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Business : Contract Negotiation Tips for Artists

The Art of Negotiation

Contract Negotiation Tips for Artists

By S.C. Giles

The key to successful contract negotiations for artists is to understand the industry and know what you want before you enter discussions. Learn about the art of negotiation, finding a lawyer and copyright laws. "I surrender," is the battle cry of many inexperienced artists in a negotiation situation. History is full of stories of famous artists who have sold most or all of the rights in their work without receiving adequate compensation. Not only is this unfortunate, it's unnecessary. The key to successful negotiations is to understand the industry and know what you want before you enter negotiations.

Artists who sign away all of their rights do so because they don't understand their rights in the first instance. Many feel lucky to have received their first "break" and jump at the chance whatever the cost. You want me to sign these papers? Sure, they say, knowing there are thousands of others breathing down their neck, waiting to take their place. As such, you're in no condition to negotiate the best deal for yourself.

A smart artist will hire a lawyer that specializes in the industry to represent her or him. The lawyer will not be intimidated by the other side, will understand all of your options, and will be able to negotiate the best deal. Thus, a good lawyer is well worth the money. However, we realize that many young or inexperienced artists won't take this route the first time around. Therefore, we have some tips to help you along the way.

Understand Your Rights

Research the industry. If you're a writer or a visual artist, you better know a thing or two about copyright law. Go to the library and read up. Take a look at our site and our resources. Learn what's normal in your industry. If you have a lawyer, ask lots and lots of questions. Have your lawyer draft the agreement. This is always a good thing to do because you get what's called" power of the drafter." Everything that you want in the contract is drafted into it. If someone else drafts it, everything they want is already there, and you have to do battle to get things eliminated and added.

If you don't have a lawyer, READ THE CONTRACT. Then, read it again. Get out a highlighter and highlight everything you don't understand. This is why lawyers get paid the big bucks, because they're willing to wade through the tedious language and sort out what's really going on in the deal. Ask the other party what each item means, ask their attorney, ask your friends, ask people in the industry, look at our resources. Understand each and every clause before you sign. Don't be afraid to ask what's normal in the industry and don't be alarmed if the other party lies to you. It's your job to know your rights. Some people, especially in the entertainment industry, will be out to take you for a ride. Make sure they don't succeed.

This is not to say that you should be pompous. Arrogance is a deal killer. The beauty of understanding your industry is to understand what's normal. It's okay to deviate from the norm, but you had better be willing to give something in exchange.

Know What You Want

Write down exactly what you want from the deal before you go into negotiations. This is where your research on the industry comes in handy. If you wanted $500,000 for six months of performances and find out that these types of contracts usually bring $15,000, you're going to be much more realistic in your negotiations and therefore much more successful if you shoot for a number around $25,000. In any negotiation situation, always ask for more than you want because the number will be negotiated down. Write down the ideal amount you'd want and the absolute lowest you'd take.

Try to think down the road. What if they let me go before the contract starts or half way through? What happens? You'll want to have an "out" clause that states what happens. The other party has to pay a certain amount of money to compensate you for your time for example. What if you're injured? Does the agreement cover disability insurance? What if the thing is wildly successful, if you receive a flat fee, do you want a percentage over a certain amount of gross receipts? What if you become ill and are unable to perform? Brainstorm all of the conditions you'd like this contract to cover and write down what you need under each situation.

Armed with knowledge of the industry and exactly what you want, you're in a good position to negotiate.

Research your industry to understand what you're selling and for how much. Know what you want from the deal before you ever step in the door. •

S.C. Giles is a contributing author of The ARTrepreneur E-Zine and newsletter. More »

8/23/05