A legal tune worth hearing!

Playing in bands and embarking on tours while attempting to pass a law degree has been no easy feat, but one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. Now I’m close to the end of my degree I’m able to use my legal knowledge to my band’s benefit, but this has not always been the case and there has been times where we have lost money as a result. Hopefully this article will give a brief insight into the legal problems bands can face and why it’s important to obtain legal advice in these situations.

Contracts, contracts, contracts

Many bands, including those I know personally, still do a large portion of their work in the music industry without contracts, which is essentially playing with fire. To explain contracts in brief:

  • They usually set out all terms agreed upon by the parties and set out any obligations that have to be fulfilled.
  • They may contain remedies for situation where one party does not fulfil their end of the contract.
  • They are essentially there for the protection of the interests of all parties involved.

It is often helpful to have a written contract in place where a band is booking a show where they are required to sell tickets. It may be the case that the promoter has agreed to promote the show in a certain way and the band has agreed to sell a certain number of tickets which, if left unsold, must be paid for by the band. So what would be the outcome if the promoter does not promote the show and the tickets are not sold as a result?

  • Without a contract, the promoter will still realistically be able to ask for the money to account for unsold tickets, even where it may be his fault that the tickets are not sold, as the band has no proof he has committed to promote the show in a certain way, and the promoter is in a position of power.
  • If a contract is in place – and it has been drafted appropriately – the band may be able to point to the clause in the contract which sets out the promoter’s obligations. They can argue that the promoter has failed to hold up his end of the bargain and that has led to a reduction in ticket sales.

This is a prime reason to make sure there is a written contract wherever possible, for the protection of your interests. A solicitor who specialises in commercial contracts can help draft that contract.

Per diem? Plain English please

While having a contract in place is all well and good, it is useless if you don’t really understand what’s being said. Many contracts contain a lot of legal jargon. Take two bands with the same contract which:

  • Gives a £40,000 advance for recording and two tours within the first year, with repayment conditions attached,
  • Includes a £25 per diem (daily allowance) per band member,
  • Includes provisions which would ultimately lead to 75% of tour merchandise sales going to the label and not the band.

Band A, who have taken no legal advice, may be swayed solely on the £40,000 advance which they may not be even able to repay through album sales if the album ‘flops’. Without any thought to what a ‘per diem’ is or the merchandise sale provision, the band would not realise that each member would make very little money from good merchandise sales and a basic daily allowance. In comparison Band B, who have taken legal advice, will be in a better position to hopefully negotiate a better deal with the label after these provisions have been explained to them by a lawyer.

Free legal advice

As I am well aware, many young bands would not have the funds to hire a lawyer to aid them in drafting contracts and explaining detailed provisions to them why the free legal advice service provided by the Business and Commercial Firms within the Student Law Office at Northumbria University is invaluable to bands starting to take their first steps within the music industry. We are coming to the end of the academic year at the Student Law Office, but bands might want to contact the SLO in the new academic year (October 2015) to see if any assistance can be provided. For more details please click here.

This blog post was written by Joseph Muir.  Joseph is an MLaw student who is currently advising clients as part of a Business and Commercial firm within the Student Law Office. On graduation he hopes to spend some time working on his music before securing a training contract which will allow him to further develop his interests in media law.