From the 5th Beatle
to Sting and the Police, the oftentimes tumultuous relationship between band mates lead to emotional and costly breakups. The media picks up on the break ups and, depending on the notoriety of your band, an inter-band fight can be great fodder for tabloids. Embarrassing exposes on Inside Edition aside, a band member leaving your band can have a long standing an sometimes devastating effect on your career and your future in the business.
A majority of bands form when friends or acquaintances get together and discover that they sound better with an additional instrument or vocal than they do on their own armed only with a suped up Casio. An informal understanding of togetherness is usually solidified when you and your buddies pick a kick-ass name for your newly formed band. A parent’s garage then becomes a high school dance which may lead to an opening act at the local pub. Pretty soon, if things continue to go well, you start lining up gigs out of town that maybe, just maybe, cover more than gas and beer money.
At this point, things usually move fast. Labels might start snooping around. Maybe you have been smart with your gig money and have saved enough to produce your own album. All potentially great stuff. Maybe you add a percussionist, a couple of back up singers, maybe you want to be like Arcade Fire and bring on an expert accordion player. Question is, who owns what and who is really in the band and not just a hired hand that is needed to play the cow bell on one of the 48 songs that is currently in your band’s repertoire?
Do you really want this guy “in” the band?
If you have read any of my past rants, I have raved about the wonder that is the limited liability company (“LLC“). Well, here again, it comes in handy. The true owners of the band, the guys and gals that were there at the beginning are probably going to be the members or owners of your LLC. Gene Frenkel (pictured above) should not be considered an “owner” of your band. If he leaves because the rest of your songs do not feature the cow bell, the band is not going to break up. Problem is, if you don’t have anything in writing, there isn’t anything to prevent Gene or the flutist you hired cause you thought she would “sound cool, like Jethro Tull” from arguing that they are part owners of the band as a whole and therefore entitled to money that the band makes regardless of their involvement.
I’m definitely not saying that you should limit your bands’ musical horizons for fear of a rouge tambourine player. What I am suggesting is that you make sure that your one and done contributors get treated as independent contractors. They should sign an agreement that defines their role as a hired hand that is being engaged by your band to do one (or more) task and for that task will be paid a set amount. You could pay a musician a set sum for his participation or maybe a percentage of your royalties earned in connection with the song or album on which he has contributed. The musician gets paid, gets her credit on the liner page and then moves on to the next project.
Maybe you are like Kanye West and hired a string section to go on tour with you. Each musician in that string section should sign an agreement that will set forth the amount he or she is going to get paid for his or her help on the tour. Once the tour is over, their engagement with your band is also over. They quit without any fear or trepidation of a potential lawsuit.
Treat your band like you would any other business. Protect the ownership of it right up front. Making it known who’s band it is will not only save you from embarrassing moments and nasty fights, but may also save you a boat load of money.