Live Performance Contracts

What to Include & When to Use Them

I received a multi-part question about contracts a while back from subscriber Dan Walpole of the Ruckus Juice Jug Stompers.

Sorry for the delay Dan, but here we go…

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Educate and Entertain blog - Dave Ruch

Dan Walpole asks:

When is correspondence by e-mail or Facebook messaging sufficient to secure a gig? When do you use a contract? 

Live performance contracts - dave ruch

Dan Walpole

Great questions Dan. I’ve mostly made this decision by “feel” over the last thirty years, so I can only tell you what’s worked for me and you can take from this what seems right for your situation.

Bars – I really don’t play too many bars any more, and when I do, it’s mostly for fun. Since I’m usually not relying on the money from the gig, I just kind of leave it loose in terms of contracts. Usually an email exchange or series of Facebook messages suffices to remind both parties of the agreement, and I think we all learn pretty quickly to just avoid the few characters who aren’t going to abide by the agreed-upon deal.

Community Events, Festivals, Libraries, Historical Societies, and other Public Performances – I do use contracts in this case; two signed copies get sent to the organization that booked me, and they sign one and send back to me. I don’t require a deposit (too much to keep track of, and a hassle for the venue), but I do have a cancellation policy (see below).

Schools – I never use a contract for the gigs in schools that I do – I simply send a confirmation and invoice and I don’t require anything to be returned. After 2,000+ school bookings, I’ve never once been stiffed. They’re pretty reliable.

What do you put in your standard performing contract? 

I can tell you exactly what I put in my contract. In fact, I’ll copy and paste the full text below.

To my mind, the most important thing in there is the cancellation policy, which protects me from a rogue cancellation on the venue’s part, and reassures the buyer that I’m not going to back out on them.

Live Performance Contract

Here’s the language I’m using in my contract, which I always print on my letterhead.

Feel free to swipe any – or all – of this:

PERFORMANCE CONTRACT

Today’s Date
Name & Address of Place of Engagement
Date(s) of Engagement
Type of Engagement (Here I would indicate what type of concert I’m doing, for approximately how many people, and the expected age range of the audience)
Hours of Engagement
Compensation
Purchaser Will Make Payments as Follows: 100% due on day of performance or before, payable to (your name)

SIGNATURES BELOW CONFIRM THAT THE PARTIES HAVE READ AND APPROVE EACH AND ALL TERMS AND CONDITIONS FROM THE FRONT AND REVERSE OF THIS FORM

PURCHASER
Full Name
Signature
Business Name
Mailing Address
City, State & Zip Code
Telephone

PERFORMER
Same info as under “PURCHASER”

SPECIAL NOTES: Confirmed with (name) on (date) – thank you (name)! Please sign one copy and return to me to hold the date. Concert posters, performer photos, press release and other promotional materials available for download at daveruch.com. (I’ll also put any other notes here that I’ll need on gig day, such as information on who is providing sound system, indoors vs. outdoors, “venue is celebrating 100th anniversary,” or “funding is from XYZ Local Corporation.”)

ADDITIONAL TERMS AND CONDITIONS this is printed on the reverse side of the contract

1. The purchaser, in signing this contract himself, or having same signed by a representative, acknowledges his (her or their) authority to do so and hereby assumes liability for the amount stated herein.

2. Cancellation by the purchaser after (fill in the date of your choice, usually 1-2 weeks after the date you’re sending the contract) of any engagements listed in this contract will require compensation of 50% of the total agreed upon compensation as a cancellation fee ($XYZ in this case – print the exact amount they’ll owe).

3. The performer may not cancel this contract except for proven inability to perform due to sickness, accident, acts of war, acts of God or other legitimate causes beyond their control.

4. The purchaser shall be responsible for all musical equipment and sound equipment used by the performer in his performance in the event of fire, proven theft, riot, or any damaging occurrence other than normal wear and tear or damage caused by the performer.

5. Any and all conditions are to be made prior to signing this agreement and shall be stated herein. This contract and the terms and conditions contained herein may be enforced by the purchaser or by the performer.

6. It is agreed that this contract shall not be binding unless signed by both parties.

That’s Pretty Much It!

