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Why every musician needs a contract

Words by Kavina.

While contract agreements may not seem very punk rock, they are an essential piece of every musicians self-care game. Though we are lucky to have the pleasure of working in a thriving social industry, most cringeworthy stories about underpaid or unpaid gigs come about because artists didn't have the necessary contract(s) to back them up. 

Performance contracts are meant to help alleviate 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 from the contract, so you might as well learn to love them. 

But you reckon you’ll look clingy if you 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 just 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. 

Also, venues benefit from the protection of a contract, especially when it comes to last minute cancellations or venue equipment damage.  You’re playing in someone's business in exchange for money for your performance and you never know what could go wrong.  

What to put in a contract 

Get the most out of your contract by covering all your basic information so nothing is missed. This includes the relevant parties names and business information, dates and times of performances, fees and just as importantly, the date payment will be received. Include expectations and equipment requirements plus any minimum ticket sale requirements so everyone is in the loop. Include any potential liabilities to do with 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. Make sure you read them all closely! 

*The scale of the gig will obviously dictate the length of the contract.  

What about a verbal agreement?

A verbal agreement between two parties is considered to be an effective legally binding contract in Australia, though it is much harder to argue than 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 area, there’s a fair chance that you could walk away with much less than what was initially promised to you. 

Written records and traces

The music scene is based on a fairly laid back social component built on 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 might be wise to take other suitable  steps in case you need to supply proof in a situation.

This could take the form of emails, written accounts of conversations, photos of damage,  or pictures of fliers or your band playing at an event. 

Conversing via email or text message

Every time you agree on something verbally if there isn’t a 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 work around contractual obligations if you know genuine gig protocol at a venue has a laid back vibe is to keep a work diary on your phone with the dates, times of said conversations, what was agreed upon and any photo evidence of equipment etc, that corresponds with your story. 

Being able to recall information in this manner could be a lifesaver if you ever need proof to back your claims or follow up on agreements that may easily become miscommunicated such as the amount being paid for a performance or whether or not you agreed to play a gig for free (because apparently you’re a saint who doesn't like money).

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