Archive for December 19th, 2007

L-o-n-g Contracts, Fine Print, And Legalese

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

I am inherently suspicious of musical service agreements that are (1.) longer than one page, (2.) written in any type smaller than 12-point, or (3.) contain anything but plain English. And – because I am basically a trusting soul – if I’m suspicious of them, I think that you should be suspicious as well.

Part of the reason I feel this way is that I’ve issued contracts for 30 years that fit easily onto one page. My friend and mentor Ed Bernet has thrived in the music business for 50 years with an even simpler standard agreement than mine. After all, the purpose of a contract is (or should be) just to protect both parties by spelling out who is doing what for whom.

My contracts say that I will provide a certain number of musicians for a certain number of hours at a certain time and place. In return, my clients agree to pay me a certain amount of money. And that’s pretty much it. There are a couple of housekeeping sentences telling how much set-up time, stage area, and electricity I need, as well as a line stating what the band will wear. But you won’t find any demands for Dom Perignon and caviar in our dressing room. (In fact, our dressing room usually says “Men” on the door, and you are under no obligation to feed us anything.)

Why, then, should any contracts need the following?

1. Multiple pages. Long contracts are invariably loaded with clauses favorable only to the issuer. (“You will provide two million dollars of liability coverage” or “Even if you die as a result of our negligence, your mom can’t sue us.”) Thus, what should have been a balanced document protecting both parties, becomes heavily weighted in favor of only one side’s interests.

2. Fine print. To me, the only function of fine print is to make the contract harder to read. Which always leads me to wonder, what does the other party hope I won’t take the time and effort (and magnifying glass) to find?

3. Legalese. There are valid reasons for technical language in some business agreements, but not in the contract you sign with your band or deejay. There is nothing which can’t be said better in plain English. So – if you receive a document filled with unfamiliar or confusing language – send it back with a note requesting one which “eschews obfuscation and espouses elucidation.”

Maybe it’s my “Mayberry” upbringing, but I tend to trust trusting people – like Ed Bernet with his uncomplicated contracts. Those who send me the other kinds of contracts obviously don’t trust me in the same way Ed does. Well, that makes us even – I’m leery of them, too.