Not the sexiest topic, but definitely an important one. I’d love to hear how everyone else is doing it – the “Comments” section is below.

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About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.

Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.

The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.

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60 Responses to Live Performance Contracts

  1. Cheryl

    Another thought about this subject, is to be careful about inadvertently modifying a contract in an email…. Do a search on “is an email a contract” to read more. Depending on how iron-clad you want to be, you might want your contract to include some stipulation, “the terms of this contract may not be modified by emails” or something to that effect. This is because courts have viewed email discussions as literal contracts.

    I’m not a lawyer but just from a bit of issues surrounding re-negotiating some event details, came to realize the need to be very specific about what the scope of your work actually is.

    For example if someone hired me for their wedding, next year, and then 6 months from now I find out they expect me to accompany their cousin to sing a special song in the middle of ceremony….and to do so would require oodles of hours custom arranging the parts for string quartet….this is now in my contract, that our group is performing as its own group, unless other artists are specified on pg 1 and appropriate sheet music, rehearsal space and rehearsal time is provided by purchaser.

  2. Janet Spahr

    Thanks very much, Dave ~ quite helpful!
    I’ve always just had the venue send an email with the basic time and place and fee, but this is better, of course!

  3. Luke

    Hi Dave, thanks for sharing this. Very helpful

  4. Rochelle Christopher

    Dear Dave,

    Thank you for this article. I’ve revisited this since you brought it up last time. Now I never work without a contract unless there is a good reason. I have one retirement home chain that will not sign contracts even though I have explained that the contract is nothing more than what they have already agreed to orally. In addition, I make it very clear what I am responsible for and what the venue is responsible for. Most people are appreciative of the fact that all of the terms are laid out in one spot, as is the total cost and what will happen when i get there. I rarely have a cancellation–the only time I would have a cancellation is if there is a snowstorm and then every effort is made to reschedule. Oh and I don’t use e-mail anymore to book shows. There must be a phone conversation where everything is laid out once again with the performance contact as a followup. Too many times I’ve had foul-ups where something was supposed to be covered in e-mail and wasn’t what was supposed to happen when i got there. If I am doing a murder mystery or antique appraisal event, the guidelines become part of the contract also. I actually learned all this from you. It has helped me become far more professional and I’ve had far fewer problems.

  5. Andy

    I add one more clause to my contracts that you don’t list here. I put in a clause that if the signed contract is not returned with the 50% deposit by a specified date (usually a month or so after I send it), that I have the right to cancel the gig to free myself up for another gig. Without that clause, I envision a client sitting on the contract until two weeks before the event, then signing and returning it. Without this clause, I have to turn away other gigs because this gig MIGHT come through at the last second. With this clause, I can move ahead with another gig if this client fails to confirm in a timely fashion.

    • Cheryl

      Beat me to it, yes an expiration date is important! I put this at the start of the contract in boldface– since I might have multiple requests for same date. I believe my contract now states ” Description of Work to be performed for (insert name & performance date), Please complete all fields and return with Deposit by (insert expiration date). After that date please inquire as to availability.” For me the expiration date is about 1 week, and if I dont get it back I followup with a phone call and/or email. If they’re sitting on the fence its a good time to encourage them to book me sooner rather than later (I mostly do weddings and holiday parties).

  6. Amy Conley

    Hi Dave! Thank you for generously sharing your marketing experience and your years of experience performing! I do almost the same as you do, except that I type out a Confirmation Letter/invoice type of thing that looks less formal than a legal (whether binding or not) contract. However, I have been surprised by a few chain nursery schools that will call me before a gig and say they did not have enough people registered to run the program! Most places aren’t like that, but now I try and do a “sign and return” contract for new customers whom I don’t yet know and trust yet. Otherwise, I usually email them a Word doc that I can also print up for my binder and add directions to (in case I lose cell reception while driving), and we often call or email a few days in advance to confirm gig and further details.

    • Amy Conley

      P.S. I live in NH. From Nov-Mar I ask for a 50% deposit. If weather cancels event, the deposit is good for the rescheduled event. If they don’t reschedule, I keep the deposit. This is done with a sign and return form. The rest of the year, I don’t usually agree to outdoor events unless it is Rain or Shine event, don’t want to tie up my schedule. Unless they agree to pay in either case, which is rare.

