Why Your Band Needs a Partnership Agreement

It’s the age old music business tale of woe:  four guys form a new band and are convinced they will be famous; the band members swear they are “brothers” and will always be a tight-knit family; things go well and the band is seeing success; money and girls start surrounding the band; and then it happens — the band of brothers start fighting.  Maybe it’s over money, fame, solo projects, ownership, girls, or all of the above. The band members were sure they’d be making beautiful music together forever, so they never felt any type of contract would be necessary.  Now they find themselves in expensive legal disputes, fighting over who owns songs, who gets what amount of money, and who can continue using the band name for performances.  Each member feels he is entitled to a larger share of ownership/money/control because his contribution was most important.

How do these types of disputes usually end?  With expensive court battles, payments or loss of very large sums of cash, more contracts drafted to state decisions that should have been made at the band’s inception, and with certain members possibly losing rights to songs or the use of the band’s name.  It’s a sad tale and it happens repeatedly in the music business.

One way to minimize some of these casualties before they happen is by having a Band Partnership Agreement in place when forming a band.  In a Band Partnership Agreement, band members can clearly state how the band members will split ownership of intellectual property and band equipment, share income, use the band name, and other important issues that could cause disputes between band members later.  In addition, a Band Partnership Agreement will allow you to designate specific members of your band (ideally your most responsible and trustworthy members) to be in charge of things like booking shows, signing contracts, and managing the band’s money.   It’s better to decided these things at the outset of working together while everyone is still friends and can cooperatively make decisions instead of later when disputes are already in progress and the overriding emotions include anger and resentment.

If you don’t decide these issues with your band members, the state* will decide them for you – and that means the state* will divide all authority, ownership, income, losses, and liabilities equally between members.  That means one of your slightly less discerning members could make all members of the band liable for his mistake.

Make sure everyone’s interests are protected so that the band’s operations run smoothly and don’t lose your rights to your music or royalties because your band members can’t get along.  Protect yourself with a Band Partnership Agreement.


* The state referenced herein is the State of California.  Please check the laws in your state if you reside outside of California.


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Jacobson, Esq. Erin M.

Erin M. Jacobson is a practicing attorney that represents musicians, songwriters, music publishers, producers, and other music professionals. She is known throughout the music business as "The Music Industry Lawyer" and her clients range from Grammy and Emmy Award winners to independent artists and companies. She works directly with her clients at every career stage and strives to protect her clients and their creative endeavors through deal negotiations and proper intellectual property management. Erin founded Indie Artist Resource to provide protection to independent musicians with barriers to obtaining basic legal and business documents.

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