First things first: let’s take a little at that title at the top of this blog. This should not be thought of as a scare tactic designed to thwart any musician’s attempts at forming the next U2 (or Green Day, or Neutral Milk Hotel or whatever other band’s goals you strive to achieve). Instead, these are words designed to get your attention and let you know that starting a band requires more than getting a few friends together for a jam session – though that obviously is an important part.
Unless you are planning to never play for a public audience, and never want to release recordings for people to buy, then there are few additional steps you’ll want to take before getting into business with other musicians. And yes, I used the word “business,” as hard as it may be to hear.
There’s a reason many bands are incorporated, or are Limited Liability Companies, and that’s because they are in fact businesses. Do you need to go to your local courthouse and legally declare your band a business before you even have your first practice? No, of course not. But you do need to already be thinking about the business aspects of the band. It’s not the most attractive side of the music business (to most musicians), but it is a necessity.
Here are a few things that you’ll want to do before you ever play your first show as a band. As unnecessary as they may seem at the time, they can save big headaches (and big money) down the road.
Sign a Band Partnership Agreement
None of the points I’ll touch on today are as important as this one, and in fact the remainder of the topics will be related to this.
A band partnership agreement is (likely) the first business document you will sign as a band. In it, you will state exactly what the band is, and how all business matters will be handled. This includes stating the official band members, and stating how income will be split between them. It will also state how expenses will be handled, as well as what happens if members leave or new members are added.
The dotted line at the bottom of this contract may seem daunting. What’s a contract among friends, after all? But many groups have been saved a lot of fighting because this agreement was in place. And unfortunately, many other groups have not made it through later fighting because of the absence of a contract.
That Thing About Money
“Why should I state how money will be divided up? There is no money!” you may say. And while that is exactly right, the lack of money is the reason that the percentages need to be determined in the beginning.
It’s much better to find out that Band Member A feels that he deserves 75 percent of songwriting royalties before there are any royalties than after there is money and everyone else in the band reveals that they were under the impression all money would be split evenly.
This is just an example, but these kind of disputes pop up all the time. And heading them off before they happen is a great way to ensure a long future for a band before arguments arise.
The best thing about all of these points that you need to consider and decide on before forming a band – all of the things that you put into a band partnership agreement – is that you set the contract up to be changed.
One point you may put into the contract is that everything can be reconsidered if and when the band acquires a manager. And if this is the case, there’s a clause that the decision to hire a manager must be unanimous among band members. These stipulations are here to ensure all future decisions of a band are made in a certain manner that is all members have agreed on.
Every band partnership agreement will be different, and the points included here are by no means an exhaustive list of what will need to be included in the contract. But this is a primer to show how important these contracts are. No matter what they contain, their purpose is to create an agreeable way for all members of a band to make decisions about their group, about their business.
And after you’ve done this, you’ll find that starting a band is in fact not harder than you think (unlike that whole becoming successful thing…)