    • Dave Ruch

      Amy, yep I do roughly the same, with contracts like the one above for people I haven’t worked with before (unless they’re a school, where confirmation/invoice is enough) + all non-school gigs. I like your winter strategy too…

  7. Nathan Sieg

    Once again a very helpful and timely post! I am getting to the part in my musical “career” where I am going to need a contractual backbone!! This was just what I needed to read today.

  8. Lynne Henry

    I had a gig outdoors. It was cancelled due to rain. The band showed up to the gig, when the decision to cancel was made. The coordinator had me make the call about cancelling, which I thought he should have done. Also, he said for my band to make up the gig, which we agreed to do. The guy called me, and said to do the make-up gig a week later so that we could get paid. I asked him if we would get paid if it rained again. With hesitation, he agreed to pay if it rained again. How do I word it in my contract that we need to be paid when gigs are cancelled due to weather? How do I word it that the coordinator makes the call for cancelling due to weather? Thank you for your advice.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Lynne – your situation would be covered under #2. above.

      • Lynne Henry

        Dear Dave,
        Thank you very much, Dave.
        We went to the make-up gig, and it was raining 2 hours before the gig. We could not set up anything, but we had to wait until 20 minutes before the gig was supposed to start before the coordinator would cancel the gig. There was no time to set everything up in 20 min., but it was still raining. The coordinator finally gave up and paid us. It rained all during the time we would have played the gig. The whole band showed up (19 people) in the rain. I paid them all in the rain. It’s fun to be a musician, and one guy agreed that he would play in the rain by himself since he had an umbrella and could play one-handed (trumpet player, of course).
        Thank you, again.
        Lynne

  9. George Elliott

    Thank you for the information saving me a lot of head aches of trying to figure things out. Peace and blessings

  10. Dan Walpole

    Great insights! Thanks, Dave!

    As someone who doesn’t have the “educate” part of my performance as a mainstay, I do play a lot of bars. My experiences with the owners have been very good overall. I’ve used e-mail, text, or Facebook to communicate so there’s some written trail if there was a question about payment. Still I wonder if playing without a contract is akin to riding in a car without a safety belt — “I was fine until…”

    This has me wondering, should I keep doing bars without contracts? It’s worked so far, with the exception of one venue who booked a band I was in for Memorial Day weekend and then tried to cancel because the owner didn’t realize it was Memorial Day weekend. We strongly encouraged him to keep the commitment and see how we did and ultimately he was very pleased. We then booked a July date with him to have him cancel less than 2 weeks out because he ordered some ultimate fighting or mixed martial arts on the TVs for that night. I feel like I should have a contract with this bar owner for my August date because of the cancellation policy in particular.

    It seems like private events, festivals and performances for local organizations, etc. might be worth having a contract for. I really appreciate that you even provided an example of what you use. Super helpful!

    For folks who do play a lot of bar gigs, what do you do contract-wise?

  11. Em

    Why are you giving this info for free? Have you considered the effect upon fellow artists, some of whom earn some of their living by teaching these things. I am not saying one can’t give it for free. I think it merits serious consideration. While you may be helping, might yiu not also be harming? Thank you

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Em – thanks for challenging me on that. It’s not really something I’m concerned about, as there are exponentially more people this might help vs. those it could “harm.”

      As for why I’m doing it, I know too many really talented musicians and performers who aren’t able to make a sustainable living. For whatever combinations of reasons, it’s always worked out for me, so I’m sharing what I know. At the same time, it turns out that I am building my own “brand” as a consultant. Just since starting the blog back in December, I’ve been contacted to advise performers, asked to speak at conferences, and become a contributor at Huffington Post and some online music and marketing blogs, There is also a book in the works. Will I profit from this myself at some point? Probably.

      Cheers, Dave.

