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Mind Your Business

Part 9, The Boring (Must Do) Stuff

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Sometimes boring paperwork is just as necessary as writing brilliant charts.
When most people think of leading their own band, they imagine the freedom of playing their own music, the adulation of fans, and the exhilaration of touring the world. What they don't often imagine is sitting in an office writing up contracts, requesting deposits, and filling out insurance applications. These dull tasks aren't why musicians started playing in the first place. Yet this columns is about the logistics of running a music business, and sometimes boring paperwork is just as necessary as writing brilliant charts.

While it's definitely not my favorite part of being a bandleader, I'm always grateful to have gigs that warrant contracts and insurance. Previous articles in this series discussed strategies for booking gigs, particularly private and corporate events. These jobs can be very lucrative but require more paperwork. Having procedures and policies in place to accommodate these demands makes a musician look more professional and saves them from having to figure it out for each gig.

The first item to deal with is contracts and deposits. When should you write up a contract? When should you request a deposit? How much should you ask for? If I'm booking a club or restaurant, I never use a contract unless the venue requires me to use its own contract. I only use contracts for private and corporate gigs. There's often more money and logistics involved with these gigs, so it's important that both parties' expectations are clear from the start.

Basic information such as the time of the gig, location of the venue, musicians' attire, and performance fee ought to be discussed and put into writing. Include clauses detailing the style of music, the size of the band, and its instrumentation. State how many set breaks the band will take and the length of each break. It's never good for a client to wonder why the band is standing around eating mini egg rolls and cocktail weenies because they didn't realize that the musicians needed a break.

The method and the timing of payment should also be discussed and put in writing. How do you know when to ask for a deposit and when the balance should be paid in full? I only ask for deposits when booking private and corporate gigs. It's customary to ask for half of the agreed performance fee up front. It's also okay for your contract to specify that this fee is non-refundable, or that it is only refundable up to a certain date. Personally, I don't like to take large deposits; if something goes wrong on my end (although this hasn't happened yet), I don't want to be responsible for returning a large sum of money.

Be sure your contract includes how much of a deposit is expected up front, the amount of the remaining balance, and when that balance is due (usually "due upon completion of the performance"). If the client will be paying by check, include who the check should be made out to. You might also want your contract to specify the fee for the band playing overtime. Again, the more transparency there is at the outset, the smoother things will go if different circumstances arise.

In addition to (or in place of) a contract, some corporate clients will request an "invoice" from you. They'll need it as a record of payment. Invoices don't contain as many specifics as a contract and don't require signatures from either party. An invoice simply states who is billing whom, along with the most important details of the gig such as the services provided, the date, time, and fees.

Lastly, regarding liability insurance, I've seen this topic come up more and more, and it will be a consideration if you start booking private gigs. Many venues now require bands to carry liability insurance so they're not held responsible in case, for instance, the birthday boy's grandmother trips over your guitar cable and breaks her arm. I've researched carrying insurance full-time but personally found it too expensive for the amount of times I actually need it. Musicians' unions usually offer reasonable rates and might be a good option for you.

Using companies that offer policies for single events has been the best solution for me. These companies include eventhelper.com, insurancecanopy.com, and kandkinsurance.com. The price generally ranges from about $60 to $125 for a jazz group (assuming there will be no "bouncy houses" or marijuana rallies at the event—I'm not even joking). I've often asked clients to split the cost of insurance with me so that it's not too hard on my bottom line.

Being a bandleader is not just fame and glory. There's a lot to do behind the scenes that bandmates may not even know about. Some of it, like that boring paperwork, wasn't why I signed up to be a professional musician. Yet after playing a great event, and getting paid well to do it, I remember that I do love this job.

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