Booking Workshop: Contracts
Host: Nick Berry, Coda Agency (UK) | Mads Sørensen, Beatbox Entertainment (DK)
IQ editor Gordon Masson opened the scene by outlining the background to the development of contracts over the decades, addition of riders, and the involvement of lawyers that has complicated the documentation over the years.
The session saw promoter Sørensen and lawyer Berry fielding a number of queries from delegates who are involved in disputes, or who needed advice on specific clauses that they are reading in the contracts that are landing in their inboxes.
Sørensen opened proceedings with the observation that, “Contracts need to be there, but they are only actually used when something goes wrong on the day,” adding that he typically sends a contract off with his comments but never receives anything back.
Listing some of the issues he comes across, Sørensen said, “When you’re booking an act for a 500-cap club show you often still get the contract for a stadium show.”
Berry reported that festivals are trying to introduce standardised conditions that make sense, but he countered, “Coda has 500 acts that have there own specific needs, so one role an agent can fulfil is that they can start sorting out potential issues at an early stage.”
Answering a query from the audience, Sørensen said that Beatbox, for streaming and broadcasting, do separate contracts directly with the artist management. And responding to a question about court cases from agent Alex Bruford, Sørensen stated, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and thank God I’ve never had a situation which ended up in court.” Berry added, “It’s vanishingly rare that anything other than a very high value show would litigate.”
Admitting that contracts tend to be artist slanted, reflecting on the balance of power in the business, Berry advised, “If you’ve got a smart agent you can work out a compromise that allows the promoter to recoup some of their losses.”
Agent Geoff Meall from UTA gave details of a case where an artist took his promoter to court because the promoter refused to pay the balance of fees to the act after claiming that the promises he was made by a third-party intermediary had not been fulfilled. “Ultimately, I was very happy because our contract held up in court, but that took over two years after the show until the case was settled,” said Meall.
Promoter Nick Hobbs of Istanbul-based Charmenko also gave details of disputes that have led to legal action and spoke of incidents where people do not sue, but should. “An artist decided they did not want to play a show, leaving the other side with £40k in show costs. But they did not sue because they were scared that the act’s agent would not work with them ever again,” he told the room.
Another booking agent said she is finding lots of clauses where festivals want artists to help promote that event through social media efforts. Berry advised that agents need to recognise that they should leave something on the table for the other side, while Sørensen said, “My impression is that artists will do everything they can to help sell-out a show, especially if it is a headline show. I can’t think of anyone who has ever refused to help in that area.”
Both hosts agreed, however, that such requests should never be bolted into the contract as an obligation.
Urging vigilance on the wording of contracts, Hobbs explained that when an offer sheet is discussed and the agent then issues a deal memo, “You have to watch it to make sure the deal has not shifted.” He continued, “If you argue that a clause was in the original offer, an agent will say that it was not in the deal memo or the contract.” But lawyer Berry defended that system by saying what is originally in the offer sheet is probably not possible to agree at that point of the deal.
Elsewhere, Russian promoter Semyon Galperin raised the issue of 30-day no show clauses that allow artists to cancel and simply return the fee without covering any of the promoter’s other costs. He also cited a deal he was involved with where an agent took the deposit for an act who has since backed out citing a film contract clause, but without providing any evidence of that film deal.
Sørensen stated, “You can overcome a lot of hurdles by diligently commenting on the memo and contract and also on your insurance contracts.” And expanding on that advice, Berry concluded that making friends with a good insurance broker “can be very useful” when it comes to contractual disagreements.