How to write a contract

This guide about how to write write contracts for performers comes from David Casserly, Oberlin alum and Harvard Law School student. It focuses on college groups, but can also apply to other groups writing contracts. This guide is not meant to constitute legal advice from CDSS or from David; if you want that, consult a real lawyer. 

A contract is a legally binding promise. I personally think it's a good idea to write a contract for every performer that comes to campus. Here are a few things that need to be included in contracts. Keep in mind that each school might have particular requirements for any contract that an agent of that school will sign; Oberlin's student union had to OK every contract by a student organization, and I would imagine most schools have similar processes. Anyways, contracts should have:

  • Write "Contract" at the top
  • Name and address of the performer, including social security number. If it's a band that has a federal tax ID#, then you can put that number in, along with where the band is incorporated. Make sure it's the legal name of the performer-- in Massachusetts, it doesn't really matter, but in some states, it might
  • The date and time of the engagement, including a load-in time and sound-check time
  • The description and location of the venue
  • A statement of the compensation offered, including a specific mention of whether or not that compensation includes travel. Be sure to mention any non-monetary compensation (e.g., University Contra Dance will provide lunch on the afternoon of the engagement).
  • Who will provide sound reinforcement
  • A liability statement (check with your college about this-- usually the college will want a statement making it clear that it's the boss of any of its premises, and that it is liable for any damages in premises, etc.. One of the nice things about having a dance in a college is that the college can assume liability, so you don't have to worry about insurance if your school lets you put a statement like this in).
  • signatures and dates of all parties (it wouldn't hurt to have both you, and a representative of the college sign it)

Be sure to remember that, if you sign a contract, you are legally obligated to make good on that promise. In other words, you have to pay the performer. Only write a contract if you're sure that those are the terms that you want. If you aren't sure about any of the terms, make it absolutely clear in the contract that those terms are up for future negotiation and will be written and signed separately.

If you have any questions about a contract, or want me to take a look at it, I would be happy to (I've written several performer contracts, and currently am involved with a law student organization that does advocacy work for musicians with music business legal problems). Get in touch with CDSS and we can put you in touch with David.