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Writing and Interpreting Contracts and Riders

As indicated by both the title and the composition (Tim Drake and I are Artist Reps; Fred Kaiser of Philly Folk Festival and Rod Kennedy of Kerrville Music Festival are presenters) of the panel, this session is aimed at looking at contracts from the dual viewpoints of the people sending them and the people receiving them. I have done both but I spend far more time writing and sending than I do receiving. Fred Kaiser and Rod Kennedy will have most of the good "green M&Ms" stories for you. I do happen to be a big believer in contracts and I actually even have reasons for that. In the best of all possible worlds, by the time the contract arrives, most of what it contains is no surprise to the recipient. It is simply a written affirmation of what was already discussed. (Let's ignore for the minute the 85-page riders that you see with national acts and deal with the music world as we know it on a daily basis.) I try and keep my paperwork relatively simple and have developed a one-page contract. (By the way, I "developed" it in the time-honored fashion of patching together what I liked out of other people's contracts.) This contract goes out for all club dates. For some theatre and festival dates, I also send a rider that covers specifics like type of housing, transportation, food, guest passes, etc. Although I have a basic format that I use, each rider is tailored to the specific artist and their preferences.

I think contracts are especially critical when you have the artist/rep/presenter situation where the rep is the one talking to the presenter beforehand but the artist is the person fulfilling the contract and seeing the presenter that night. If everything is done verbally and not put in writing, the number of misunderstandings that can arise are almost limitless. I use an NCR form so I make four copies. Two go to the venue for them to sign, one copy goes to the artist, one copy remains in my files to remind me that I sent it and what the terms were. Hopefully, the presenter signs the contract and returns an executed copy to me. I then toss my file copy, send a copy of the executed contract to the performer and keep the original. No more than the normal level of mayhem seems to ensue from this system.

Contracts do several important things. Sometimes it will raise issues that I forgot to cover in conversation. Since my contract includes a section regarding the artist's ability to sell product, a presenter may call after getting the contract to say they take a percentage of sales. Some private parties will call to insure that such sales will be "low-key" and not disruptive to the atmosphere of their event. If a contract isn't returned within a reasonable period of time, I try and remember to follow up to see what the problem is. I have learned that, in some cases, a presenter (especially those who are not doing this for a living) are simply intimidated by the thought of signing a contract and have been procrastinating returning it for no particular reason beside a sense of discomfort. However, in other cases, the fact that the contract has not been returned is a red flag that something is wrong. I have done follow-up calls and discovered the booker has left, the club's format has changed and the new regime has no intention of hiring my artist. Good to know ahead of time! Calling and finding out that the site's phone number has been disconnected is often a sign that things are on a bit of a downhill run.

The other reason I send contracts is I have found that it may be to my advantage if a problem develops further down the line. For example, if a club double-books an evening by mistake and one band is going to have to bow out on the gig, the one with the contract is the most likely to be left standing when the smoke settles. Periodically, the question arises of whether one should consider litigation if things go massively awry. First of all, even going to small claims court, takes time and effort (although very little money) and you have to weigh the possible gain against the cost. Obviously, if you have any desire to continue doing business with a person, initiating a court action Is probably not a good idea. No matter what the contract says, the art of compromise will serve you well in terms of maintaining relationships. Most mix-ups are honest mistakes and the focus needs to be on working together to find the least painful solution rather than reaching for the phone to call an attorney.

Frankly, sending a contract also suggests a certain degree of professionalism that I would think every artist/rep would want to project. It is a step aimed at making sure all goes well in making the arrangements for the event. Infrequently, I have received the "my word is my bond" speech when I said I would be sending a contract. I would likely be willing to go on the honor system if the person I am discussing this with is someone with whom I have some history and my experience with him/her has been positive. However, these folks are rarely the ones who bring it up. It is much more likely to be someone about whom I know little besides their name and who introduced themselves to me on the phone fifteen minutes ago. "My word is my bond" worked well when everybody lived in the same community and you did business with the same people for years. It's a different world out there now.

Since I strive to keep my contract uncomplicated and to cover the territory verbally before sending it in writing, there usually is little re-negotiating after the contract is received. However, if you are dealing with national acts, the rider often spells out everything down to the desired color for the rehearsal area. These riders are often written for "worst case" scenarios and they are trying to cover all contingencies. You can question everything although you likely will discover that there are some things that really are not negotiable. However, there is no way to find out what is or is not negotiable unless you do ask. The presentation of the contract/rider, of course, would lead you to believe that it is already cast in stone. (If anyone here has ever seen a contract and rider from the William Morris Agency, you know what I am talking about.) I have been the stage manager for arena shows for such artists as the Oak Ridge Boys and Kenny Rogers where the technical requirements were relatively complicated. However, by working in concert with the house technician and the union steward for the facility and the road manager for the artist, I have often been able to find ways to eliminate spurious items from the contract. For one show, I was able to work out a deal which eliminated four stagehands and a forklift from the rider. The situation that we were dealing with really did not call for all those people and that particular piece of equipment. However, there was no way for the road manager to know that. Once we talked about it, he was more than willing to change the terms and it saved us a pile of money in salaries that night. I figure it is always worth asking. If you get turned down, you are no worth off than you were before you put the question out there.

Since this is only a 90-minute panel, I have confined my discussion to performance contracts but there are plenty of others to research: management, songwriting, publishing, recording, etc. However, no matter what the topic, one lawyer's comment on contracts rang true to me, "It is the things that aren't in the contract that will create the most problems for you." Be careful out there.

Note: This session yielded a fascinating clarification by Adam Bauer. The "Green M&Ms" being listed in a rider are often trotted out as an example of just how ridiculous and demanding an artist and/or their management can be in their demands regarding what they want to have provided for them. The truth proved to be a bit more interesting. Somewhere along the line, an artist's road manager added this to the rider. When he would arrive at the venue, the first thing he would do is go to the Green Room to see if the bowl of single-color M&Ms was there. If it wasn't, he immediately proceeded to run a checklist of everything the presenter was supposed to provide. If it was there, he generally relaxed, figuring that, if they took responsibility for providing that seemingly frivolous and "over the top" request, they likely took just a diligent approach to everything else that was requested.

© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions

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