One of the hardest parts about functioning as a band is keeping everyone organized and on the same page. It doesn’t matter if you have a manager or not, to succeed you’ll have to devise a system that helps keep your music career in motion.
Contracts are often overlooked when starting a band. It’s not a fun or easy task to have to put everything down on paper, but you absolutely need to. You have to think of your band as a business if you want to survive. That means that you have to have rules and regulations that determine every foreseeable circumstance you may encounter. I know you might be thinking, “These are my friends, we can work everything out without a contract.” That’s simply just not true. Once money and fame get involved, people change. If you have everything down on paper with everyone’s signature, it can help keep you grounded, and help you stay friends.
Here are some reasons why you need a contract:
If you haven’t already read The Music Royalty Breakdown, it’ll give you some good insight into who actually owns the rights to your songs. To give a quick summary, music laws state that the songwriter is whoever writes the lyrics and melody. So, if you hit it big and earn $1,000,000 in songwriter royalties, and your drummer only wrote the drums, he is technically entitled to the breathtaking amount of $0. Having a band contract can change that. If you feel that your drummer is an integral part to the songwriting process, even if he doesn’t write a single lyric or note of the melody, you can give him a fair share of all the songwriter royalties. Again, if you don’t understand how powerful royalties and song ownership are, read The Music Royalty Breakdown.
New Band Members
It’s sad, but most of the time your original line-up won’t be the same one as when you finally get your big break. When that time comes, all of your previous band mates are likely to come out of the woodwork and claim that they own this or that part of your band and its music, and are therefore entitled to the money earned from it. With a contract, you can prevent that from happening. You can put down on paper what is required to remove or add a new band member, and how ownership and money is split up when it happens. Once they’ve signed it, you have proof if they ever do decide to take you to court.
There’s no reason that one band member should have to front the entire cost of the band. Things like gas, food, shirts, and stickers can really add up. Contracts provide an easy way to break down who is responsible for what percent of the costs. The last thing you want is for your drummer to threaten to leave the band unless everyone chips in his for his new 100-piece drum kit.
These are just a few examples of what you’ll need to cover. You will likely find that you need multiple contracts for the various aspects of your music career. If you are using a lawyer, this can end up being fairly costly. If you can’t afford a lawyer, don’t let it stop you. In most cases you’re actually only paying the lawyer for his expertise in writing a contract for you. He’ll have insight into facets of the music business that you won’t even think of. You can instead write your own contract in plain English. The trick is to make sure everything is very clear and specific. That way everyone knows what they are responsible for, and if it ever does go to court, it should be clear what was intended. And don’t forget that Google can be your friend. Do a search for “Band Agreement Contract” and you’ll find some references, if not a free contract template.
If you’re still hesitant, I have a simple question for you that may hopefully persuade you to get a contract together. What harm could possibly come of having one?
One Point of Contact
You know when you call customer service, get disconnected, and then have to start all over again because you can’t talk to the same person you were talking to before? That’s what it’s like if you don’t make someone the sole point of contact for your band. Let me make one thing very clear though: This does not mean that one person has to do everything. It just means that when you are talking business outside of the band, it should always be the same person. How the work gets done behind the scenes is up to you.
In most cases, you’ll find that someone naturally becomes your band leader, but if you don’t have one yet, here are some qualities you’ll want to make sure they have:
- Organized – This should be self-explanatory.
- Communicates Well – They will have to communicate with all sorts of people in every way possible. So, they should have good communication skills on the phone, in person, and in writing.
- Looks presentable – How you define this is up to you. Just keep in mind that the focus here isn’t how you are presented in the spotlight, but to the business side of the world instead. Although the music business side is fairly open-minded, things like proper hygiene are still important.
- Be Likeable – You know that guy that everyone hates for no good reason? He shouldn’t be your band leader.
- Be Prompt – No one likes waiting. Your band leader will need to make sure to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Keep in mind, you still need to function as a unit, you just have an elected representative now. Do everything you can to help and work with each other. Egos have no place in the band.
Although this might fall under the 1 point of contact category, I want to stress the fact that having a band email is vital. You always have to keep in mind what the person on the receiving end sees. If you are using an email like LoverBoy224@aol.com, you run the risk of them deleting your email, or not being able to take you seriously. Creating a professional looking email is free and easy, so there’s no excuse not to. If you already have your domain (if not you can pick one up from GoDaddy for cheap), then you can create an email like email@example.com. If not, then Gmail is a great alternative. Just make sure not to pick firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping a well-organized calendar is extremely important. Doing so is a twofold process. First, you need to know each of your band member’s schedules. If you have to call each of your band mates when you are trying to schedule anything, you’ll not only waste time, but also guarantee that you’ll make a scheduling mistake. Having a calendar with everyone’s availability and blackout dates makes it easy to quickly look and decide whether you can book a gig or schedule that photo shoot.
Second, you’ll need to be able to communicate the band schedule to everyone else. Musicians tend to have chaotic schedules. Making it easy for them to be able to check the band schedule against their personal life can save a lot of headaches.
In both cases, the solution is to use a calendar that can be seen by all your band mates. Google Calendar is a free and easy way to do it. It allows you to share the calendar with your entire band and have them add their own schedule if they would like. I definitely recommend taking the time to check it out.
If I could pass one bit of advice on to every musician, it would be to keep any and all contacts you make. You never know when or where you’ll need to someone’s help. Sadly, our brains don’t do such a great job of remembering every person and their contact info. So to supplement it, make sure you have some form of contact database. Once again, if you don’t already have something, I’ll recommend Google Contacts.
Remember, when you enter their information, make sure to list everything you possibly can. Chances are you won’t remember everyone’s name. You might only remember them as that guy from Joe’s Tavern. If you didn’t add the fact that they were from Joe’s Tavern, you’ll be doing a lot of searching to find them again.
If you aren’t making tons of it, money is probably your band’s least favorite topic. Suck it up. You still have to keep on top of every penny that goes in and out. Hopefully you’ll have a breakdown of how money can and can’t be used in your contract, but you’ll still need a way to keep track of everything for tax, auditing, and analytical purposes. Keeping track of all your income and expenditures gives you an easy way to sit down and analyze what is actually effective and profitable. Numbers don’t lie. Your memory, however, does. Having it down on paper can let you decide whether it’s wise to print a new batch of a particular shirt design.
The easiest way to keep track of it all is to have some form of a ledger. An Excel spreadsheet is a surprisingly powerful tool that I would highly recommend. If you ever take the time to learn the functions, formulas, and macros features, you can build a completely custom system that can save you tons of time and work. If you aren’t interested in doing it yourself, or are moving some serious cash, you can always invest in a program like Quicken.
The guys from EarMaster ApS contacted us about one of their online tools called BandLoot. It’s a great and extremely easy way to keep track of band expenses and income. And the best part is that it’s completely free! Check it out here.
If you have merchandise, it’s a smart idea to use some form of inventory program/system. The last thing you want to do is remember the night before a big show that you’re all out of Medium shirts. And like keeping track of your funds, keeping track of where your inventory is can give you a good way to analyze what does and doesn’t work. Again, an Excel spreadsheet can be your best friend. If not, you can check out inFlow for some heavyweight inventory management.
You’re more than likely going to find a lot more that you’ll have to keep under control. I’ve always found that the simplest way to manage it all is to just keep chipping away at it, one item at a time. If you have none of these things already set in motion, just focus on one and try to get as much of it done as you can. If you don’t keep focused you might run the risk of being overwhelmed and letting the weight of everything crush you. It’s no easy task, but I can promise you that if you really take your band’s organization seriously, you’ll see a huge growth in your music career.