  12. Rochelle Christopher

    Dear Dave,

    A fascinating post really. I teach in retirement homes, senior centers, and libraries and I ‘ve been wondering what to do particularly about negative things that need to be discussed. For example, suppose I get there and the equipment provided is not as discussed and I can’t control my tech. (Usually a ppt presentation on a DVD) Since this is a VERY large part of my show the ability to control my own tech is extremely important. I’ve learned from experience that this has to be a showstopper if the tech is not as expected. I’ve also asked that people respond to my invoice by acknowledging it, and that not been going well either so i have to make the calls to make sure we are still doing the show. Not acknowledging the invoice results in cancellation but this hasn’t always worked out. My thought was that counties send me performance contracts–why couldn’t I make everyone do a performance contract? I’m interested to know what you think.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Rochelle – I’d love to hear more about your show and what you’re teaching. It certainly sounds like the tech is a “make or break” situation for your show, whereas the venue might be expecting you to make the best of what they have available. In your case, I would have a very clear and detailed sheet describing minimum tech requirements and the fact that the show cannot go on if the tech is not in place. Further, if it were me, I’d make sure they understood that they will be charged full price if you arrive to a situation where the tech isn’t working. Perhaps a better way would be to control as much of the tech as possible, finding a way to bring a portable setup so you don;’t need to rely on the venue for anything. This would mean you’d be good to go 100% of the time. I do the same with audio equipment. Many of the schools I perform in say “we have a working microphone,” which can mean anything from a great sound system to a 1950’s podium mic that sounds like you’re talking through a tin can. My solution is to bring and use my own equipment every time. No hassles.

      • Rochelle Christopher

        Generally, I teach history. Or more like, we help lifelong learners use history to connect the past with their everyday lives. This means teaching history that people may not be aware of such as how a merchant, a playwright and a spy saved the American Revolution or Five Crazy people who were right all along or some other thing related to American history but people don’t always make the connection. The tech issue has gotten to be an important one lately–I recently lost a job where I had expected to have a DVD player available when i got there and no one knew it was needed or how to work it. I always have that conversation when I write up the gig–the conversation goes: What kind of AV equipment so you have? If there is a question about what I mean, I ask them “Do you have a DVD player with remote, or do you have a screen?” If there is any hesitation at all, I go for the screen. I bring with me the laptop, and projector, and speaker (I have an old projector, kind of clunky) and a 30lb Roland speaker which I carry with me. No one EVER complains about the quality of the sound now–that used to be a problem when I used bookend speakers but since the Roland, never. I also carry a microphone, a tablet, for my notes, and a screen if the venue doesn’t have one. DVDs work better for me as I don’t need all that equipment and people can see the DVD on a TV screen as opposed to having to turn out the lights. In some retirement homes especially, the lights have to stay on. I think your idea about charging full price for shows where i would show up and the equipment is not as expected is a good one (a great one, really) I’ve been trying to figure out how to word that so it doesn’t sound as harsh as i think it does. On the other hand, this IS a business (although one that I love!) and certain things have to happen a certain way in order for it to be a successful show. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Cheryl

        Re the sound systems— do you charge more for all the extra time to set up all the sound system equipment? I haven’t invested in all the electronics, partially because I do not consider myself expert enough, but mostly because, while I am playing my violin I cannot also control the various buttons/settings. And I would really hate it to have feedback noise splitting everyone’s ears!
        Plus, someone could trip over the extension cords and then I would be liable.
        I generally rely on the venue to set up, and monitor the controls on their own PA system. I am far too busy with everything else. Most string quartets in my area do not own any sound system— it is too expensive to own, maintain, and even if you had the PA system as your “selling point”, if it crashed during someone’s event, it would be a guaranteed negative review.
        I would rather stick to what I know how to do–perform violin and ensembles—and leave the electronic wizardry to the experts (as well as the expense and liability).

        • Rochelle Christopher

          Re the sound system–I only use the speaker because it was available to me at the time. When I first started, I would hear people say, “I couldn’t hear,.” or “It was garbled and I couldn’t hear.” My agent at the time had had a successful hit record back in the 60s and I thought that if anyone knew about sound, it would be him. He put me onto his sound guy who was selling this Roland speaker. That’s all I use–my backup speaker to compare is a set of Bose Companion speakers which cost me about $100. I think I paid maybe $300 for my Roland.

