Lessons about performing, lesson three: Get it in writing!

This series is dedicated to telling people the things they’ll want to know if they’re going to become performing musicians. These aren’t things you find in a book. These aren’t things that you’ll be told by other performing artists. These are things that are lessons I’ve learned over my performing career.

It’s a pretty light-hearted look at it the industry, at least that’s my goal. But, in each case, there’s a reason that I list these as rules. So, while they may seem unimportant, they’re actually very important.

If you’d like to see the existing rules, then click here and enjoy. I’ll add more rules as I go along. As always, I appreciate your comments and feel free to add any rules you’ve learned and want me to include on my list.

Rule #3: Get it in writing!

I’m not saying that all venue owners are a pack of thieving liars, nor am I saying that they’re all intentionally trying to avoid paying you. I am, however, saying that you need to be aware that some people are not very good at remembering things they said.

Maybe it’s the nature of the beast? Maybe they’re a bar owner that happens to drink? Maybe there’s a number of people in the chain and there’s a miscommunication. Maybe the venue rep said you get 15% of concessions and you heard 25%?

Two things are facts:

1. It happens, people in this industry use a variety of intoxicants and have memory issues. It’s not always malice.

2. I forgot what number two was.

You’re not just a musician. You’re a performing musician. You’re a professional. You know what professionals do? They get paid.

Let’s face it, what we do is actually work. The myth that it’s not work is prolific, but it’s a myth. We put ungodly numbers of hours into honing our craft and mastering our instruments. We do this out of love for the music, but we also do this to get paid.

Write shit down. Write it down, get it signed, and get multiple copies. Do not take a venue owner or rep at their word. They may not be malicious, but they could be intoxicated and busy.

I have shows from 1981 that still haven’t been paid for. (Chuck, I’m looking at you.) I don’t care if it’s a wedding, a wake, a prom, a dance, a bar, a civic center, a fair, or whatever other venue you play in. I don’t care if the person you’re dealing with has a stellar reputation, goes to church five nights a week, and doesn’t do drugs.

Write shit down!

Give them receipts. Give them a contract to sign. Say you’ll play for X-amount of time for X-amount of money. Say you’re responsible for X-duties and that they’re responsible for X-duties. Say you get X-percentage of the door. Say who pays X-amount for promotion. Say who provides X-amenities.

You’re a professional musician, skilled in the art of musicianship and qualified to do your job. Now, act like a professional and write shit down.

No, it doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend’s wedding. Yeah, he said you can have all the beer you can drink, sleep on his couch, and he’ll give you each $50 to play for two hours. I don’t care – get it in writing. Get them to sign it. Agree to it. Refresh their memory before you perform. Get paid in advance (ideally).

Also, use your common sense. If you’re getting 50% of the door and there are 500 people in the club, you can rough estimate what you’re supposed to get paid. Don’t accept, “Well, only 30 people paid to get in.” Agree on a set number of free-entries. Write it down.

When you get to the stage, you should already know what you’re going to be paid. In an ideal world, you’ll have already been paid. There should be no dispute. There should be no questions.

By the way, the onus is on you to provide a service worth paying for. You need to add value to the venue. You need to be a professional. You need to entertain and engage. You need to make people want to come back and you need to make people enjoy yourself.

You have a job to do. Do it. “If you’ve got a job to do, you might as well as do it and do it well.” (Paul McCartney, Live and Let Die) Your shitty behavior impacts the rest of us professional musicians. Don’t make our lives harder!

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had negative conversations that began with, “Well, the last band did …” That could all be prevented if you wrote shit down and then actually did the job you said you’d do.

So, writing shit down goes both ways. It’s there to protect you and it’s there to protect the venue owner. Everyone needs to be professional when there’s money on the line. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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