This is just a short series of lessons I’ve learned from a career that was long and not even remotely illustrious. These aren’t lessons I found in a book. These aren’t lessons that anyone seems to ever talk about. They’re just things that I found out the hard way.
I’m hoping that they’ll do you some good. If you’re thinking of becoming a performing musician, then this list is for you. If you’re already a performing musician, it’d be great if you’d throw in some lessons you’ve learned along the way.
If you want to read the list of rules that have already been submitted, just click this magical link and enjoy.
Lesson #4: Hire a lawyer!
It’s a known truth that everyone hates lawyers – until they need lawyers.
It’s also really likely that you’ll eventually need a lawyer if you’re a performing musician. Lawyers are like magic – expensive magic, but magical nonetheless.
It’s absolutely amazing how much nicer people are after they receive a letter with a fancy letterhead, flowery language, and a signature bearing ‘Esq.’ at the end of it. It’s like an automatic attitude adjuster, and you didn’t even need to burn their bar down because they refused to pay you!
What you’re looking for is to retain a lawyer. Basically, you give ’em some money and they represent you. (You’ll probably have to give them more money, but this is like a down-payment on future services.)
There are many types of lawyers but you’re going to want one that specializes in civil matters. There will be paperwork you fill out along the way – such as filing a trademark for your business name. (Remember, you are a business. Don’t believe me? Ask the IRS!)
Lawyers, sometimes pronounced like the word liars, are handy for filling out paperwork. Face it, half of you are sober enough to even read and the other half is too messed up to actually remember to file the paperwork. Your liar will do that for you.
You can even get ’em to fish around in their files, edit a few things, and charge you too much money for a contract that you can use for your business. You are using contracts, right?
At some point, your lead singer is going to jump off the stage and fight with the audience (and give a surprisingly good showing for themselves, considering the overwhelming numbers involved). This is going to get you sued in civil court. You’re gonna want a lawyer.
Now, if you’re in some of the bands that behave like some that I’ve been in, you’ll probably also want to also retain the services of a criminal lawyer. By that, I don’t mean a lawyer that’s actually a criminal, I mean one that specializes in criminal cases.
Many liars don’t do both civil and criminal cases, but you might be able to find a firm that does both. That’s probably for the best, as criminal charges are fairly probable. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Maybe you trashed a bar after close? Maybe you got an OUI on the drive back from a gig? Maybe your idiot lead singer actually really did jump off the stage (multiple times) and fight the audience. In those cases, a criminal lawyer is a good idea!
Here’s a quick lesson: The difference between a civil offense and a criminal offense is that you can get a custodial sentence (go to jail) for a criminal offense. Civil offenses carry no custodial sentences and have a lower burden of proof known as the ‘preponderance of evidence.’ If you didn’t already know that, you need a lawyer!
So, if you’re playing in a band like some of the more enthusiastic bands I’ve played with, you’re also going to want a criminal lawyer. Criminal lawyers are kind of awesome. They come down and get your lead singer out of jail and talk the angry judge into lowering the bail by explaining that your lead singer is basically an idiot.
Important note: You hired a professional liar. Under no circumstances should you answer any questions (besides your name and address) without seeking the advice of your professional liar. Trust me, they’re professionals. They lie very well. That’s actually why you pay them.
I’m not kidding. Shut the fuck up. Don’t say anything.
Once cops are involved, comply and answer zero questions. No, your drunk ass isn’t fucking talking your way out of it. You just jumped off the stage and punched a 58 year old man – twice. You’re going to jail. Comply with the orders and don’t argue – otherwise the judge will know you’re an idiot and your lawyer won’t have anything to tell him to get you out on bail quicker.
In civil matters, you don’t know shit. Once the contract is violated, cease service and cease contact. You hired a fucking lawyer for a reason. You hired a liar because he knows shit. If he doesn’t know shit, you hired him to learn shit on the run. Don’t try to resolve it. Certainly don’t threaten to burn his establishment down and sow the ground with salt so that nothing grows there again. Absolutely don’t say things like, “I know where your kids go to school.”
That’s not helpful. In fact, it’s probably criminal – and you’re now stuck paying the fees for both a criminal AND a civil liar. You’re a broke-ass musician, doing gigs for a $300 a night and that’s gotta be split four ways. Your broke-ass can’t afford both a civil and criminal liar.
Which is to say, shut the fuck up. No, really. Shut the fuck up. Don’t “threaten” them with your lawyer. Contact your liar and have them threaten them, preferably with a baseball bat. (Yeah, I was into the Massachusetts music scene for many years. I’m pretty sure our lawyer carried a bat in his car. No, that’s not a joke. But damned if he wasn’t effective.)
I can’t stress this enough – shut the fuck up. You have legal council on retainer. Don’t speak. Let them do their job. You hired them to do a job you could not do. They’re professional liars and they’re very skilled at lying. They lie better than you do – and they know what lies to tell and when to tell them. Shut the fuck up.
If that means you have to turn around and gag the idiot drummer, then so be it. Don’t let him talk (it’s always a him, trust me) to the police. Don’t let him talk to the customer after the contract has been violated.
This is longer than I’d hoped – I’m trying to keep them all under 1000 words. Sorry about that, but I hope you’re enjoying them.
I do want to take a moment to point out a few more things:
If you have a signed contract (remember the third lesson?) and it has been violated, then pretty much every time you do what I said (that is cease performing and leave the premises) you’ll resolve the problem immediately. In other words, if they’ve violated the contract and you just simply refuse to go on stage and start packing your gear back up, they’ll capitulate immediately.
Let’s say your contract specifies that the venue provides security and you get there and the bar manager says that they’re understaffed, it’s a small crowd, and you won’t need security (or that they’re going to provide just one instead of two). Start packing your stuff back up. They’ll provide security.
Alternatively, they may not provide security – but they’ll give you $500 extra (for example). Write that down on the contract and have both parties initial the change. You didn’t have to leave, you still got paid, and you didn’t have to give your liar more money.
Anyhow, this was longer than I wanted it to be – but it’s fun to write them. I hope you enjoy reading ’em as much as I enjoy writing them.
If you have a lesson you’ve learned, please let me know in a comment and I’ll go ahead and try to find a way to add it to the list. This is your chance to help your fellow musicians out and I’m sure they’d love to hear anything you’d like to add. I’ll even try to write about it with my usual style. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!