Always make an agreement

Here’s a solid new year’s resolution for 2019:  create a Performance Agreement every single time you play out.  A performance agreement (PA) describes the logistics of your deal and the responsibilities of all parties involved.  It’s a digital confirmation of your handshake with the venue owner or hiring authority so don’t skip this step, even if it seems like you are playing a “casual gig.”

Here’s what the PA will do:

  • Clarify where and when you will be performing
  • Clarify what you will be paid (and when and how)
  • Clarify the loading, parking and other venue logistics
  • Clarify what happens when things go wrong
  • Clarify other forms of recourse

The key concept here is clarity.  When you take the time to spell everything out and make sure that both parties (the band and the venue) have a written agreement about a performance, you remove lots of gray areas – everyone knows what to expect.  And meeting expectations is the main reason to create an agreement in the first place.

ContractA written agreement is a contract

Sometimes it scares people to think they are entering a contract when they start putting things in writing.  Suddenly, they may be held accountable for details they had never even thought about before. But guess what?  Those details don’t “go away” just because you haven’t taken the time to articulate and document them.

Here are some of the most important details to consider:

  • Liability and accountability – what could go wrong and who is going to cover it when this happens?
  • Payment – don’t you want to know how much you can earn?
  • Logistics – what happens when there’s 2 inches of rainwater puddled up on the outdoor stage, submerging the electrical boxes?  Does the show still go on?

Liability happens

Again, you might not want to think about this, but every time your band plays out in the public domain stuff can happen.  A wobbly PA stand, an uneven drum riser, pyrotechnics gone terribly wrong, an unidentified and slippery substance on the floor, cable tripping hazards, indecent exposure(?), backing in to unload your gear and taking out a street lamp, leaving gear on stage after you’ve departed the venue, falling off a chair while belting out Free Fallin’ – you probably have plenty of your own stories so you get the idea…

Is over-engineered duct tape your best idea of liability insurance?

Some liability may already be covered by stuff like auto, theft and health insurance.  But some would best be addressed by Event or General Liability Insurance.  It might be covered by the people who own the premises, but this is why it’s best to clarify the details in an agreement.  We’ll talk more about Event Insurance in another article.

Paying all the pipers

It’s nice to know how much you are going to get paid, when and in what format.  Sure, Blockchain and Bitcoin will eventually change the game…but for now, don’t you want a little reassurance about these matters?  Your bandmates may too.

Another handy thing about a performance agreement is that you can share it easily with all of your players to temper expectations.  Do a little math, make a little love and hopefully pay everyone fairly. And hopefully too, you fully understand the concept of Independent Contractors and have those agreements in place as well.

Do you think Taylor Swift knows in advance (and in writing) what she is going to be paid for a gig? Each and every time…

As a side topic, many small, independent bands aren’t offered guaranteed pay for their performance.  But there are still calculations to be made and negotiated, and often the gray areas become even more nuanced.  Why not put the details in writing so everyone understands?

The bottom line

Have you ever been double-booked or underpaid? That well-worn adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind.  Sure, you can just wing it with venue owners, bandmates and sidemen/women. Blow off a written agreement.

But when you present your client(s) with a proper, well-communicated performance agreement, you are also presenting a sense of reliability and professionalism.  Not only will they know that you are going to show up, they’ll know what time to expect you and what you expect in compensation. You’ll all know what to do in the event of a tornado, rain…or hail.  And they will probably even ask you back.

If  you’ve read this far and you’d like a couple samples of a standard Performance Agreement, please email Marc at

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