          As far as the extension cord goes, I’ve been in retirement homes where we taped the cord to the floor or threaded it through chairs so it couldn’t be stepped on. I have often had to stop what I was doing in the middle of a sentence in order to keep people from coming too near the cord. This is different for me than it is for you–my program is much more like a classroom and everyone knows it is not scripted therefore anything can happen.

        • Dave Ruch

          Sounds like that makes good sense for your situation Cheryl., though I would add that there are some really simple systems out there now that you could basically “set and forget” if you ever needed to. For me, I feel more comfortable running my own sound unless I’m in a venue with a dedicated sound tech (in which case, I’m more than happy to leave the technical end to them!). I don’t charge extra for the use of my sound system; I just always factor it in when quoting a price.

          • Cheryl

            Thanks Dave, just wondering, does your contract have any contingencies for like, if the electricity was out, or the speakers didn’t work right, do you end up being responsible for that (I know, that probably doesn’t happen very often).
            I think the gigs I do, are more “high profile” when considering once in a lifetime ceremonies. So maybe I am feeling more pressure to make everything “perfect”…and thus my reluctance to promise more than I feel I can deliver.
            I do really **love** having the venue set a couple mikes near us, it is always so wonderful to have our music being heard to the back row of guests!
            Maybe I can find a happy medium between costs vs. complications, and capitalize on that!

            • Dave Ruch

              In the situations I perform in, it wouldn’t be necessary to address concerns like electricity going out and/or an equipment malfunction in the contract itself, as both would be understandable “once in a lifetime” mishaps that we would simply work around as best we could. The stakes are definitely higher for you, since everything needs to be “perfect.” I hope some other wedding musicians will add their two cents here,,,

    • Dave Ruch

      A performance contract sounds like a fine idea in your case, and that way, everyone’s on the same page.

    • Cheryl

      Rochelle I think you’ve hit the nail on the head— “suppose I get there and the equip is not as discussed”. So much of the problems I’ve encountered with gigs is when things are “not as discussed.”

      Since I do a lot of Outdoors weddings, you can imagine, in the Bride’s mind, she is envisioning a beautiful day, perfect weather, no bugs, no wind, no ambient noises, etc. Or for a corporate event, they imagine the musicians will just magically appear on time (failing to realize there is a basketball tournament in town same time, traffic is jammed and parking is $25 per spot).

      In the Real World, the “as discussed” might just be totally different in 2 people’s minds. Or even 3 or 4 people’s minds….mother of bride envisions something entirely different, or the CEO doesn’t like the music and complains to the Event Host, or the venue has a restriction on having the string quartet situated too close to the kitchen doors.

      So what are the words in a contract that would cover the inevitable broken bridges between the client’s and the performer’s versions of “as discussed”? Is there a clause to put in a contract which goes something like, “Purchaser agrees that in cases of unforeseen difficulties or apparent misinterpretation of prior discussions, the performer will use their best judgement to deal with situation at hand”.

    • Dan Walpole

      Rochelle,

      I’m an elementary school teacher by day and a musician on the side. The small school that I teach at has had issues with the DVD player on the AV cart. Someone who didn’t know AV gear was authorized to purchase a DVD player and picked out a cheap one that didn’t allow chapter selection or rewinding/fast forwarding, which was essential when I wanted to show my students just a clip of something. Knowing this, I would bring my DVD player (and remote and connecting cables) from home if I really felt that teaching from a particular DVD was important.

      I wonder if it might be worth considering for you to purchase a quality DVD player for your performances. If you go this route, you may need to invest a bit in cables, including several adapters for different AV situations (What if there’s a projector screen but you need to supply audio? What inputs/outputs are there on LCD projectors? New TVs? Old TVs? Your DVD player?)

      I have found that peace of mind about being able to control my equipment and lessons makes me a better teacher than worrying about technology and fumbling through problems. I get the sense that you’ve done a good job working through this with TVs and screens and have found what works for you. An advantage to using your own gear, as Dave alluded to, is that you an get get gear that is easy for you to set up and use. This might save time troubleshooting technology.

