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Musicians, wedding and contracts

Professional harpist and ISM Information and Advice Officer, Anna Wynne, offers guidance for performers on playing at weddings.

Please note, this blog is for information only and does not constitute legal advice.

As a harpist, I have performed at numerous weddings and civil ceremonies over the years. One of the most important things I have learned is the importance of having a written contract with the client.

Many musicians rely on verbal contracts which can be difficult to enforce. Others appear to rely on email threads as a form of contract: this is better than nothing, but a properly worded contract is a stronger protection for both parties for understanding their obligations and to know their rights in the event of any dispute. Indeed, it is essential that contracts must be clear to the consumer and avoid using unenforceable terms.

As we move away from COVID-19 restrictions, it is important to remember the following points:

    1. Non-refundable deposits

    Many musicians try to rely on retaining a contractual non-refundable deposit. However, when contracting with an individual consumer, such clauses are likely to be considered as an unfair term under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, so will be unenforceable.

    To retain some of the monies paid prior to the actual performance, it is worth adding a clause which allows your time and effort for administrative work and rehearsals to be recognised, for which you will need to be able to prove that you did the work you are claiming for. In such cases, you should provide the client with a clear document explaining what you are claiming for and how much each task costs per hour. These costs will need to be proportionate, reasonable, and you will need to be able to justify the amount you wish to retain.

    2. Cancellation of the contract

    There are situations where clients may wish to cancel their contract with you. For such occasions, you should ensure you have a clear cancellation policy detailing what your cancellation charges are.

    In addition, under consumer rights, you should have a clause allowing a 14-day cooling-off period where the client is entitled to cancel without incurring any charges within that period. However, if the performance has taken place within this 14-day period, you will be entitled to payment for the performance.

    3. Force majeure clauses

    Following the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, it may be useful to add a ‘force majeure’ clause. A ‘force majeure’ event can include pandemics; it can also include events such as war, famine or strikes.

    If you decide to add this type of clause, it is important to list the relevant ‘force majeure’ events in plain English and to explain what will happen to the contract if one of these events happens. For example, you could offer to postpone performance of the contract for up to six months or a year.

    Practical considerations to add to the terms and conditions in the contract

    When forming a contract, you may like to consider some more practical considerations so that both parties understand their obligations fully.

    1. Provision for refreshments. Depending upon the length of the engagement, you may want to request drinks or food.
    2. Clarity about whether you are prepared to perform outside.
    3. Where you agree to perform outside, stipulate that you expect to perform in a shaded, level area. The shade needs to protect you and your instrument from the sun or the rain. Also, you may want to state that it will be your decision on the day if you decide to perform outside and that you can change your mind mid-performance, dependent upon weather conditions.
    4. Provision for rest breaks. Most people stipulate between 10 minutes to 15 minutes after completion of the first hour.
    5. Overtime charges and an explanation that you may not be able to stay past the agreed contractual finishing time.
    6. Explain if you are prepared to arrange or purchase any music not within your current repertoire. Ensure you stipulate if there will be an additional charge for this service and what those charges will be.
    7. Provision of changing facilities and a locked room to store personal possessions, including musical instrument cases and accessories.
    8. The contract should state what happens if the terms and conditions are not followed i.e. the client must remedy the situation or you are entitled to refuse to perform but are still paid.
    9. Confirm that amendments to the contract must be made in writing and by a certain date.

    How the ISM can support you

    The ISM has a contract template for performers which can be adapted for events such as weddings.

    Please contact us at [email protected] if you require any further help or information about how to structure your contracts for maximum protection, or if you would like us to review a contract you have been offered.

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