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Being in a band is no different than being part of a professional sports team; a group of individuals united in achieving a common goal-each person playing a unique and integral part in achieving a dream. The motto-at least in theory-being, "All for one and one for all."
But unlike the professional sports world, where athletes must meet extremely high standards before getting into a draft and being picked by a team, young bands often form with little more consideration than just being friends or sharing similar musical tastes. Unfortunately this criteria is just not enough for a band to succeed. Personality differences as well as opposing views of how business matters should be handled eventually rear their ugly heads. The results: the band calls it quits, a member is unfairly kicked out, the group suffers setbacks due to member changes, or everyone gets entangled in an on-going legal battle between them. This fate can be avoided, however, if a band maps out a simple business plan from its inception, ensuring that every member has similar expectations and goals. Though playing music is supposed to be fun, being in a band is a business just like any other, and it should never be treated as anything less.
The Personality Test
Before getting down to the legalities of running your band, it's important to consider the personalities and goals of the people with whom you're about to get involved. When everyone is excited and eager to get things rolling, character flaws and differences of opinion are often overlooked-but when problems are left to be dealt with later, they always come back to bite you on the you know what. By asking each member a few honest questions up front, a band will know whether or not proceeding in business is even worthwhile. Questions may include:
Are you ready to work your ass off and treat the band as a serious business?
Could you relocate to another city and commit to staying there for a few years?
Are you able to hit the road for extended periods of time for little or no pay?
Can you deal with traveling across country in a small passenger van in the dead of winter?
If you have a girlfriend, how serious are you about getting married and starting a family?
The questions are endless, but don't look at them as an interrogation! Think of them as a screening process to ensure that your proposed business venture is a fruitful and long-lasting endeavor. No matter how good the musicianship is in a band, if there are too many opposing opinions regarding how the band should be run, problems will eventually occur. The last thing you want to do is fire someone, have someone quit or for the band to break-up after spending several months or years building up your band.
Getting Down To Legalities
Once you've got all of your members in place, you need to have a written agreement defining the terms of your business relationship. This document, called a "band membership agreement," compels a band to deal with important business issues before they become problems. The terms of the agreement should include language stipulating:
How the band will make decisions (for example, by unanimous or majority vote)
How income, such as record royalties, music publishing, concert money, and merchandising will be divided
What happens to a member's share of assets acquired by the group (such as equipment) when he or she quits or is voted out of the band
How disputes will be resolved (in a court of law or outside of the courts)
Who owns or controls the rights to the band name and its continued use
Not all members of a band may have an equal level of control or an equal share of the profits. Sometimes the founder, the lead singer, or the main songwriter of a group are the only members who own the rights to the band name, or who control the vote and have the final word in making business decisions. In any case, the record company may consider these individuals to be the "key members" or those most important to the functioning of the band. If a key member decides to leave and start his own solo project, the record company may exercise their contractual right to drop the band.
Draft That Agreement Today!
A band membership agreement won't stop a band from running into conflicts or breaking up, but it will avert any misunderstandings or confusion regarding compensation and control. It is much easier to discuss business while a relationship is new and everyone is the best of friends. Though rock n' roll is supposed to be about having fun and being care-free, it's also a business. Bill Wyman, reflecting back on his years with The Rolling Stones said it best, "It's only Rock n' Roll. Is it really?"
Bobby Borg is the author of "The Musician's Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business," which is NOW available by Billboard Books; available on-line at Amazon.com or in a store near you! For more information: www.bobbyborg.com.