Talk To Our Lawyer | 04.06

You should not be afraid to present a written agreement to a Buyer; you will look more professional and also be more likely to get paid.


Many performers, especially early in their careers, agree to do live performances on a handshake or verbal agreement. While such agreements are legal, they are difficult to enforce. The more money involved in the performance, the more important a written contract becomes. It is advisable to have a simple standard contract for your live performances and to add special provisions in a rider/addendum to the standard contract when necessary (covering anything from sound and light requirements, backline and input lists, and stage plot to backstage food, beverage, and other requirements). You should not be afraid to present a written agreement to a Buyer; you will look more professional and also be more likely to get paid.

Here are the basics that should be included in a Performance Agreement (aka Booking Agreement or Engagement Contract).


  • Name and address of Performer and Buyer.
  • Date agreement is executed.
  • Date(s), time(s), and location(s) of performance(s).
  • Compensation—fixed amount/guaranteed fee, percentage of door, whichever is higher, or both; advance/deposit; meals, lodging and transportation; who gets paid; when payment will be made; payment method. Note: You may want to ask for a portion of your compensation as a deposit. However, such advances should not be spent before the performance in case the show is cancelled, as you may have to return the money. It is also a good idea for you to try to collect the balance of your compensation at the beginning of the show instead of at the end; ask for it and put it in the agreement if the Buyer agrees to it. College and corporate gigs will usually provide meals, lodging, and transportation, whereas benefit and public venue shows may not.
  • Signature of both parties.


  • Nature of performance.
  • Number and length of sets to be performed.
  • Number and length of breaks between sets.
  • Setup and sound check time.
  • Specific requirements/restrictions for Performer/Buyer (announcing the Performer, thanking a sponsor, attire or language, etc.).
  • Other acts that will be performing (i.e., opening or headlining act)/order of appearance; marquee billing order.


  • Admission fee/ticket price.
  • Capacity of venue.
  • Permits, licenses, insurance, security, royalties, and taxes. Note: The Buyer is usually responsible for these; however, you should insure your own equipment.
  • Equipment, stage, sound, lighting, and other technical requirements; who provides what and how.
  • Buyer’s policy for food and beverage.
  • Right to sell merchandise on premises. Note: Smaller venues usually allow you to do this with few, if any, restrictions (and you can often make a nice chunk of change from such sales); however, larger venues often have specific merchandise sales rules (and may also supply sales people and/or receive a percentage of merchandise sales).
  • Right to record, broadcast/transmit, reproduce, or photograph the performance and who controls/owns the reproduction. Note: You usually have the right to grant permission for the Buyer, venue, audience members, or other third parties to do this, but, if such permission is granted, ownership of the reproduction should be determined before any recording or other reproduction is made.
  • Advertising, press, and publicity, if any. Note: The Buyer usually has the right to use your name and likeness to advertise and promote the performance. It’s a good idea for you to provide the Buyer with promotional materials and promote the show, as well. An act with a bit more clout may also want to specify how and how much the Buyer will spend on promoting the show, as well as any media/publicity limitations.


  • What happens if the performance is cancelled (whether it’s Buyer’s or Performer’s fault)? Note: Usually neither party is penalized if a show is cancelled with enough notice; however, it may depend on the type of show and can be handled in a variety of ways.
  • Force Majeure/Acts of God such as weather or illness and other standard contract clauses.
  • Complimentary tickets/guest list, backstage passes, dressing room, agent terms, etc.
  • The Buyer and you should each retain a copy of the Agreement.
  • If you are not paid as agreed for a performance, small claims court may be the best option to collect the money (and potentially three times the amount due under the contract as damages).

This checklist provides some issues that you should consider if you are engaging in activities in the music business as a musical performing artist. Please consult with an attorney who has music industry experience for advice regarding your particular needs and issues.

| Danica L. Mathes is an entertainment and intellectual property attorney with Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin LLP and an adjunct professor of entertainment law at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. For more information, contact Danica at If you have topics you’d like to see addressed in future columns, let us know at

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