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Get It In Writing!

First published in Classical Singer.

Dear Erda,

First, please let me thank you for all of the resources on your website ( and your advice column. My question for you is about contracts. I have several concerts this spring with groups I have worked with in the past. Our agreements have always been verbal, but I would like to make things more professional and concrete by having a written contract. Is it bad form for the singer to send a contract to the organization? If not, how do I write such a thing? All I want to do is be sure of the repertoire, dates of performance and rehearsals and what my fee is. Any suggestions?


Confused about Contracts


Dear Confused,

Thanks for your kind words, and congratulations on your concerts!

You are smart to insist on a written contract. It’s just good business, and I’d be suspicious of any organization that did not want to give you one. Contracts protect both parties involved.

That said, don’t send out a written contract unannounced! That would indeed be bad form. It’s not really your job to offer a contract; that’s the purview of your would-be employers. However, some organizations simply aren’t that … well, organized. So here’s how you bring it up.

Last season, I found myself in a similar situation to yours. I was offered a concert with a group that doesn’t usually issue contracts; however, I do not work without them. I spoke to the company representative and simply said that I needed to have a written contract in order to block that time out on my schedule. They were happy to give it to, but didn’t know how to go about putting one together. So I went over some of my old ones and made up my own, incorporating all of my concerns, and they were happy to get it. Now they have a sample and can use it for other artists. (See a copy below).

This company had no issue with giving me a written contract, but if someone gives you a hard time, or if you think they might be offended, tell them any or all of the following: 1) you need it for the IRS, to prove you had the job; 2) your agent insists you only take written contracts; or 3) now that you are working more and more, you simply must have a written contract in order to be able to block out time on your schedule; it’s really for their protection as much as yours. Then you can graciously offer to send them a sample, which they can modify as they see fit until you are both happy with it.

Alternately, and this has happened to me a couple of times lately, my contracts have been sent to me as emails. Sometimes the contract is in the body of the email, and other times it’s an attachment. “This email serves as a contract between you and the Unfinished Symphony, for two performances of Scheherezade to be performed in Hindi on Friday and Saturday, October 10 and 11 2004, 8 p.m., at the Unfinished Symphony Hall in Unfinished, TX. “ The email will go on to state more particulars such as compensation, transportation and housing allowances, and so forth. It also states that my affirmative reply via email will serve to signify my acceptance of said terms and will serve as my official contract. Sometimes it contains an electronic signature, and other times not. I don’t know whether it would hold up in court, but frankly I only accept these kinds of contracts from people I know well and have worked with before.

Lastly, if this contract doesn’t do what you need it to do and you want to write your own, it’s not hard. A contract is just an agreement between two parties. Simply write down what you need and want: “Boomtown Chorus agrees to pay Miss Confused $5,000 to sing the soprano solos in Handel’s Messiah on December 24, 2004 at 9 p.m. , and to attend two rehearsals to be held December 22 and 23 at 5:30 p.m.” Date it, make sure both parties sign it and have a copy, and there you go. You have a basic written contract. It may or may not stand up in court, depending on a variety of factors, but if Boomtown Chorus blows up, at least you have a bargaining chip.