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Using Substitute Musicians

Substituting musicians in the corporate or function band sector comes with some legal guidance regarding the rights of the consumer or client and the position of the band leader booking those substitutes.

Last updated: 16 March 2023

If you have been hired as a session player for a live performance, it is because they want to utilise your particular talent and style. If you send someone else without telling anyone, you are not likely to remain in demand for long. Similarly, a club, venue, band leader or other engager will be expecting you and not your substitute. If you are in any doubt, seek advice from the Union.

The general public are consumers well protected by the law and the courts. They may have every right to claim breach of contract if they do not get what or who they were expecting. If you're not sure of your position, contact your Regional Office for advice

MU Regional Organiser

Public engagements

If you are taking bookings from the general public – for private parties etc – it is all the more important to expressly agree and state in your contract when and whether you can use deputies. 

The public may have every right to claim breach of contract if they do not get what or who they were expecting when they booked. The general public are not involved in the music industry and so cannot be expected to know, let alone have agreed to, sector-specific music industry custom and practice. You might even find yourself having to pay your deputy while being unable to demand payment from your client because you were booked but didn’t turn up.

Health and safety

Health & Safety issues must also be considered. If you send a deputy and that person is injured or causes an injury to another person, who is liable? It could be you, as the person deemed to have engaged them. For more advice about using deputies or deputising, please contact your Regional Office.

Useful tips

If you run a covers or scratch band, then:

  • Make it clear to clients that the musicians who turn up for the booking might be different from the ones on your website, demo, or playing that night.
  • If you are booked as a soloist, agree what will happen if you are ill.
  • Get it in writing. Use MU contracts or have your contract checked by our Contract Advisory Service
  • Think carefully about your legal relationships with the musicians you use. Ensure that everyone understands their position.
  • Are they all your partners? If not, is it clear that you are hiring the others on a one-off basis?
  • If you are booking various line-ups from a regular pool, it is possible that all of them could be in partnership. How would you feel if the majority walked off with the group’s name?
  • Clarify everyone’s position in writing. If you are all MU members, you can get a partnership agreement drafted for free from the MU Partnership Advisory Service.

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