How to get out of a bad music management contract
It happens all the time. You're having a great night on stage, and somebody slick tells you that they'd love to represent you. In a whirlwind, you sign a contract because they assure you that "it's boilerplate" and "everybody signs this." Before long, you're "on a roster," but it seems that all your manager ever does is cash commission checks. Even if you feel stuck, don't lose hope.Here's a note I got from a reader:
I have a friend who is in a contract with a manager who she doesn't even need and she's trying to examine her options for getting out of it. I had a look at the document, which is 1.5 pages long and it seems like something she can get out of, not only because the guy is not fulfilling his obligations but because the wording of the document seems incomplete or faulty in a certain section. I'd like to forward the document to someone who can quickly tell me whether the contract is shaky enough for her to simply toss it aside.
With the caveat that I'm not a lawyer and that your friend should definitely seek legal advice, here's how I see it:
No contract is ever permanent. In fact, a professional music management contract will contain specific terms and conditions for who can end the contract, when, and how. The contract should also contain a "sunset clause" that stipulates exactly how much a client will have to pay a manager over a fixed period of time to compensate them for work they've invested.
That sunset clause protects both sides. For instance, if I shepherd your career for three years and your record pops, I'm entitled to a piece of the success if you bounce to a larger management firm that takes you to the next level. But that doesn't mean forever, more like 18 months. And compensation steps down from the usual 10-15%, usually in increments.
If your friend signed a deal without a sunset clause, or if the phrase "in perpetuity" shows up anywhere in the deal, she may not have had the right legal guidance at the time. But, no biggie. Again, it happens all the time.
In writing, preferably with the help of an attorney, your friend can terminate the agreement with a clear explanation of how the manager failed to live up to the expectations of their arrangement. Realistically, the manager's only recourse here is to sue for damages, for breach of contract, or for lost revenue. Most of the folks I've known who operate this way would much rather stay out of court, and out of the headlines.
In my books, I wrote that you'll need a good entertainment attorney long before you'll need even a decent manager, and this is why. Call your local chapters of the Bar Association or the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for referrals to experienced entertainment attorneys near where you live.
If your friend's strapped for cash, you can look for a local chapter of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Right now, your friend needs legal counsel who can draft exactly the kind of document she needs to end this agreement and protect her future earnings.
As I wrote in Music Management for the Rest of Us, your ideal music manager should be someone you trust and respect, and someone who respects you enough to take you through a long, transparent vetting process that involves partnership with each of your attorneys.