Posted: Oct 10, 2023
Category: The Musician Business
**Guest post written by Matt Santry, founder of www.WellPaidMusician.com.
I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about musicians signing bad contracts. Hell, I’ve fallen victim to that myself, but I won’t get into those details here.
What I want to discuss is the importance of gig contracts, specifically for private event performances. While venue gig contracts are important for independent artists too, typically the venue will issue them and therefore set the terms. Unless you have some leverage like a massive draw, major label backing, etc., your position is usually this - Take it or leave it.
With a private event, it’s very different. Most times you’re working with individuals or businesses that don’t have much, if any, experience working with live entertainment. So, you will need to create the terms and present them in a formal written contract.
Let’s define what we mean by a contract.
noun an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified. an agreement enforceable by law.
The key word is “agreement”. If both parties agree on the terms, then we’ve eliminated most of the common pitfalls in advance.
I prefer the connotation of the word "agreement" because, to me, it sounds like two parties anticipating positive outcomes and safeguarding against negative ones. On the flip side, the word "contract" brings to mind images of lawyers in suits and a courtroom judge banging a gavel. The first scenario seems much more sensible to me.
But contracts are expensive to issue, and most people just do agreements via email, right? Both may be true, but neither is a reason not to have a formal written agreement signed by both parties.
Want to know a secret? The contract is actually for the benefit of your client.
Wait, didn’t I just say that you get to set the terms? Yes, but even though the terms are in your favor, the client doesn’t anticipate suing you. They want the thing you promised, not a headache. They anticipate you being where you said you’d be at the time you said you’d be there, doing the thing you promised to do. If this sounds incredibly simple, that's because it is.
In 25 years of performing live events, even through all the COVID shutdowns and cancellations, I’ve never gone to court or been sued over a gig contract. It’s all about establishing trust with your customer.
Frame it like this: the contract gives the client peace of mind. Sure, it helps you with guidelines for payments, breaks, meals, Force Majeure, and other standard procedures, but setting expectations is a good thing. If the client knows what to expect and you deliver or over-deliver, they will be happy.
If the client has a problem with any of the line items of the contract, they’ll let you know before they sign it. You’ll discuss, make changes that both parties agree upon, and resubmit for their approval. Once you have the signed contract, it’s time to collect the deposit.
While there are different best practices for collecting payments in advance, including payment plans, collecting the balance due before the performance, etc., at the very least, make sure you collect a deposit at the same time the contract is executed.
Since private event performances by nature are one-offs, you will be working with people you don’t know yet. And if you want to build trust with people you’ve never worked with before, then a contract will make them feel much better about the process.
Don’t have a gig contract or know where to get one? Here’s a free gig contract template you can use: https://www.wellpaidmusician.com/free-template.
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