      I might be nitpicking word choice, but you mention asking “What kind of AV equipment do you have?” and then saying that if there’s a question about what you mean, you clarify. I wonder how often they need to clarify and what might happen if your correspondence included something along the lines of: “My performance/teaching includes the use of audio and visual images shown on screen for my audience. This requires either a working projector and screen or a working DVD player and television. What can you provide?” Even checkboxes with three options for the purchaser to review such as:
      -The purchaser will provide a working projector and screen and have it set up ___ minutes before the performance.
      -The purchaser will provide a working DVD player and television and have it set up ___ minutes before the performance.
      -The performer will provide her own audio/visual equipment at the cost of $___ to the purchaser.

      I always ask about sound before quoting a price because there’s a bunch of money invested in our PA system, it’s heavy, and it takes setup time (not to mention a lot of space in a vehicle if we are carpooling to a show).

  13. Tom Fisch

    Hi Dave,
    Interesting topic. I’ve been playing professionally for over 30 years and have a basic contract I use that pretty much covers everything you mentioned above. One thing I add in my Rider is if the venue is providing sound and a sound man or I’m providing sound.
    I play all sorts of gigs: retirement homes, library programs, theaters, schools, festivals, listening rooms, (no bars anymore),etc. I pride myself on showing up and being on time and easy to work with. I do find that the theaters, festivals and libraries generally like contracts. I think it gives them something official for their files and they feel they’ve covered themselves. Retirement homes and schools generally don’t ask for contracts from me. Also, with email correspondence from the start to finish in booking the gig most of the details of the performance are recorded in them and confirm the gig. Usually a week or so before a gig they or I will email a reminder/confirmation that we’re still on for the particular date of the performance. All in all I don’t think a contract can hurt just to have something official on paper to avoid any issues.
    Thanks for letting me chime in, Dave.

    • Dave Ruch

      Tom, this is all very similar to how I’m doing things (including most of the venues you’re performing in!). It’s great to know that I’m not the only one… Thanks.

  14. Rob Pastorok

    Thanks Dave, and others for your good perspective. How do people handle indemnification clauses when a client sends you a contract with one in it? Do you simply ensure it mentions somehow that it is for your “negligence” so your performer’s insurance covers any problem. Or do you try to get the client to do mutual indemnification? Or just accept their wording “as is”?

    • Cheryl

      Not sure if this is totally what Rob is getting at, and I’m not a lawyer, but in my own contract, I have a line “Limitation of Liability” which says the total of all claims against the musician(s) is limited to the total of amounts already paid by the Purchaser. I do not have any experience with being sued by a Purchaser. But my expectation is that if someone were feeling totally unhappy with our performance, the maximum they could sue me for, would be the total amount they had already paid. My main concern is the bridezilla who would claim that our music had somehow “ruined” her entire wedding and sue me for 20 grand or something ridiculous (plus ridiculous lawyer bills). If I were sued, of course, my local musician’s union would step in on my behalf, so that might make a difference in the outcome.

      • Rob Pastorok

        Thanks Cheryl, not quite what I was thinking, although your reply illustrates another option. I am just surprised you can get clients to accept that since most clients wouldn’t be concerned about your failure to perform but might be concerned about you indemnifying them for an property or bodily damages caused by you or your associates at the gig.

        • Cheryl

          Hi Rob, I may be naïve, but I cannot imagine any “property or bodily damages caused by you or your associates at the gig” ever happening….maybe because we are all classical, as in a string quartet or trio? I don’t know how we would cause damages. Maybe if someone tripped over our cases, but we always put those well out of the way. I think most “damages” in our case, would more likely be coming from the bridezilla who thinks we ruined her Big Day, or some COO who got complaints about religious discrimination if we played a Christmas Carol at their holiday party. But who knows, maybe there is something that I, or one of our group, could do to damage a church, hotel, or private home, in the course of playing classical music.

    • Dave Ruch

      Rob – great questions. I actually dont carry performer’s insurance, so perhaps others can chime in here.

