This article will discuss what to do when a club owner or promoter refuses to pay you. A typical call starts out, "My band played at Club X on Saturday and the owner told us we would get $300 but after the show he said it was a bad night and could only give us $50." My first question is whether the band had a written contract, and in most cases, there was not. You will know from my other articles that I always recommend using a written contract. Even a one sentence agreement stating "Band will play Club on [date] at 10 P.M. for four hours and receive $300" can be an enforceable contract. You are much less likely to get stiffed if you have it in writing.

Assuming you don't have anything in writing, are you out of luck? The answer depends on what you want to do about it. First, be insistent about getting paid the agreed upon amount. Make a nuisance of yourself. After getting stiffed, it is unlikely you are going to play that club again, so there is no need to stay on the good side of the person. Next, tell everyone you know that the club refused to pay you. Clubs quickly gain reputations and it will have difficulty getting bands in the future.

The above ideas may put enough pressure on the booking person to pay you. If this doesn't work, there is always the legal route. First, you could contact a private attorney. However, it should come as no surprise that lawyers charge for their services. Typically, the attorney fees would end up costing more than the amount you are owed. In addition, you cannot recover attorney fees from the club owner unless you have a written contract that allows for fees. It makes no sense to pay a lawyer $500 to collect $300. If the amount you are owed is significant, a private attorney may be advisable. You can also pursue the case yourself in small claims court.

Thousands of people every year file and pursue their own lawsuits. It is not as difficult as you imagine. Go to the local courthouse and find the Clerk's Office. Ask someone there for information about filing a small claims case. Most courthouses have packages which include all the forms and easy to understand instructions.

I am not going to go into all of the procedures in this column only because different courthouses have different procedures. However, there are a few common elements. First, you must file a complaint at the Clerk's Office. This involves writing down why you are suing the club. This need only be a few lines. "Band played Club on [date] and Club promised to pay Band $300 and Club refused to pay therefore Band demands the sum of $300." Once again, check the forms at the courthouse, but the complaint is not too difficult. Next, you have to serve the lawsuit on the club. Most small claims procedures allow you to send the lawsuit via certified mail. In some jurisdictions you must use the Sheriff, but all localities require you serve the lawsuit on the club.

After filing the lawsuit and serving the club, you will get a court date. If you have any written documentation, bring it to court. If you have any witnesses, bring them to court. In small claims court, the rules of evidence are relaxed and the judges are accustomed to dealing with non-attorneys. Explain your case to the judge and he or she will make a ruling. That's all there is to it. I highly encourage you to learn the procedure on how to use small claims court to avoid getting stiffed. The above description is very basic, but the point is that the procedure is not difficult, though it can be time-consuming.

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