If you are a singer with a band, are looking to record, are touring or even just gigging locally then you NEED music contracts.

Don’t think you’re up to that stage yet? Think again.

In the music world, there are many different types of contracts and the ones we are talking about now are the legal-jargon-free variety that you can create yourself. They can be as simple as an email to a venue confirming a performance date, how much you’ll get paid and whether you will get free drinks or not.

…and the reason every singer needs to start using these sorts of contracts? Because the music industry is unregulated and there are unprofessional people out there who WILL try to screw you over. (Read: other musos and music industry peeps)

Music Contracts, no matter how informal are your best defense against such people.

Let me give you a personal example:

Earlier this year I was contracted to perform at a Jazz Festival and the performance fee covered the cost of getting myself and a pianist over there to play. So I hired a pianist that I’d worked with previously and organised with the Festival to have them pay for both our air tickets upfront.

Two weeks before the show date, my pianist decides he wants to pull out because he’s had his heart broken. Now its too late to find a replacement because everyone else that is decent is already booked up and the airline says they won’t transfer his ticket into someone else’s name without me paying an exorbitant fee and so basically I’m screwed.

If I do manage to find another pianist, their travel costs would now have to come out of my own pocket… again. (Remember it was MY performance fee that was paying for the first guy as well)

I never thought this particular musician would do something as horrible as this to me or act in such an unprofessional manner but the truth is, it happens ALL THE TIME.  I didn’t have a contract in place with this guy (mainly because I was rushing off overseas and forgot to do it) and so unless I could prove his commitment to the performance through email conversations and texts, and hire a music lawyer who could guide me through the process of claiming back the money I’d spent on him, I’d have a very hard time getting him to pay me back.

Having a simple music contract in place would have been a big deterrent for this sort of behaviour and would make it a lot easier to extract any loss of funds should it come to getting the law involved. Am I kicking myself? Yes. Do I have a solid email trail to use as proof of this guy’s involvement? Fortunately also yes, so there is hope for me yet.

Its Murphy’s Law – I am usually really good at making all the musos I hire sign contracts but the one time you forget, then something like this will happen.

So when should you get a Music Contract in place?

Any time you stand to lose out financially if something goes wrong or if copyright of material is in question. Here are a few examples of situations where you would want to get some sort of written confirmation happening:

Before you do a gig at a venue

At the very least get an email confirming:

  • Door split or agreed fee
  • Soundcheck and access times
  • Playing times
  • Whether they are providing a door person/ sound tech plus list any special tech requirements you have
  • Any extra details like whether there is a bar rider, you expect to get fed (i.e if you’re playing a 4 hour wedding gig this becomes important)
  • Where you can set up your merch stand and whether they expect to take a cut of sales (yes – annoyingly some venues actually do)

For corporate gigs ie. weddings, New Years Eve parties etc…

Always write up a Contract, get them to sign it and return it to you. Additional things to include for events like this:

  • Access to power
  • Your safety requirements (playing in full sun on a 40 degree day is not fun)
  • Get a deposit and state your cancellation policy to guard against loss of income if they cancel at the last minute

NOTE: Booking agents use them for every single gig they send musicians to, so why shouldn’t you?

When you are doing a recording

  • Get something written up stating who the copyright owner is and if you hire session musos, make sure they know they are being paid a set fee for playing on the recording and can’t claim for royalties later.

When you are doing an important gig and can’t afford for them to pull out at the last minute because their girlfriend dumped them

(I’m venting)

Even if you are just starting out and are getting a few gigs locally, start getting used to doing the contract thing. I recommend typing up an email template with all the things you need to confirm in it, so you can just cut and paste and hit send.

Simple yet effective – should it come to a time when  you actually need it (and trust me, it WILL)


Lots of love,

Nicola xx


Now I’d love to hear from you: Is there something you always ask venues to confirm before you do a gig? Have you had a situation where a band member/ manager/ venue owner/ other music industry douchebag has tied to screw you over?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer and the above post is written purely from my own perspective based on experiences I have had. I always recommend seeking professional legal advice if you need to.

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