Performance contracts – Why artists really need them

Basic performance contracts, ready to copy or customize, can easily be found on the web. You should utilize these free resources, but first, read on so you’ll have some ideas about what you’re looking for.

For many bands and performers, a very simple contract should be fine, but as your band gains popularity and starts playing larger venues for more money, you may want to add a little more protection. No attorney or legalese is required to write or customize your own contract, just use clear and concise language.

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Here’s a few items that should be included in every performance contract:

  • Exact date, time, and length of performance – You may want to include exact start and end time, as well as allowed breaks.
  • Definition of performance – This can be as simple as “live music” but some venues may want you to be more specific, such as “20% original music, 80% cover music” or “YourBandName will perform live renditions of their own original music”. Don’t be too specific unless required by the venue.
  • Compensation for performance – In addition to the amount, include the time to be paid – before the performance or setup? A week in advance? Well-established bands might require a deposit to be paid several weeks in advance, with the balance paid before the show. Method of payment should also be included – cash or check? Higher paying gigs won’t be able to pay cash, but you might want to specify a company check, otherwise they could meet the contractual obligation by paying with a personal check, which might be harder to cash or have a higher risk of bouncing.
  • Access for setup and load out – Be specific about how much time you need to set up and break down. Do you need ramps to get your equipment onto that 3 foot high stage? Don’t forget on-site parking – you don’t want the venue to make you park your band vehicles 4 blocks away after loading in.
  • Power requirements – I’ve seen contracts that stipulate “safe and adequate power”, but after seeing expensive equipment ruined, I prefer “exclusive access to two separate and properly wired 30 amp circuits”. If you end up in court over ruined equipment, it will be up to the judge to determine what “safe and adequate” means.
  • Cancellation policy – This could say that the band gets full compensation if the venue cancels after a certain date, or that the band will find a suitable replacement band if they need to cancel. If you include a band cancellation clause, allow the band to cancel in case of serious illness or accident of any band member within 24 or 48 hours of the show (too late to find a replacement).
  • Delay, interruptions, un-foreseeable events – If your show is delayed or interrupted by agents of the venue, bad weather, or other conditions beyond your reasonable control, the venue should not be allowed to withhold payment or make you play later than the agreed upon end time.

Additional clauses you may want to include in your contract :

  • Sound system – Will it be provided by the band or the venue?
  • Security – This is especially important if you must set up your equipment several hours before the show. Require the venue to ensure that nobody other than band members or venue employees will have access to the stage or any other areas where the band has equipment or personal effects.
  • Performance rider – Agreement to additional comps, such as food, drinks, hotel for the band, band guests, or comp tickets.
  • Merchandise – If you want the right to set up a place to sell your merchandise, put it in writing. Specify that the band keeps 100% of these proceeds.
  • Permits/Licenses/Insurance – While these are customarily provided by the venue, it may be a good idea to have it in writing, especially if the location does not typically provide live entertainment.
  • Royalties and Licenses – Another item usually covered by the venue (through BMI or ASCAP membership), but if you play any cover music, protect yourself by specifying that the venue is responsible for royalties and license fees.
  • Liability for fans – This might seem strange, but courts often declare that you are liable for damages if you knew something could be a problem and did nothing to prevent it. Do you have a few rowdy fans that follow your band and might damage venue property? A clause stating that you’re not responsible for damage or injuries caused by patrons or fans could protect you.

When you customize your performance contract, remember Murphy’s Law, but keep it real. A clause to allow cancellation in case of a smallpox outbreak is probably overkill, but if you’re playing an outdoors event, a clause that covers serious threat of bad weather might be a good idea. Get it in writing and take the worry out of your next performance!