Most bands play live. Whether you play live shows infrequently or are regular club veterans, you should consider a written contract when playing live. A contract can be very simple. It does not have to be full of lawyer talk to be a contract. It can be as simple as "Band agrees to play on July 17, 1995 for three hours for $200 at Club X." That is sufficient to be an enforceable contract.

At a minimum, a contract should have the following elements. First, it should be in writing. An oral contract may be valid, but it is very difficult to enforce. The expression, "an oral contract is not worth the paper it is written is on" comes from experience. Therefore, I highly recommend getting the terms in writing. Second, it should be signed by both parties. This means the club or venue owner and one member of the band. Each band member has authority to bind the entire band in a partnership.

The following terms must be in the contract to be enforceable. First, it must specify the requirements of the band. This will include the date, time and length of performance. It is important to clarify how long the band will have to play to get paid. This can be expressed in terms of hours ("Band will play for three hours") or sets ("Band will play three 45 minute sets"). Be sure that both the band and the club owner know what is expected of the band to avoid disputes during the show.

The second thing a performance contract must contain is the manner of compensation for the band. This can be a guarantee ("Club will pay Band $400"), incentive (Club will pay Band 50% of the door") or some combination (Club guarantees Band $150 plus 25% of the door"). Included in the compensation clause should be when the band is to be paid. You should ask for half when you show up and half when you finish. If you are to receive a percentage of the door, have someone you trust oversee the person at the door to keep them honest. Club owners notoriously under count the door when it comes to paying the band.

These few things are all that are needed in a simple performance contract. In summary, a simple contract will be in writing, include the band's obligation to play and the club owner's obligation to pay. Finally, it will be signed by both parties. There you have it, a simple, enforceable contract. I can never guarantee you will get paid, but I can promise that it will be much more likely that you will get paid with a written contract.

What about more detailed contracts? A contract can be as complicated as you want it to be. The type of contract you require (simple two sentence vs. 30 pages of lawyer language) depends mostly on the types of places you play and your level of success. A garage band playing a Wednesday night at a small club does not need the same contract as REM at a coliseum. Just as the proverbial garage band would not present the small club with a thirty page contract, you would not expect REM to play a coliseum on a simple two line agreement.

The American Federation of Musicians (AF of M) also has a standard contract for performing artists. Most touring artists use the standard AF of M contract with a specifically tailored rider detailing the band's particular requirements.

Here are a few suggestions that a band may consider including in their standard contract with clubs. Some bands may want to include technical requirements such as sound, stage or electricity. This may be helpful especially if you book a tour and schedule venues you have never been to before. You may also specify minimum publicity and promotion responsibilities of the venue and the band. Finally, some bands include specifics on "hospitality" backstage.

A contract confirms in writing the mutual understanding and agreement between two parties. There is no reneging or changing the terms after the show when you have it in writing. A written contract also shows that the band takes their performance seriously. Finally, a contract is important to enforcing your rights if a club owner refuses to pay you. For all of these reasons, I highly recommend a performance contract.

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