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Group Partnership

by Ben McLane, Esq.

When a band forms, the usual intention is to become a successful recording and/or touring act and to make a profit. To accomplish this collective goal, the individual members contribute their time, talents and money. In essence, there is an implied partnership agreement between the band members. When most people go into business together, there is an official written partnership agreement. However, the majority of bands - including many who are best selling acts - have never formalized their relationship. