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Band Contracts: The 5 Essentials

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Hand signing a contract

A band can form in many different ways. Sometimes people have informal jams with their friends for years before looking back over their demos and wondering if they should make a record and play some shows. Sometimes a songwriter sits alone and writes a whole set before advertising for musicians, auditioning them, and picking the best people to fulfil his or her musical vision.

There are all sorts of different ways of making music, but if you want to continue professionally, there are some important things to consider from the start. Although nobody particularly enjoys thinking of it in these terms, a band is a business. If you want to avoid conflict later on, it’s a good idea to discuss the following points with your fellow musicians early on, and make a contract if you can.

The most important points to consider are:

1.Band Name

Any band’s name becomes a major part of their identity. It may seem ridiculous at the start of your career when you’re all friends and hanging out together, but it’s important to consider who may use the band’s name and how they may use it if you split up in future. For example, if you do become successful and achieve a strong fanbase, you might not want random musicians who played with you for a month before leaving the band to use your name as a promo for their own shows afterwards. This may sound like a pessimistic divorce settlement, but it’s important to discuss your musical identity, and who really carries the personality of the band name with them – you may also decide that nobody is allowed to use it if the band splits up! It’s up to you, but just make sure you have at least thought about it. For much more detail on the band name discussion, check out this post about the band agreement, which uses another post on the importance of an internal band contract as its starting point. Although these posts refer to American law, they have a lot of useful advice about this topic.

2. Copyrights

Copyrights are divided into two separate parts when royalties are paid out. The author of the song’s melody and lyrics receives royalties, and the owner of the recording copyrights (often a label) is also entitled to earn money from the song. See our post on Music Publishing for more information on this topic. Regarding a new band contract or agreement, you need to make sure you decide what your protocol is regarding copyrights. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Is there one main songwriter who should receive payment for the musical compositions and lyrics, or do you all contribute equally to the songwriting process?
  2. What will happen if one member of the band leaves? Are they entitled to continue claiming royalties for works that they wrote or contributed towards creating?

3. Income

Royalties from copyrights are not the only form of income for a band. There is also revenue from physical and digital sales, merchandise, YouTube videos, tours, and sync deals. Discuss how this sort of income will be divided with your band members and label (if you are working with one) and include your decisions in your band contract. Again, it is important to include a clause that specifies what will happen if a member leaves, and if a new person plays with the band.

4. Expenses

The other thing to consider in this case is expenses – if one band member or label representative is investing in these products they need to be fairly compensated for this. As our post on how to start a record label shows, you can actually cut costs at the beginning of your career by working with people who can multi task and do things like design logos or help organise your business and PR internally. The better organised you are about deciding how people will be remunerated for these efforts, the easier it will be to keep things clear if you start getting more successful and earning more money!

5. Extras - Equipment and Session Musicians

Sometimes the lines between who owns which instrument, amp, or pedal can also get blurred. If there are musical instruments that are particularly key to your sound, make sure you agree whether or not the band can keep using this instrument if the person who plays it or bought it wants to leave. Also make sure that it’s clear who paid for what, as in the paragraph above. This means that if anything gets broken or lost, you know who needs to receive any money paid back by your insurance company. You should also make sure that you do insure your instruments!

If you use session musicians alongside your core band members, discuss what share of the income they will receive for their contributions to live shows or recordings. Remember that this may also depend upon whether they have written their own parts for your record/show, or whether they are playing parts that your band or your main songwriter has already conceived.

If you have any experience of band contracts (both good or bad) we’d love to hear your stories!

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