“Don’t talk to me about contracts, Wonka – I use them myself. They’re strictly for suckers.”
(Sam Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
A good quote from one of my favorite movies – but in all seriousness, contracts are definitely not for suckers. They’re actually for professionals who want to be smart in protecting all parties involved in a business agreement. In the music world today all too often we forgo using contracts either because we’re unsure of what to put in them or are worried that suggesting the use of a contract could be detrimental to our relationship with a potential client or venue. In reality, I think you’ll find that most clients will take your contract suggestion as a testament to your professionalism – or they might even tell you they have a contract of their own that they’d like to use. For small gigs a contract may not be necessary, and you can make a decision about that on a case-by-case basis, but as a general rule of thumb: where there is real money involved, always use a contract to protect yourself.
Below you’ll find a list of items that you might consider including in your performance contract. Keep in mind that not all of these items will be present in ever contract you sign. For some performances simply the date, time, location and pay for a gig will be sufficient. You can cater each contract to fit the performance.
– you can call it a Performance Contract, a Performance Agreement, a Booking Agreement, an Engagement Contract – or some combination of these terms.
Date, Time, Location
– easy right?
List Parties Involved
– To save yourself writing the same name over and over, at the top of your contract consider writing after the client’s name, hereinafter ‘the client’ and after your group’s name, hereinafter ‘the performer’.
– Specifics here should include whether a deposit is needed before the performance, when the final payment will be made, how it will be made (for example who the check should be made out to) and of course for how much.
– This means what type of music you’ll be providing, how long you will be performing for, as well as any planned set breaks.
– This is especially important for outdoor performances. For example, if the client cancels between 24 and 12 hours before the gig, the performer will get 50% of the fee. If the client cancels less than 12 hours before the gig, the performer will get 100% of the fee. Sometimes a client may want to put this under an “Act of God” category where no one is penalized should weather make a performance impossible.
Transportation, Lodging, Meals
– Will the client be covering any of these costs? If so, list specifics. Never assume if you’re playing at a party that you can eat and drink with the guests. It’s always better to ask beforehand and be safe.
Ability to Sell Merchandise
– In other words, can you sell your CD’s? Can you put out a merch table? It’s important to have this settled before the performance so there are no surprises.
– state whether or not the performance will be acoustic, and if not then who will be providing the sound system.
Signatures by Both Parties
– The most important item on any contract. If the contract has not been signed by all parties involved, consider it null and void.
As stated above, you’ll find that various items on your contract will change from gig to gig. Sometimes you may need to add additional items at the client’s request – such as particular attire for the band, or an announcement about a sponsor at an event.
Because the formal tone of a contract can be difficult to grasp if you’re not familiar with writing contracts, below are a few websites that offer templates for performance contracts that will help you to get started in coming up with your own template for your performances. Also doing a Google search for “performance contract template” will yield many results.
In conclusion, although it might be a bit uncomfortable at first, I encourage you to start using contracts with all of your clients where a decent amount of money is involved. Most musicians who use contracts religiously do so because they were completely screwed over at one time. Don’t wait for that to happen to you – start using them now and although you’ll most likely find that most of time you could have done the performance without the contract and been just fine – one of these days it will save you a real headache or a lot of money, or both.