  15. Paul B. Ungar Esq.

    After a 5 year stint as a pro musician after college, I’ve been practicing entertainment law for 34 years. I think your thoughts are “on the money”. The only other thoughts I have: in my cancellation clauses, I often include a provision about using reasonable efforts to re-schedule, if possible, before incurring any “penalty”. Where appropriate, I also include a provision where the venue would add the performer as an additional insured on their liability policy during any periods of rehearsals at the venue, as well as the day of the show. (When I worked at Radio City Music Hall, we also asked that the bands put us on their policy as an additional insureds as well…but most indy bands, etc. probably don’t carry their own insurance…it’s a good idea though!!)). Most of my performer clients also include their “Rider” (e.g., equipment, sound & light plots, as well as any special requirements they may have). From the artist’s perspective, perhaps the most significant concept is trying to get as much of an up-front deposit as possible (usually 50%) on signing of the contract, since the old adage “Possession is 9/10ths of the law” often applies when stuff goes south…..

    • Cheryl

      Paul, yes, the 50% Deposit is very typical, in some cases I have accepted slightly less. However I am considering re-naming the deposit, as a “planning fee” or “reservation fee” or some such moniker. The reason to do so is, the client often has zero recognition of the dozen or so hours that must happen,just for their single event, and the rest of the payments for our gigs are going to the Side Musicians as their performance fee. I have only had a handful of cancellations in 15+ yrs of events, however the few that did cancel always whined about the non-refundable “deposit”. They felt they were paying for “nothing”….yet I had already spent many many hours in planning time. But to them, in their minds, the performance was all they were purchasing. So even with a contract which specified no refunds (within a certain time frame before event, usually 6 months), the Purchaser is feeling like they got a raw deal. I wonder if anyone else has changed the language from “deposit” to a “reservation fee” or perhaps someone could suggest a better name, which would make the Purchaser more aware, that money is actually paying for all the time spent before the performance?

      • Dave Ruch

        The deposit money is also paying for the fact that the purchaser has taken the date OFF of your calendar of available dates, i.e., they’ve reserved you and made you unavailable to accept any other bookings on that date. I think most people understand that, don;t they? Or, it sounds like maybe not. Thanks for the comment Cheryl.

    • Linda Dempster

      I normally don’t use contracts for gigs under $500.00. I’ve never run into problems. For larger events & festivals, I also use a formal tech. list that deals with venue set up, properly grounded electrical outlets, a green room or tent for artists etc. This gets dealt with and discussed weeks in advance so there are no surprises or misunderstandings.

    • Dave Ruch

      It’s great to hear from an entertainment lawyer (and musician) Paul – thanks for this!

    • Rochelle Christopher

      I teach and as i interpret the law, teachers don’t need liability insurance. Performers do, as in musicians, but I do not. If this becomes an issue for me, (and it hasn’t lately) either i don’t do the job or refer them to my agent. I have an agent solely because of the insurance issue.

  16. Joe naples

    I can’t haven’t used a contract in probably 20 years. My feeling is that when my purchaser needs to cancel, if I gave them a hard time I might not get a return booking Kama so I sort of Let It Go. I do like the idea of a contract however because it confirms a commitment on their part and on mine

    • Dave Ruch

      Yikes Joe, I’d take care to protect yourself from cancellations. Your time is valuable, and you may have turned another gig down because you (thought you) were already booked. One beautiful thing about the contract is that once it’s signed, you don’t have to be the bad guy. It’s something both parties agreed to, and if a cancellation occurs, it’s no surprise to anyone.

    • Dan Walpole

      I agree with what Dave is saying. If you missed out on another opportunity to work and grow your audience because of that cancellation, that hurts you. It’s worth considering if that’s a working relationship that you want to stay in.

      Danny Barnes, a talented banjo player and songwriter most famous for his work with the Bad Livers, also wrote something interesting that stuck with me when I read it in his “How to Make a Living Playing Music” blog (http://dannybarnes.com/blog/how-make-living-playing-music):

      “i have a system, where if i sense that the gig is going to get weird before i even get there, I cancel the show and walk away. in my experience, if something goes awry before you even get there, it won’t magically get better if you commit a bunch of dollars and time towards it. because of this, i can’t remember the last bad gig i’ve had. example, let’s say i’ve booked a show next year with a person that i don’t really know that well. and as time goes by, he keeps wanting to chisel away at our arrangement, or add stuff for me to do, or whine or complain about the situation, i would cancel the show. time and time again i learned that it only gets weirder and more difficult when you get there. this is better for the buyer too because then he or she doesn’t have to worry about my show anymore. if the buyer isn’t really into it, or at least somewhat into it, seriously consider passing on the show.”

