Say the word business to any artist, and you might be chasing them down as they run away.
The artistic mind is not the business mind.
Typically, artists create and have little time or - more specifically - patience to deal with the day-to-day operations, when dealing with artist management operations and duties. However, knowing the business side of the industry and having savvy can make or break an artist. Ask MC Hammer, or Toni Braxton how important and essential being fully involved in a career is and they will tell you to never let go of your finances, at any cost. The short version is that they trusted their complete business to someone else and ended up filing bankruptcy, when they each should have been able to live well, entirely on the results of their early success. These are cautionary tales of financial woe brought on by letting go. This does not mean that an artist needs to try handling everything, if they are making enough to pay others, however.
Being realistic, let us assume that this article is for a fledgling musician just beginning or one with moderate success in need of direction.
The first and non-negotiable step is to get a contract.
Free show, barter show, paid show, it does not matter. A contract ensures a complete understanding of any expectations by either person or party. It seems impersonal, but in the long run can protect an artist on many levels, not just in regards to getting paid. Sometimes contracts, agreements and documents are difficult to understand, granted. The first line of defense would be a contract lawyer, but since most people cannot afford one, we will review some terms.
It is vital to note that this is not to be used in lieu of an attorney and we are not lawyers.
We are merely sharing some basic experiences and complicated contracts always require a professional opinion and expertise.
The first thing to learn is some basic legal terms.
Contracts are a mine field. While most are straight forward, many are so full of legalese, that it takes a page to make a single point. Force Masur is one that many get intimated by. It is Latin for Act of God. It refers to anything out of control by either of the contract signers. It is typically the “out” on many contracts. Harsh weather would be the most familiar case of Force Masur. Front money is the payment made up front prior to the concert date or on the booking date to secure the performance.
A rider is a list of specific items, not appearing in the contract and is considered part of the contract, when attached. Most people are familiar with the jokes circulating about an artist only wanting a specific color of M&M candies, but it is also a helpful to always require clarification in terms of meal specifications such as preferences, allergies and so on. It may also include any specific items required by the band, such as coffee, snacks, towels, and other things agreed upon for the appearance. Advance is a blanket term used for things and actions addressed prior to arrival. This may include the backline specifications, any additional equipment needs, staffing requirements for front of house or gear hauling, housing, number of meals required, transportation requirements and many other things. All of this is spelled out specifically as part of a performance contract and is considered necessary. Let us face the fact, reading contracts is boring and while the main body of these contracts is usually the same, the riders and advance requirements are all different.
This is true from festival to festival and venue to venue. Always read the contract.
Finances are where most artists get lost, most of the time.
It is difficult to change gears in the mind and go from a rock star to an accountant. Many artists choose to hire on a tour manager, who is also business wise, in order to have their business endeavors properly handled. A preferable choice would be someone who has a degree in some sort of a business subject and – preferably - finance. This may not be financially attainable for a newer band or someone who has not yet made their mark in the industry, however. For those without the resources, keeping good records and reporting to an accountant may be an option. This can be done with a simple app like Square, for example.
Ringing in each fan purchase and using a spreadsheet to put in income and out go is quite an easy way to track and control the results that your activities are generating.
Other applications like Quick Books will import the information form Square and assist in keeping track of payments, but it is expensive. If one prefers a low tech way to track the finances, an accounting notebook is just a few dollars at an office supply store, but everything has to be written down each and every time. As a bonus, extras sheets may be used to track merchandise sales as well.
When deciding who should be in charge of the financial operations, a band mate or friend, or hired assistant, emotions should not play a role in the decision. Some of the unpopular decisions, such as having to eat a grocery store sandwich instead of a steak, might be better left to a less familiar person than a friend or a family member. Your career is ultimately a business and leaving such a burden on a loved one may cause a riff later that is worse than expected, or worse yet - the temptation to take money because the person is comfortable doing so may be too great.
It is also helpful to have a business minded person without an emotional connection to handle stressful situations as well, specifically dealing with contractual issues and situations of any sort.
Keeping a clear business mind is a tough for anyone. For an artist it can be nearly impossible, due to the difference in the mental approach that should be utilized in the different areas of a professional’s career. Educating yourself, keeping a clear head and knowing when to get outside help is vital.
Success can be measured not only in dollars, but in how willing someone is to admit that they need help, so it is crucial to always acknowledge the need of acquiring as much knowledge, information and advice as possible that you can base your decisions on, rather than approaching your career defining moments with emotion.