. You are part of the company.

     Independent workers are only there for the project they are working on.

     If you are at a club to perform a set of original songs, you are not there to answer the phone. If you are there to write for them, it is not your job to mop the break room floor. The only work you should be asked to do as an independent worker is that which is outlined in your written agreement.

      Employees get perks and benefits.

    Perks and benefits will vary by job of course, but as an employee, you may be offered anything from health insurance and retirement savings programs to gym memberships, free food in the break room, and discounts at partner businesses. You can expect to be included on teams or retreats offered to people at your level and in your department.

    Independent artists do not get perks and benefits.

     Health insurance and savings are entirely your responsibility as an independent worker. As for the little things, the employer may extend the offers to you if they wish, but never assume you are welcome to the employee lounge, or that you will be invited along on a staff retreat. You are not staff, and cannot expect to be treated like a staff member.

    The decision to hire yourself out as an independent artist or find a job as part of a business’ staff will depend on your career needs. Much of the time, the work itself will determine your role. Most musicians, DJs, and event/program hosts are hired by local businesses for individual shows or series of shows as independent artists. Teaching jobs may be either, depending on whether you are hired as faculty or as a guest lecturer or workshop leader. But regardless of the work you are being offered, this should be one of the first details you learn before accepting the work.

Lockwood Law

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