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Members from across the union’s Wales & South West England region came together to discuss the big challenges facing musicians in the area at their latest regional committee meeting.

They identified trends back to informal booking processes for gigs and towards ‘home made’ agreements for management and other deals. These can leave you as a musician in a weak position if anything goes wrong – and unable to get the rewards of your labour if things go right.

How you book work matters

Clear communication is essential. If you’re being booked by a venue or business, make sure the person you communicate with is using business emails and social media, and not their personal one.

Make sure that you have all the relevant information in good time. That includes things like when and where the gig is, set lengths, tech specs, sound checks and access. It also includes the name and address of the booking party, your fee and details of how and when you will be paid; this is essential information if the union has to recover unpaid fees on your behalf.

Use an MU standard contract to ensure all the key information is there as written evidence of engagements is essential, and be sure to submit a clear invoice where relevant.

If bookings are made a long time in advance, particularly for things like weddings, check in with your engager closer to the date. See if there have been any updates or changes you need to be aware of, and everything is still as set out in your contract with them. If they want to make changes that you’re not sure about, you can always contact the Regional Office and myself or Andy will get back to you.

What if a gig is cancelled?

Don't automatically agree or accept the cancellation without a fee, without contacting us first – especially if it's without any pay. Remember, the full amount is payable by default once the gig is contracted but at the same time, you must make every effort to find alternative work on the same date to reduce the loss.

If a new date is proposed you can make a new booking or contract for that date leaving the original date open to pursue if/as required. You don’t have to accept an alternative date to compensate you for the cancellation, but things can become more complex if things like deposits are involved. If you have a cancelled gig and are not sure what to do, we are here to talk you through your options.

Management and production agreements

Well drafted agreements are important. The quality of your management or production agreement can impact your potential income for a long time.

By familiarising yourself with the terms you would expect to see in industry contracts, you can be more aware of the issues that could arise when clauses are poorly written or just not included. The MU template contracts. and specimen agreements that you can look through.

There are other potential problems with signing a ‘home made’ agreement that has been created by the person offering it to you and not by an experienced music solicitor. It probably does not deal with all the rights and obligations of the parties, nor protect the interests of you as the artist.

A ‘home made’ agreement could also be a sign that the other party may be inexperienced or under-resourced. We see a lot of these coming from new companies that have only be registered in the last few years, and that could suggest they lack experience or have not had the time to develop a full understanding of the rights involved. It does not apply to all of them, but it is one of a few red flags to tell you to contact the MU.

We always caution against entering into agreements that have not been professionally drafted. Terms that that are unclear, ambiguous or not fully understood by the parties make disputes more likely, and can affect your work into the future.

One thing we have found is that these agreements are sometimes so unfit for purpose that we can’t even submit them to the MU’s Contract Advisory Service like we do with other agreements. When an agreement is that poor, we would not recommend signing it. Instead, we would discuss it with you and make alternative suggestions.

Your Regional Committee is there for you

The Wales & South West England Regional Committee meets four times a year to keep the union up to date on issues and highlight concerns that members have in the region. That directs our work in your regional office, and influences the work of the union as a whole.

Elections take place every year but we can co-opt members on to make sure the committee is representative of the whole region. We are particularly interested to hear from members in the South West, such as around Bristol, Exeter and Weymouth.

Find out more about what regional committees do and how to get involved.

Photo ofRuth Ballantyne
Thanks to

Ruth Ballantyne

Having spent over 20 years as a freelance flautist and Musicians’ Union member, Ruth started work for the MU as the Regional Officer for Wales and South West England in 2019. With a background in orchestral playing, freelance gigs and specialist teaching, she has also been proactive in creating accessible opportunities for musical development including the creation, set up and running of a charity as well as being part of creating and delivering a wide variety of projects and workshops that aimed to encourage and inspire. Ruth first got involved in the MU as a member in her union branch in 1998, where she became branch secretary. Since then, she has been a member of the Wales and South West Regional Committee, Chair of the Teachers (now Education) Section Committee, and has represented regional members on the MU’s Executive Committee.

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