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What is a Performance Contract?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A performance contract is a contract between a performer and a venue which sets out the terms of a performance. The contract includes the rights and obligations of all parties involved in the performance and discusses matters such as security, compensation, and scheduling. The goal of a performance contract is to make the expectations of all parties clear so that the performance will go smoothly and to eliminate any causes for legal challenges in the future.

Sometimes venues seek out performers and in other cases performers seek out venues. In either case, both sides may have standard boilerplate contracts which they can use as a starting point for developing a performance contract or attorneys for both sides can draw up a contract. For a small venue and a single artist or small group, the contract is often relatively simple. Large venues and big groups may require extensive negotiations.

Contract negotiations can sometimes take a long time if the parties cannot agree on the terms of the performance contract. Issues such as compensation can sometimes become a sticking point, and special requests on the part of the performer may be challenging for the venue to accommodate. Advocates for the parties involved in the negotiations usually try to work together to reach an agreement which will satisfy everyone.

The written agreement covers a variety of situations which may come up. It states who will be involved in the performance, including not just the performers but also technical support staff, discusses promotion of the event, covers the equipment which will be required by the performance, and states when the performers and their technical crew will be able to enter the venue to set up and test. The performance contract also includes a rider, a list of requests from the performers which must be met. Riders include hospitality requests, such as requests for water in the dressing room, along with technical requests like a specification for qualified local crew to be made available.

Riders are a somewhat infamous component of performance contracts. Some performers have extremely detailed riders which may include humorous or absurd elements, in addition to requests which sometimes seem odd. These inclusions are sometimes attributed to a sense of self importance on the part of the performers, but some performers argue that peculiar requests are actually included to confirm that the venue pays attention to detail. Many performers are very concerned about issues like safety, availability of the right equipment, and comfortable accommodations and they appreciate an attention to detail on the part of the venue.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Performer — On Nov 23, 2012

We are dance performers and do some gigs on US Military Bases each year. Since we started doing our performances, we have been canceled two times so far. So, I made up a small contract indicating that if we are to be canceled, the employer would have to pay a certain amount due to us for the cancellation. But then when I introduced my small contract and the Terms and Conditions, the person responsible did not want to sign it because he responded by saying that he cannot sign it because he is only the person employed by the governmentand not the sole responsible person.

Now, we got canceled again this year and this time as the last times, we lost money we had to cancel our car rentals and overnights.

Can someone guide me to some source to find info on how to prevent another cancellation with the US government? We would really appreciate it.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 14, 2012

@LoriCharlie - Well, at least your friend and the rest of his band learned that lesson early on in their careers instead of later when it might have cost them more money.

Anyway, performance contracts aren't always between the venue and the artist. My boyfriend DJ's weddings, and he had a DJ performance contract with the couple who hires him. It specifies things the rate of pay, the space they provide for him to DJ in and what equipment he should bring. He never does a wedding unless the contract is signed first.

By LoriCharlie — On Jul 13, 2012

I think if you're going to play at any venue, having a band performance contract is completely essential. I actually have a friend who is in a local band, and he got burned by a venue when he was just starting out because they didn't have a performance contract.

The venue offered them the gig at a good rate, so they took it without demanding a contract. They knew they should have a contract, but they were so excited about getting booked they didn't want to rock the boat. So they didn't so anything, and then the venue didn't pay them.

Since they didn't have a contract, there was really nothing they could do. It was a fairly expensive lesson for everyone in the band.

By Pharoah — On Jul 12, 2012

I have read a few articles about ridiculous riders added to a music performance contract. I forget who the artist was, but I read about one guy who requests a bowl of M & M's in his dressing room, but only M & M's of certain colors! I think this is ridiculous, and I don't buy the idea that the only way to get a venue to pay attention to the contract is to add a very detailed rider.

I definitely agree with the people who think this is just vain self importance on the part of the musician. I think people do this kind of stuff just to see if people will go along with it!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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