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Here is why you need to have a contract in the music business

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Contract? Yes, I said ‘contract’. This word alone has stalled many possible deals and gigs, just because one party was not comfortable going on record to deliver a service.

Welcome to yet another weekend, one that starts off today with the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final between Senegal and Algeria. Look at it this way; it is Sadio Mane VS Riyad Mahrez, popular names from the English Premier League (EPL).

Eyo tuveyo! Let’s get back to why you are reading this. I know the word ‘contract’ seems heavy for a lot of people. Let’s settle with ‘Agreement’ which is the same as a contract, an agreement of terms between two parties. That is simple, right?

Time and again, we have seen or heard of the many instances where artists fall out with their managers, music writers, promoters, et al, all because there was no contract binding the two for any particular business. Most recent was Lydia Jazmine a few weeks ago. Jazmine made a press release about a misunderstanding where a songwriter sold a song, Mpanirira, to her and another artiste. Jazmine had been duped because she was the second buyer of the song. All this would have been avoided and the songwriter would have to pay for damages, had the two singed a Contract/Agreement or if the songwriter had issued a receipt of the money paid for his services.

A Contract doesn’t necessarily have to be drawn by a Lawyer, you can just write down a paragraph documenting the details of the transaction and penalties in the case one party screws up the other. If you want professional contracts for your projects and business as a musician, you can download various samples of contracts that fall into what you need to agree on.

Back home in Africa, we have something called a ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’, a verbal agreement between parties without any written paperwork. Convenient as they may be, these verbal agreements have landed many people into problems, me inclusive. So, should you do verbal or written agreements?

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Written Vs Verbal Agreements

In my professional opinion, I will advise you to always go for a written agreement as oral contracts tend to create misunderstandings. “He is a longtime friend of mine; he can’t do me wrong” is a wrong approach. Actually, written agreements between friends are even more important than between strangers. With a signed contract, the line is drawn between the professional and buddy relationship making it easier to hold each other accountable. When a ‘situation’ comes up, you make reference to the agreement instead of arguing about it.

For musicians, if you have a manager, you need to sign a contract that breaks down everyone’s obligations, the revenue share percentage, et al. You need to know how much money you take home after every gig, how much money goes to operations, how much money the manager takes home, and all those other aspects. You need to move away from negotiating about revenue for every gig that comes in.

The music business in Uganda and I guess world over, is full of fun and partying almost every night but you have to remember that your music is your business as well; there is a time and place for everything. You won’t party forever and you will most definitely not always be at the top so it’s ultimately necessary to have working contracts in with every stakeholder in your music career. If you choose to ignore this and focus on the fun, I have news for you… you will live to regret and curse the music industry which is full of wolves on the lookout for any vulnerable prey.

As I sign off today, acquire copies of vital contracts and streamline your relationships for a musical future without fights. See you next weekend.

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Don Andrea

Don Andrea is a journalist and data analyst with a passion for music and entertainment. "Opinions are mine, comments are yours." - Don Andrea.

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