You want to break up a band? Try getting them to sign a band agreement.
Why do you need a band agreement? To answer the following questions:
• What’s your organizational structure? LLC? Partnership? Inc.?
Most bands don’t get far enough in their commitment to need to answer these questions, and since they are very hard questions to answer and can lead to hurt feelings, they can even break up bands. It’s all about friends till it’s not, unfortunately.
The rub usually comes when you talk about who gets to put their names on those songs. You don’t see too many “group” authors of songs, or books, or visual art. There may be co-writers and authors, but basically, somebody’s name is on the song, which means they own it. But the band may confuse the recording, the arrangement, the cool bass line and the funky drum pattern with “writing the song”.
As I’ve mentioned before, writing the song is about who wrote the melody and the lyrics since those are the two things that are copyrightable in a song.
Here’s a way around that problem: the money the song makes, that the lead singer wrote, goes into the band fund for equal division, or whatever division. The point is, the bands shares in the profits, not the copyright. In this example, if some other artist recorded the song, the lead singer (or her publishing company) would receive the mechanical royalties.
But look at all of those other questions this agreement has to answer, and all of these agreements have to be tailored to the situation at hand. But the basic questions remain the same: who owns what and how is this “company” going to be run? This is NOT easy to do and it should not be tried at home without adult supervision.
What does a band agreement cover?
• Who owns what. Maybe each person brings certain equipment or resources with them. Who owns the songs? Who owns the name? The name thing is important; it’s a trademark issue (another topic for another day), and it creates all those merchandise rights.
How do you do it?
• Lock yourselves in a room with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
So maybe you don’t need a band agreement in writing. If you’re not all heading the same direction the band agreement may not matter but it may force everybody to fish or cut bait. And besides, if the brand has value and can continue to be monetized, it matters very much who owns it and how the money is divided up. A good band agreement is best practices. It helps you structure your business. It’s part of being buttoned-up in a business/legal sense.
What are the basic “terms” of a band agreement?
The questions at the beginning of this article and the list of what an agreement could cover can all be organized under several major headings:
• Parties – who signs it? The whole band? If the band is just a singer songwriter with a rhythm section, the band may really only be a band as long as the singer songwriter finds a way to pay them. In that situation, you may need some performance agreements for certain gigs, or for a tour, but even those are rarely written down unless there’s serious money at steak. You know you’re playing at the business when what you do works without written contracts.
Try writing out a band agreement for your band. Assume the splits are easy – 4 ways for example, then what? Who owns what? You know the rest. Apply these general questions to your specific situation.
Use your band agreement to unite your band, not divide it. Once you reach a certain level of success, and lawyers enter your lives, you will find yourselves addressing issues like this. It’s business. It’s not hard and it’s not bad. It’s creative and necessary. It lets you build a career out of what you create and others create. There is such a thing as the art of business and when you can apply that art to your art you will complete the circle of motion, movement, and progress.