Show contracts for Dummies

Bluegrass musicians, and musical artists in general, often fall into a category of people who have a hard time with the bureaucratic and organizational side of the music business. Heck, some artists have a hard enough time just getting themselves dressed in the morning. This explains some of the more bizarre stage wear out there. When you see a guitar player wearing flip flops, a ripped tank top from Ball State University, a lime green bolo tie, brocade vest and grey flannel dress pants, it isn’t an artist statement; that’s just what was lying around the bed at 11:30 that morning (he was actually sleeping in the tank top).

Still, musicians and artists who are handling some of their own business affairs have to find ways to manage some of the decidedly non-artistic issues that come their way. Drawing up contracts is a perfect example. Someone whose brain is busy trying to come up with an effective rhyme for “raspberry” or “coal chute” is going to have a hard time focusing on phrases like “pursuant to,” “including, but not limited to,” and “hereafter referred to as.”

The contract itself is challenging enough. Then there’s the whole complicated issue of the rider.

The “rider,” for those not familiar with the term is where additional requests and conditions are written, beyond the basic fee for services and legal disclaimers. This is where metal bands and others were famous for stipulating that all the brown M&Ms be removed from the 8.5 pounds of candy required backstage, along with four fifths of “Glenfiddich or equivalent” single malt scotch, six cases of Heineken, and 75 packages of Twinkies.

A friend of mine who was the president of a musician’s union local in upstate NY showed me a late ‘70s Doobie Brothers contract that called for what seemed like an inordinate amount of Chivas Regal, and a ping pong table backstage (it may have been brought out for the encore). I think everybody drank more scotch back then and played a lot more ping pong (drunk) than they do now.

A bluegrass artist’s rider tends to be a lot simpler and less demanding, with wording like: “A sound system would be nice. Lighting too, maybe, but don’t go to any trouble on our account.”

Let’s admit it, we don’t want to make demands that will just make the event producer laugh (“Hah!! Look here, Charlie, this band wants water backstage!”).

As time went by, though, I found myself making notes about things that I thought needed to be included in our performance rider. For example, we’ve always done free workshops in addition to the scheduled stage show, but sometimes I’d find, a week before the show, that we had been scheduled for three workshops each (I was down for guitar, harmony singing, and anger management), plus performances on four different stages. I realized then that some limitations needed to be put in writing.

Then there were the checks made out to “Chris Jones and Midnight Drive,” but that’s another story.

We’d all love to have a very simple, one page contract that says something like:

“We, the band Windy County, will play (event X) on March 14th for $600 bucks, payable after the show in cash, check, or the equivalent in frozen meat. Signed….”

Sadly, the business is not that simple, so it would be handy if someone came up with a straightforward yet thorough model for a contract and performance rider. Something that wasn’t too demanding, yet would keep an artist from being used like so many backstage styrofoam cups.

I submit below, a template for what I believe to be the perfect bluegrass contract. Feel free to alter and personalize in any way you want:


Performance Contract


This agreement is hereby made on _______________ (date) between the purchaser _______________, hereafter referred to as “The Guy Who’d Rather Not Be Paying This Much Money to a Band He’s Barely Heard Of” and artist________________, hereafter referred to as “The Band That’s Tired of Being Kicked Around By the Likes of the Above Purchaser” for performance services to be provided at the following venue:

Venue name and address:

On the following date:


Services will consist of ___ (pick a number lower than 8 here) shows to be performed at the above venue.

Fee for services: Artist will be paid _________________ dollars in cash or cashier’s check for the above services. (Note: I would never presume to suggest what your price should be, but if you feel unsure in this area, just aim for something between $100 and $300,000)

Artist will be excused from contact obligations in the event of any or all of the following: destruction of venue due to severe weather, fire, termites, terrorism, acts of God, a fiddle contest gone bad, or Force Majeur (I believe this is French for either “tornado” or “migraine”); destruction of purchaser due to illness, accident, disgruntled spouse, disgruntled stage manager, or rabid horse; artist’s inability to travel to venue due to circumstances beyond the artist’s control, including but not limited to: labor disputes, armed revolutions, inclement weather (e.g.  flash floods, damaging winds, clouds that look suspicious), a band bus that should have been sold for parts in 1998, crappy airlines.

Performance Rider

Purchaser will provide a professional looking P.A. System, including a mixer with a lot of faders, several microphones with stands and microphone cables, including at least one faulty cable, just to make things interesting, and at least one surly engineer. A stage plot will be provided by artist, and subsequently lost.

Stage lighting will be provided with a minimum of one green light.

Purchaser will provide 5 complimentary tickets for guests of artists. It will not be necessary for guest to present marriage license or proof of genetic relations to band member.

Backstage catering will consist of the following: 12 bags unflavored pork rinds, 6 bottles Perrier, one 6-pack diet Squirt, one 12-pack Little Debbie’s oatmeal cream pies, and a ripe pomegranate.

Artist performance will be scheduled no earlier than 7:00 p.m. and no later than 7:30 p.m. Show will not exceed 70 minutes inclusive of introduction by stage MC. Show will not be shorter than 15 minutes, i.e., artist may not be cut to 3 songs just because the previous act ran over with an 18 minute medley of Rider and Orange Blossom Special that included themes from Dr. Zhivago and Fiddler on the Roof.

Stage MC must mess up artist name at least once.


Signed: ____________________________________ (purchaser)


Signed ______________________________________ (artist or artist representative)

Good luck with this.


Next week: How to obtain the services of an entertainment lawyer in exchange for fresh vegetables.