Biz: Performing as an Independently Contracted Musician

Written by Mike Harmon Posted in: Biz on May 31, 2012

If you’re in a band that does a large repertoire of songs or regularly performs out in bars and local clubs, you may be interested in seeking out some higher profile gigs as an independently contracted musician/band. This could mean performing at a wedding, corporate event, college formal, or even a private party. If you’re at your next gig and someone comes up to you and asks, “Can you guys play my wedding?”, you’ll probably want to have a good idea of what you’re doing on the business side of things. To avoid choking up at the question, “How much do you cost?”, take some time to get together a package that you can present to potential clients as a contracted group.

Here’s a few tips to getting your business model together so that you can present yourself in a professional manner:

THE BUSINESS ENTITY

If you’re going to be performing as a private contractor, it is suggested that you have some sort of a business entity formed. Although it’s not completely necessary, you really should take this step to ensure that all of the weight is not on one person once taxes roll around, as these gigs are usually high paying (higher paying=higher taxes).

Whether you’re a solo singer or the leader of a band, the least you can do to protect yourselves as an entity is to open a business checking account (as a sole proprietor/partnership, or an LLC if you’ve spent some time properly incorporating your band as a business). From there, you can accept checks on behalf of the band and will be able to write off your expenses (travel, equipment, etc.) for these gigs from your taxes.

For more information on the different types of business entities your band can incorporate itself as, check out this article.

THE PERFORMANCE CONTRACT

Oftentimes in situations where you may be performing as an independent contractor, you will not be dealing with someone who plans and executes concerts on a regular basis such as a concert promoter or traditional venue. They are often an event coordinator, wedding planner, or someone who knows how to throw a party, but isn’t necessarily as familiar with how to facilitate a musical performance and a band's technical needs.

To provide a clearer explanation of the show’s details, writing up a simple performance contract between your band and the client will help outline the responsibilities set forth by both the band and the client. Think of this as sort of a guideline or rule book for what you’re providing as a service to the client for the gig. For instance, you’ll want to state the agreed upon amount of time you’ll be playing, your rate, services provided, and any other details you solidify with the client regarding the performance. Here is a sample performance contract between a band and their client for an independent contracting gig:

For a blank example of a performance contract, click here.

In this example, the artist includes their rate per hour, amount of time they’ll be playing (anything over the agreed upon amount of time can be billed in as overtime), payment and deposit details, and the details regarding when their gear will be set up and torn down from the venue. Additional details that you may want to include are:

  • Specifications regarding power (you don’t want to blow a fuse!)
  • Will you be providing sound and lighting equipment or should they be prepared with it?
  • Is there a specific sound curfew, and will the event be affected by it?
  • If the gig is far from your city, will you be charging for transportation/lodging?
  • Does the client want to approve a song list for the event?

ADDITIONAL REQUESTS OF THE CLIENT

By taking private contracting gigs as a band, you may sometimes be asked things by the client that you wouldn’t encounter at a normal gig. For example, if you’re playing a wedding, they may ask you to play a few songs that are out of your musical style/genre for the first dances, or to introduce the Wedding Party/MC/the Event. Although this can be a bit out of your comfort zone, you can charge more for these services, and should outline them within your performance contract. You may be asked to wear formal dress, provide background music for a cocktail hour, or even have someone sit in for a “special number.” The more modular your band can be in this case, the happier the client will essentially be, and you can even charge more for requested services as an “added on package.”

Many artists and bands would run the other way if asked these requests by a client, but the important thing to remember is that you’re doing these gigs to make a living off of what you enjoy doing. If it were me in this position, I’d take playing “Don’t Stop Believing” for a wedding party over working at my day job for the same amount of money. If you present yourself in a professional manner to the client, you can fully justify yourself as a performer and independent contractor to the point where they know that you are the best person to hire for the job.

 

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