One significantly important area for musicians is the world of written agreements and how one’s services relate to the industry they work in.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way. Most musicians hate talking about business and money with their employers and partners. Or, should I say, most hate talking about it publically, because when you get a couple buddying musicians together in private one subject that usually comes up is the business. The main reason many do not like to talk about it is the fear that others might consider them difficult to work with or that they might seem demanding when it comes to asking for and agreeing on what they want to get paid while on tour, when they record in a studio, etc. Some simply don’t know what they want or what their work is worth. Either way, read on because it gets a little more interesting.
Here is the deal. If you take the words Music Business and split them in half you get two separate words that are “Music” and “Business”. We often try to do our best to take care of the music part, but then we are still missing the other half. Joe Perry from Aerosmith said that whenever you mix money with art you are playing with the devil. It is true on several levels. However, Joe clearly understands that without the business most professionals (people depending on their art to make a living) will not be able to make art. It’s a necessary evil that all musicians should embrace and learn to navigate through. If you, like many artists, are not comfortable in negotiating find someone who can it on your behalf.
Through my experience I have found out that many professional organizations will welcome to idea of setting up a written agreement when hiring you for a tour, an album project or whatever else it may be. From their perspective it protects them as well.
One of my favorite lines in the biz is that friends don’t need contracts. Well, maybe. In honestly, they actually do. One thing is certain that you will wish for one if the time comes when you are no longer friends. What happens to the work you did together? Who owns what? Here is my favorite – what if the work you did together is beginning to generate a lot of money?
Another reason for a contract is that both parties understand clearly what one and the other is willing to do for each other. It takes the guess work out, the tongue biting and ultimately it allows you to concentrate on the music.
You have to be responsible in your own happiness in any situation and a huge foundation for this is being comfortable with the terms you want to work with. It is silly to expect anyone in the music world to take care of you just because they love you. That’s what moms are for.
I’m actually going to go a step further and say that others will try to exploit your biggest weaknesses. This is not only in the music business, but it certainly applies here. In some ways, this called being human. Your weakness could be a fear of not finding another gig so you stay in the same situation, it could be your aloofness to the business of music or whatever else it may be.
We have all heard the musicians stories or fables as to how one got screwed, ripped off or what not. These things are real and do happen. Just remember, as you allow to have your weakness exploited someone will. It is ultimately up to you to educate yourself, know what you want to get paid and how, or negotiate a proper deal. Otherwise, we have ourselves to blame.
Now, l’m not saying that everyone in the music business is a shark waiting to rip you off. And, some things are truly beyond our control. Just take whatever you want from this article and maybe see things through a different perspective.
I have been in positions when I negotiated agreements before an engagement took place (a tour, an album recording, etc) and have also been in situations where things were done on a more loosely based terms. It was still an understanding that as soon as anyone is not happy we just part ways with no strings attached. This can be definitely beneficial in several ways, but I only take on these situation when I really feel at ease with the other party or only when necessary. There is nothing wrong with it and many things in the industry are done via this laid back system.
What I want to stress via this post is that contracts are indeed necessary, completely accepted and completely expected in reputable circles. All professional bands, managers, record labels, clubs, promoters, merchandisers and other entities all work within the framework set-up through an agreement.
Keep in mind that not all contracts are for something that will last a long time such as a record deal. Some can be for a personal appearance that lasts a couple hours. I even lay out some simple terms of how I would split songwriting copyrights when I write a song with someone – ahead of getting to work. These do not have to be huge negotiations, but it gives you a framework you agree on. The agreement can even be a hand-shake in the beginning, but I love to work with a clear head of what is expected of me and what I can expect in return. It makes things much easier.
Think about this and see how you feel about the points above.