While contract agreements may not seem very punk rock, they are an essential piece of every musician's self-care game.
Though we are lucky to have the pleasure of working in a social industry that's becoming more ethically conscious in 2022, most cringe-worthy stories about underpaid or unpaid gigs come about because artists didn't have the necessary contract(s) to back them up. Performance contracts will help alleviate the conflict between parties so everyone is on the same page. If there's an agreement in writing, you’ll save yourself and the venue potential time, anxiety, and lost earnings because of the protection afforded by the contract, so you might as well learn to love them. Let's start 2022 by setting a strong example on how to do business!
Musicians have a right to ask for a contract
Many artists are afraid of discussing contractual details because they’re afraid that venues won’t book them, but that’s not the case anymore. Some venues don’t offer them because of their smaller size or laid-back style, but you should always ask if you feel it’s necessary.While it's a bit of a red flag if a venue or promoter doesn't want to confirm your agreement, you can still take the initiative to offer a draft document to speed the process along. It’ll show a level of professionalism on your part and keep you in good company.Venues also benefit from having a contract, especially when it comes to last-minute cancellations or venue equipment damage, which makes it extra weird if they don't want one. You’re playing in someone's establishment in exchange for money and you never know what unpredictable circumstances could come up.
What to put in a music contract
Get the most out of your contract and make sure nothing is missed by covering all your basic information; this includes all relevant parties' names and business information; dates and times of performances; fees and the payment date. Include any expectations and equipment requirements plus any minimum ticket sale requirements so everyone is in the loop. Include any potential liabilities for performing, equipment or cancellations, just in case someone cancels last minute or equipment gets damaged during a show. Dot the t’s, cross the i’s and don't forget to get signatures(hope you were reading closely to see what we did there).*The scale of the gig will dictate the length of the contract.
What about a verbal agreement?
A verbal agreement between two parties is considered as an effective legally binding contract in the UK, though it is much harder to argue than a written contract and the burden of proof lies with the person bringing the claim. Because of the lack of written terms and undefined grey areas, you may walk away with much less than the initially promised amount.
Written records and traces
The music scene is famously built on a laid-back social component consisting of handshakes and gigs booked in the most random settings. We get that you’re trying to make friends and not come on too strong, but it's just good business to take suitable steps to protect yourself in case you need to supply proof in a situation.This could take the form of emails, written accounts of conversations, photos of the damage, or pictures of fliers or your band playing at an event.
Conversing via email or text message
Every time you reach a verbal agreement that isn't in the contract, make sure you send an email to the venue or promoter confirming the discussed details. Always leave it open-ended so you warrant an affirmative response.
Maintain a work diary
One of the great ways to flesh out a lack of contractual obligations is to keep a work diary on your phone, with the dates, times of said conversations, agreed terms, and any photo evidence of equipment, etc. that correspond with your story.Maintaining a diary could be a life-saver if you ever need proof to follow up on agreements such as the payment amount for performance or whether or not you agreed to play a gig for free (because apparently, you’re a saint who doesn't like money).