In the era of streaming – where each stream earns fractions of a penny – the majority of artists and musicians rely on other sources of revenue to sustain their career, such as selling merch, offering patron subscriptions, teaching lessons, and playing live shows. For the latter, that could look like going on tour, playing festivals, or landing a residency at a music venue. In those scenarios, it is often the venues, agents, or promoters who set the terms of the contract. 

In today’s article however, we’ll dive into the contract of another kind of performance opportunity – one where you (the performer) set the terms to be agreed upon by a potential client. We’re referring to private music gigs. This includes weddings, corporate parties, and essentially any private function in which you are hired as live entertainment. 

Music by Shaharah Sinclair | Photo by Raphaëlle Granger

But first, why is having a contract so important? 

For private gigs, it is virtually always you presenting the contract to the client. This is because, often in the case of a private event, the client will not have extensive knowledge of what is required when hiring live entertainment – just as with any other vendor or supplier. You are the service provider and, therefore, you have a better understanding of what you can offer and what information should be detailed and agreed upon by both parties. A contract helps manage expectations and avoid any potential issues ahead of time, giving everyone peace of mind. 

Please note that the information in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. We encourage you to consult an attorney regarding all legal matters.

You might be thinking, “Wait, what do I include in a gig contract!?”

Let’s start off with some basics:

  • Client’s full name and contact information 
    • This should include their mailing address, email, and phone number
  • Your full name and contact information
    • Note: If you are performing as a solo artist with accompanying musicians (as opposed to an established band), typically the contract will be between only you and the client. It is then your responsibility to hire said musicians, so keep that in mind. If they break any terms of the agreement, it is you who will be held liable.  
  • Event date
    • Always include the year! It’s not uncommon for these types of events to be booked over a year in advance (especially for weddings). 
  • Event name/type 
    • E.g. Company Holiday Party, Wedding Cocktail, Birthday Dinner
  • Venue 
    • Include the name and complete address – the last thing you want is to show up to the wrong location because there were multiple venues with the same name!
  • Details of service 
    • Duration of performance (include specific set lengths / break times if applicable)
    • List all instruments
      • E.g. Vocals + Guitar + Bass + Drums for 3 x 45-minute sets with 15-minute breaks in between sets
Photo by Hassan Ouajbir
  • Performance start time
  • Load-in time
  • Setup and sound check 
    • Be sure to coordinate the sound check and load-in time with the venue and/or whoever else is involved in providing or managing the sound system. For instance, this might be the hired DJ or in-house engineer. 
    • For more complex setups, a separate technical rider should be shared with the appropriate person. Otherwise, you can provide the details of your rider here (i.e. your equipment needs, any special requirements, etc.)  

Tip: In the event that you are the one supplying the sound system, make sure to account for any potential equipment rental costs that will need to be covered. Consider things like whether you will be setting up indoors or outdoors, your proximity to electrical outlets, the size of the space, etc. 

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Once you have the more straightforward details laid out, determine whether there are any additional factors you’d like to discuss with the client, such as: 

  • Meal requirements 
    • This is pretty standard for lengthier performances with breaks, where food is being served. For example, you can usually expect a meal at a wedding reception gig, but not a wedding ceremony gig. 
  • Lodging and transportation 
    • If applicable, list the details of any lodging or transportation fees that you expect the client to cover, should the event be located beyond what you would consider your regular travel range.
  • Song requests
    • Depending on the event, your client may request that you play specific songs. This is more likely to happen for personal celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings. It is completely at your discretion whether you charge a higher fee for taking song requests. Keep in mind, if the songs are not in your current repertoire, you may want the client to compensate you for the additional time spent learning and rehearsing them, or for things like buying new sheet music. Alternatively, you can explain that you simply do not take requests, or allow a limited number of requests at no extra charge. 

Tip: Whatever terms you decide on, the key is to discuss with the client ahead of time, so that there are no unwanted surprises on either side. 

Music by VËR | Photo by Ashley MacPhee
  • Holidays
    • Should the event take place on a special date such as a holiday, it is reasonable to charge a higher fee than usual. This does not need to be highlighted in the contract, but can be something to consider when establishing your fee, which we will discuss shortly. 
  • Outfit considerations
    • Though rare, you may be asked to don something particular, in which case, you can put it in writing and ask the client to cover the expense. Otherwise, it typically goes unsaid that you and the other musicians will dress accordingly for the event, which in most instances are semi-formal or formal. Even for more informal occasions, it’s in your best interest to dress professionally unless the client specifically says otherwise. 

For the most part, you can usually gauge from your initial conversations with the client whether you need to address any of the points above in the agreement. Again, these are things that the client themselves may not have considered yet, so it’s best to have these discussions and set expectations from the beginning. 

Music by Andria Piperni | Photo by Brent Calis

Next, let’s talk money

It’s typical to provide a custom quote for each occasion, as the considerations vary. Once you’ve gathered all the information you need about the factors listed above, you can determine your total fee.

Tip: It can sometimes be helpful to first ask the client if they have a budget in mind – however, in most cases, they will turn to you to bring a number to the table. That said, you can assume that a holiday company party for 500 employees will have deeper pockets than an intimate farewell dinner for 30 people.    

Keep in mind, like most services, there is a lot more that goes into a gig besides the actual amount of time you are present or rendering said service. There’s the time and cost spent rehearsing, the time spent coordinating with the client and the rest of the band, the time spent travelling, loading in, setting up, and doing a sound check! Not to mention the years of honing your skill and gaining experience as a performer. 

Photo par Pavel Danilyuk

It is up to you to determine what feels like fair compensation not only for yourself but for any musicians you hire to join you. If you find a client questioning your price, you can (respectfully and professionally) give them an overview of the aforementioned points. 

  • Compensation
    • This is where you list your total fee and the payment details.
    • It’s common practice to require a non-refundable deposit to hold the date and safeguard in case of a cancellation. It is usually due upon signing of the contract. 
    • State the balance amount and due date. 
    • Mention your preferred method(s) of payment with any relevant information. Cash, e-transfer, or cheque is best. 

Tip: The final amount is customarily paid on the day of the event. Make sure you discuss beforehand where and when the transaction will take place, so that you’re not left scrambling to find the client as you wrap up. 

  • Cancellation 
    • It is important to establish terms and conditions for cancellation, to protect both parties. You can find templates for this online, though it is best to consult a lawyer directly. Remember, once you have your contract template, you will be able to use it again and again. 
  • Signatures and date
    • Finally, you will need signatures of all parties involved as well as the date of signing. 
Music by Sabrina Cardi | Photo by Brent Calis

– Final Notes –

As you can see, there is quite a bit to consider when it comes to private performance gigs. A solid approach is to get as much information as possible from the potential client upfront, so that you can provide a quote, explain your terms, and open the floor to any questions or concerns. Private gigs can be one-off in nature, so it’s likely the first time your client has dealt with this kind of agreement. Be patient, professional, and understanding where questions are involved – but don’t be afraid to stand firm on the terms that matter most to you. Take into account that some gigs have the potential to lead to other opportunities (say, if an event planner hires you for their future events). It is ultimately up to you if you’re willing to negotiate.

Written by Andria Piperni

Illustration by Yihong Guo