Band Agreements: Putting the Dream on Paper
by Quinton J. Sheer, Esq.
From pages long corporate partnership agreements to simple handshakes; Band Agreements can be as varied the artists themselves. In whatever form they take, a band agreement is a contractual manifestation of band members’ commitment to each other and to the band itself. Simply put, it’s a way for band mates to tell each other and the world, “We are professional.” It is an all too common myth that a band has to become successful before they start thinking about the business side of music. Band agreements aren’t just for the successful, they are a tool OF the successful. They are for the committed.
Orange Avenue (5 piece pop/rock) is one of the most committed bands in Central Florida both to each other and to their fans. Drummer, Sean Sedita was happy to talk about the one contract bands really need, but often never think about until it’s too late.
WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO TALK ABOUT BAND AGREEMENTS?
“Early on. When [Orange Avenue] first started I was working as a paralegal so I knew some kind of agreement on paper would be helpful.” Its more than just business decisions. A band agreement can set short and long term goals and provide a solid vision of where a band wants to be. It also demonstrates another level of dedication to the project. “If you love it and really do care, the band agreement comes with it. Even if you’re all friends; if you’re really serious, you definitely wanna do it.”
A good rule to keep in mind is that a formal agreement should be made anytime another person is given decision making power on your behalf. That can be other band members in their clearly defined roles, or outside members of the team like booking agents or managers. If there is a situation where someone else has the power to commit you to performing, endorsing, etc., a band can benefit from having some kind of more formal agreement in place.
WHAT IS A BAND AGREEMENT, REALLY?
Although a band is a business, most members just want to focus on the fun parts. Having a custom band agreement in place ca, in part, allow musicians to stop worrying about certain things and concentrate on what they do best. There are standardized forms floating around the internet but to really be effective, the ideal band agreement will contain the things most important to the group.
Of course there are the business decisions. What happens when money is made? Is it divided or does it go into a band fund? If members put in their own money to help out the band (buying gas, or making flyers) how will they expect it to be repaid, if at all? And if a band shares profits, does that mean they share equally in copyrights? Making decisions about money is often best done before there is actually money coming in. It can help avoid resentment and misunderstandings when the band does start earning.
A well drafted band agreement can save confusion when it comes to making decisions for the band. It can clearly define roles so if one member goes out and designs and prints 1000 flyers, another member isn’t doing the same thing and wasting time and precious resources. Sean Sedita said, “For us, we all bring equal parts to the table so our agreement is everyone is treated equal.” No matter how the agreement treats members, it should outline how decisions are to be made. Is it a majority vote? What about a tie? A band agreement can provide the blue print of the band by stating what the group’s long term goals are. If three out of four guys want to tour and one member refuses to be away from their day job or family for more than a weekend trip it can kill major opportunities. “Everyone has to be on the same page.” And if it’s not put in writing, the conversation still needs to happen.
The courts are not clogged with breach of contract actions from independent bands. Band agreements are usually not for litigation purposes. One of its great benefits is that it allows friends to remain friends. Orange Avenue has been together for 10 years. “We still have the same goals. And the mutual respect is still there. But even being that lucky, it’s nice to have an agreement in place.” Sometimes we all lose out way or forget why we started what we’re doing in the first place. Revisiting such a document can remind and re-inspire.
Bringing up the subjects of decision making and money can be touchy. And because of that some bands are hesitant to broach the subject for fear of creating a rift among members. At the least, have a trusted friend help facilitate the discussion. To really do it right, hire a professional. And with the business defined, the band can go back to focusing on the music.
“Our focus has been on getting new fans and making lasting connections. Because we took care of that business in the agreement, we can make that happen.”
** Orange Avenue latest CD, Small Victories, will be available February 21st.