All those pages of dense legalese in a music performance contract are full of “whereas” and “hereinafter.”
And don’t even get me started on the riders. Those crazy lists of backstage demands that read more like a 5-year-old’s birthday party wish list than a legal document.
But dry as they may seem, performance contracts are essential in the music industry.
Without them, you’d have artists showing up to the wrong venues on the wrong nights and getting paid in Monopoly money (if at all).
What is a Music Performance Contract?
A music performance contract is a legally binding agreement between an artist or band and a venue that outlines the terms and conditions for a live performance.
These contracts are essential in the music industry to avoid chaos and confusion.
Performance contracts may seem tedious, but they are essential in managing expectations between artists and venues.
Verbal agreements are legally valid but difficult to enforce. Contracts provide clarity on expectations.
Reviewing and updating standard contracts periodically is wise, even for experienced parties. Fairness and clarity are critical – avoid lopsided terms.
Identification of the Parties
First up, we need to know who’s who. The contract will list the artist’s and venue’s full legal names.
Stage names don’t cut it here, so if you’re the artist formerly known as Prince, you’ll need to scribble down “John Smith” on the dotted line.
This section also confirms that the artist and the venue are separate legal entities, not employer and employee.
After all, you wouldn’t want the IRS treating you like you’re on the venue’s payroll if you’re an independent contractor. The taxman has a weird sense of humor like that.
Indie singer-songwriter Jane Doe learned this lesson the hard way when she played a season of shows at ABC Bar.
Since the owner paid Jane a regular amount weekly, the IRS considered her an employee and hit her with a big tax bill.
Description of Services
This is where we get into the nitty-gritty of what the performance will entail.
Key details will include:
- Date, time, and location of performance
- Length of performance (in minutes)
- Type of music to be performed
- Breaks (if any)
Some contracts may also specify things like:
- Stage banter
- Whether covers are allowed
- Acceptable language (e.g., no swearing if it’s a kids’ show)
Pop star Mina Smith was nearly sued for breach of contract when she showed up late for a concert dressed in a dragon costume and performed opera instead of her radio hits.
This section lays out exactly how much the artist will be paid, when they’ll be paid, and how they’ll be paid.
Payment could be:
- A flat fee
- A percentage of ticket sales or bar profits
- A combination of the two
There may also be a non-refundable deposit required to secure the date.
And don’t spend that deposit money prematurely. You may have to return it if you cancel the gig!
Local metal band Wicked Wizard had to cancel a gig when their lead singer came down with laryngitis two days before the show.
The venue kept their non-refundable $300 deposit even though the band offered to find a replacement act.
Not cool! The band will think twice before booking there again.
This brings us to cancellations. Stuff happens—illness, transportation issues, zombie apocalypses.
So, this section in the contract explains what happens if either party needs to cancel.
Key details include:
- How much advance notice is required
- Whether the deposit is refundable
- Any penalties owed if sufficient notice is not given
As the story above illustrates, bands canceling can put venues in a tough spot—so there may be stiff penalties involved.
Likewise, if the venue cancels, the band is out of income and should be compensated fairly.
This section lays out what equipment and facilities the artist needs to put on their best show, like:
- Sound system specs (PA, monitors, mics, etc.)
- Stage size and layout
- Lighting requirements
- Dressing room amenities
This will be incredibly detailed if it’s a huge arena show with massive production values.
For smaller venues, it may just be a few sentences. Either way, make sure the basics are covered!
Reggae band Island Vibes once played a big outdoor festival stage that had no monitors.
They couldn’t hear themselves at all! Let’s say their set was…not great.
So always confirm those tech requirements in advance.
The Infamous Rider
And last but not least, we come to the rider—the document best known for crazy demands like bowls of only green M&Ms or 10 cases of imported European bottled water.
But it serves an essential purpose: the hospitality and amenities needed to keep artists and crew happy, healthy, and performing at their best.
While the rider has its wacky reputation, most requests are pretty reasonable—private dressing rooms, hot meals, beer and soft drinks, etc.
But to keep things fun, some bands still sneak in silly demands and serious ones. After all, rock n’ roll can’t be too predictable!
Pop singer Lisa Legend’s rider went viral when her rider was leaked online.
Along with gourmet catering and a 24-hour massage therapist, it demanded 20 white doves released on stage before her performance.
The promoter scrapped the doves, assuming it was a joke. But Lisa threw a fit, locked herself in her dressing room, and almost refused to perform.
Turns out those doves were non-negotiable!
So, while performance contracts may seem painfully dry at first glance, they are crucial in setting clear expectations and avoiding misunderstandings.