Starting a Band…The Music is the Easy Part
I don’t want to scare you with the title. I DO want you to take your band seriously. Whether you’re living in your parent’s basement writing the lyrics for your band to perform, work at a desk during the day and practice your craft on nights and weekends, or are a member of the band U2, your band is a business and you need to treat it like one.
Most independent music artists (aka indie musicians) fall into the category of working in a job outside of music that supports their music habit. Indie band members may love their non-music work or it may just be a means to an end to support their music passion. Some bands are very lucrative, most bands are money sinks, but many indie bands earn income with their craft. What sets an indie band that loses money like a bad gambler apart from an indie band that boasts a positive net income from band revenue?
Run your band like a business.
In my initial blog in the “Business 101” series, I encouraged a thorough review of available business and tax structures. I am not providing legal or financial advice in this blog series – just sharing our experience, resources, information and opinions. Once you’ve made your structure decisions, it is imperative that all appropriate agreements are negotiated and signed. You may be friends now, but once you enter into a business relationship as band members, the dynamic will change – and not always in a good way. Still think you don’t need to have a band contract? Read this. Of if you prefer the legalese version, read this.
Now that I’ve convinced you that regardless of size or ambition agreements are necessary, how do you start to draft such a document? Before you draft any agreements or retain any lawyers, you need to talk to all the members of the band and do some research. Start by brainstorming “what if” scenarios with all band members.
- the bass player said his life was the band, but then gets a girlfriend and is no longer available to perform on nights and weekends?
- the singer has an amazing set of pipes but never has two dimes to rub together to help with band expenses?
- the drummer becomes the defacto record keeper because he’s a CPA during the day but can’t find time to keep the books current?
- the guitar player comes up with all the music and lyrics for the band’s albums? Should she get a bigger cut of the revenue from the sale of said albums?
- one of the band members no longer wants to be in the band?
- …fill in the blank.
In your brainstorming you should also candidly discuss:
- How much money does each band member have available to contribute to band expenses?
- Who owns the rights to the music? Individual writers or the band?
- How much time does each person have available to work on band business? What roles need to be provided to run the business successfully? (e.g., practicing, performing, paying bills, marketing, etc.) Are the roles equal? Will band members be compensated for their non-music roles if the band turns a profit?
- Will one person be the public “face” of the band, or will all members contribute blogs, tweets and FaceBook posts?
- What are the individual goals of each band member? It’s important to know up front if one band member’s goal is to sign with a label while at the same time another band member’s goal is to perform 3-4 times / year.
Write it down!
Once you’ve done your research and know the ambitions and commitment of all band members, get it in writing! I strongly encourage you to retain a lawyer, but legal counsel isn’t mandatory. Whether you retain a lawyer or draw up something on your own, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just ensure the basics are covered. Following are a couple examples for some basic band agreement ideas. I’m not endorsing either of these. I’m providing these two examples as a means to show you the type of information you may want to include in a band agreement. You should also do your own research. Basic Band Member Agreement Example 1 and Example 2.
Although the ideas presented above relate to specific band member agreements, I suggest you incorporate your band-specific agreements into your business organizational documents to reinforce the concept to all band members that your band is a business and should be run as such. You’re not just band-mates jamming, anymore.
Eclectic Verve, LLC
Eclectic Verve is a Limited Liability Company. Pursuant to the laws of the state in which we reside, 2 primary agreements are required: 1) Articles of Organization and 2) an Operating Agreement. Kent and I incorporated our band-specific agreements into our Operating Agreement. We chose to create a two-person band. Our business model is to hire guest musicians when we want to perform as a full band that includes bass and drums. We negotiated “Work for Hire” Agreements with the drummer and bass player on our debut album Something on the Way. Although one is a friend and the other a family member, we wanted to make sure that our expectations were the same.
My perspective is that clear communication, including written documentation in the form of signed agreements, will ensure good long-term relationships. At the end of the day the relationships are more important than the band. For us, we feel these band member agreements will preserve both the relationships and the band.
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share regarding band creation?