“If there is no problem, then there should be no problem writing it down,” writes Cash Edwards, agent and owner of Under The Hat Productions. In the corporate world, you sign the contract once and you get to work at the same place and collect a paycheck from the same employer day in and day out. In a freelance life a contract is extremely important because you work for so many employers, your job location is always changing, and the paycheck comes in all various forms and methods. A contract is a simple document that helps you ask the right questions. You’re coming to terms with each employer to make sure that all expectations are on the table and each party ends the day in a good mood. In a perfect world, your contract would never have to see the light of day after being written because both parties strictly follow all items. We live in an imperfect world and a contract saves you from getting screwed, so to speak.
Your Day 23 challenge is to Have a Written Agreement.
You do not need a lawyer on retainer to start using contracts in your singing business. A contract can be a very simple document to which both the performer and the presenter/venue agree. It clearly states the who, what, when, where, and how much of the situation. Working with your friends is such a pervasive part of the music business across all genres. Avoid the heartache of a friendship gone sour by writing down your terms.
Write it Out!
Letters of Agreement: Intent or Confirmation
You have probably written numerous letters (or emails sometimes) of agreement to date. When you communicate with a presenter, host, or venue and you both agree to hold a date on your calendars for a performance, you have completed a letter of intent. When you include, “[name] intends to” in your letter it is showing commitment from both parties to make that date work. Then, you should also include what else is needed to confirm that date. Don’t drown in legalese! The letter of agreement can be as detailed as you like but you really want to make sure you include: your professional name, what exactly you will be doing, the presenting organization, details about the event, and space for both of you to sign. If you are unsure about the specific details, make sure you have: date, time, venue, length of performance, tickets, fees, and any makeup dates you expect. You can also use these types of letters in place of formal contracts with those who are new to presenting or even in your private lesson studio if your families get freaked out by contracts. As you get more experience, you will learn what else you need in every agreement.
For all of these documents, include a contact information sheet. How can they get a hold of you and how can you get a hold of them – especially on performance day when something inevitably goes sideways.
Even as an emerging professional it is just as important to have a written document outlining your needs as it would be for the leading divas at the Met. You may not be in a position to ask for the same amenities that reigning stars that are given to them. As you’re getting started, think of your contracts as “ducks in a row” documents. Everybody knows where to look when there is a question because you all have a copy of the contract.
Practice creating a few simple contract forms that you can use if a contract isn’t provided to you. When you earn a role with a professional company or get a gig at an established venue, they will have their own contracts for your to sign. Read all of your contracts carefully. Okay, one more time, READ ALL OF YOUR CONTRACTS CAREFULLY! If you are working with small organizations, festivals, art galleries, museums, bars, restaurants, or other non-traditional performance spaces it is advisable to at least present your contract first.
Double check for things like cancellation clauses for both the artist and the presenter. Write these down in your calendar just so you know and can follow-up, if need be. Review all listed rehearsal, performance, and makeup dates before signing the contract.
It’s funny how important these things are when you’re in the middle of a crisis and yet how little we think about them when we say “yes” to the opportunity. I know we’ve all been there.
Tech & Hospitality Riders
To ensure that you have all the equipment to do your job effectively, you may want to have a stock tech rider. Your contract details all of the negotiations about the gig. Your tech rider will outline all the necessary gear for the staff working in the venue. Feel free to contact your venue in advance to make sure they have your tech rider and that they don’t have any questions about it. Classical musicians playing acoustically are the technical staff’s best friends. That’s not to say that they won’t like you if you’re playing with electronics and have video projections. You just better have a tech rider.
Hospitality riders outline your/your ensemble’s dietary restrictions, lodging, and transportation necessities. Don’t be pompous. You’ll know when you can start requesting specific M&M colors. Short answer: not now. You may request about things like water and parking and more depending on your true needs.
Writing all of your information, negotiated details, and needs down is the way to decrease your number of headache days per month. Always follow-up on your letter of agreement, contract, and riders with enough time to take care of any final concerns. You don’t want to follow-up the day before the performance only to realize that the presenter can’t help. I know we’ve all got a few horror stories from times when contracts would have been really useful. Do you have any tales of times when a contract saved your butt? Let’s have an airing of thoughts in the comments below.
Until tomorrow, divas! In the meantime, find me on the twitterz at @mezzoihnen.