      In his post on busking (http://dannybarnes.com/blog/why-i-think-busking-cool), Danny even wrote: “i recall an instance traveling with the bad livers. we arrived at a venue and found the owner quite grumpy and unworkable. we refused to play in the venue and just played on the sidewalk. it was really funny to look inside through the big plate glass window into an empty venue, we had a crowd out front that was buying cds and enjoying the band and tossing money in a violin case. we just played and had fun and it was great. chalk one up for the musicians.”

      Certainly Danny wouldn’t be doing business with that venue again. And I do think there’s a point at which you say, I value what I’m doing and myself enough to not stay in a bad relationship, whether it’s business, personal or what. Then again, he was touring, and not a guy who necessarily played a lot in town and in the region.

  17. Karen Chace

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you for discussing this important topic. I am always shocked to learn that some of my storytelling colleagues do send contracts. I have a two page contract I send to all of my clients, no exceptions. As you state, I send two copies, and I add a self-addressed, stamped envelope, for the client to return a signed copy for my records.

    My contract also includes information on “Performance and Space Guidelines” to reinforce what the client and I have discussed. A contract not only protects us and the client, but I believe it also adds a level of professionalism. If a contract is not returned two weeks prior to the event, I follow up with a call to the client. No signed contract, no show. Once burned, twice shy.

    Karen

    • Dave Ruch

      Karen – thanks for sharing how you do it, and reminding me about the performance and space guidelines. Those usually get added to the “Special Notes” section on my contract, and I’m going to add it to the article right now!

  18. Cheryl

    Hi Dave, Thanks for sharing your contract details. I do wedding music, funerals, corporate & church events, usually as background music. One biggie for us to be very concerned with, is those Outdoor events — we require a reasonable temperature range, as well as no rain, no high winds, etc. It is extremely important for Purchaser to specify in advance their “Indoor Alternate” location, or perhaps they will have a tent, or gazebo.
    We have also learned (the hard way) that there is a minimum temperature requirement — I attempt to steer discussions down this road, pretty soon in the negotiations, because I know how hard it is to move my fingers outside in October when it’s 45 degrees. Yes, there are brides (and bride’s mothers….) who get so caught up in their vision of the enchanting Fall wedding, that they fail to consider, it might be too chilly. I am very hesitant to do any October outdoor events.
    The biggest question becomes, if you do book and outdoor event, how to handle the “iffy” situation where it is borderline too cold, or rains appear to be gathering. Before I contracted weddings, I was hired by another group in town for an Outdoor wedding under a tent–which turned out to be a very small tent, 8 x 8 perhaps, and no walls.
    The clouds were looking bad, but the Bride insisted on continuing, outside. So we bravely played the Prelude and Processionals, huddled together under that tiny tent. During the Ceremony, rain collected on the plastic roof, a big gust of wind came, and all that rainwater came down in a torrent on the violins & cellist, plus sheet music (paper…wet!) were water damaged. In shock, we stopped the music, wiped off our violins, and sat there shivering. The cellist managed to play something for the Recessional. All the guests ran inside as soon as the Bride & Groom recessed. Unbelievably, the bride demanded a refund!
    Unfortunately the contractor for that gig had no weather contingency in their contract…. But somehow they negotiated after the fact, some type of partial refund. If it were my gig? There would have been no refund, and (looking at your contract details) the Purchaser would pay damages for the ruined sheet music and a trip to the violin shop for a checkup on varnish.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hey Cheryl – I guess you know better than most that weddings can be very touchy due to the importance of the event for those who hired you, and the fact that they have visions in their head of how it should go that may or may not be practical. Everything that you suggest makes good sense to me. Cheers!

  19. Corey

    I only use contracts with venues I know are notorious for not paying. I also use them in the bigger venues
    To keep it ligit. One other contract I like to use is between band mates I’ve had some not show for jobs and it was not a good situation

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