Together with Allens Linklaters, Arts Law has developed a new short form band agreement. This template is an alternative to the longer more detailed band partnership agreement and can be used when bands want a basic straightforward record of how they want to work together, who owns the music they make and how they will share expenses and income.
The template is essentially a letter from one band member (maybe the founding member or the principal songwriter or maybe just the guy with best wordprocessing skills) to the others saying “I think this is how we want the band to run so, if you agree with me, sign the bottom of the letter to show that!” If all the band members sign the letter then the deal is done – you have a written band agreement that can be useful when making decisions and if any disagreements arise.
Importantly the agreement provides a way for the band to set out how it would like the ownership of its songs to be split. Most bands want something that differs from the way the law would see it – where every creative collaborator is an equal owner – whether their contribution was two lines of music or nearly the whole composition. If the band wants to give the principal songwriter 75% with smaller shares to other collaborators the way to do that is in writing – in the band agreement. Registering with APRA states how you want performance royalties to be shared and is a good start, but doesn’t actually amount to an ownership agreement applicable to situations beyond the collection of statutory performance royalties.
The other critical issue is how to deal with the departure of a band member – who owns the name? If the lead singer leaves can he start a new band with that name or can the remaining five band members keep using that name and look for a new lead?
Bands generally operate as partnerships (unless they have incorporated as a company) which means that a new agreement must be signed each time the membership of the band changes. That can seem irritating – but not nearly as irritating as trying to track down former band members to clear copyright when a big break comes along (perhaps Universal Pictures want to talk to you about a movie soundtrack) and you don’t have a written band agreement which deals with all those issues.