Q&A with Brad Rosser, drummer with The Brave Youngster
The story of Van Halen using their contract to demand bowls of M&Ms for their dressing rooms, with all the brown candies removed, is legendary (and is featured in a recent airing of This American Life). Far from being the whim of pampered rock stars, this contract wording was a smart industry approach for a band with complicated safety and equipment needs. Band members knew their contract had actually been read if the M&Ms were right.
A good contract can be vital to a working musician’s or performer’s professional viability. In the music business, talented people often are piecing together short-term engagements at different venues, relying on compliance with their contract to have the right staff and equipment available, and to get paid.
I got interested in entertainment law through my brother, one of those rare professionals: a musician who actually makes a living at it. He has opened for Bon Jovi, Run DMC, and later this summer, Rick Springfield, and has a distinguished history as a drummer with Fenster, Introspect and currently The Brave Youngster, and as a drum instructor. He acts as manager for his current band, and it falls on him to negotiate contracts and enforce compliance. I asked him a few questions that show how important a good contract is to his industry.
Jeanblanc & Rosser, LLP: What’s the usual process for developing a relationship with a new venue and getting a contract for your band into the management’s hands?
Brad Rosser:Usually the process begins with me talking to another band, to know what another band is doing. We all know each other and we all talk. If a new venue opens up, one band tries it out, and tells the other bands about it. Then I’ll ask them to pass my information on to the booking manager, or I’ll call the booking manager myself. Then the booking manager and I talk dates and money.
The most important thing in that contract is absolutely the cancellation clause. The easy part is how much money and when. The cancellation clause is what really matters. The reason we really need to have that is, if we take a gig on July 4, that’s a big date—if someone cancels at the last minute, not only do we lose the money we would have gotten paid from that gig, we can’t book another show on that date without notice.
Holidays are important for cancellation clauses. The one time we actually went to court was someone who canceled on Halloween. The case went to mandatory mediation and it literally took five minutes—most of that was the mediator reading the contract—before the guy agreed to pay.
It was actually comical—I took one of my guys with me and had them cue up the theme song to “Night Court” on his cell phone while we’re sitting there in the court lobby. We knew we were going to win. We had a good contract.
J&R: Is it usually smooth sailing, or are there common negotiations or contract problems that arise?
BR: My experience is smooth sailing. It’s good to have a contract, and anyone who balks at signing a contract should be considered questionable. Really, the whole point of a contract is to spell out what we’re going to do and what the venue is going to do, so a manager shouldn’t be scared of that.
J&R: What makes a good contract for a performer, in your opinion?
BR: It needs to be brief. Bar managers need to understand it; it needs to be clear, concise. The contract protects the band more than the venue, just because we’re going to set it up that way, but a good contract is clear.
For our contract, Jeanblanc & Rosser looked at possible scenarios that could be problematic for us, like insurance and in-house production, and addressed those. For example, some venues have in-house production, so they have their own PA and lights, so we put that in if they are responsible for production, or if we are responsible.
We included other requirements, like that the venue be sufficiently powered, safe. The contract gives the venue permission to use the band name and pictures, but they would have to get permission to use music or video clips.
J&R: What tips would you give a new musician about contracts?
BR: Number one, always have a contract. A lot of times you’re dealing with people who are a little bit shady. And don’t be afraid to enforce that contract. Some people will take advantage of new bands because they think they need the gigs, but my feeling is, if a venue is going to treat bands that way, we can go somewhere else.
My other piece of advice is that you have to be dogged about it. Half the time, the booking manager will say when you call, “Oh, I don’t have my calendar on me.” That’s what some other guys I know just don’t get. They’ll call a venue and say, “He said he’s all booked up.” He’s not all booked up. It’s not complicated, it’s pretty much straight-up sales; you have to prove you have a track record and you’re going to make him some money.
Also, I advise that bands have an attorney. Just having someone be able to call and say, “I’m the band’s attorney,” gets a lot done.
Just like any other professional, artists should expect R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sorry, couldn’t resist) from venues, vendors, studios, and other partners in their efforts, and a good contract can be a start to defining those relationships.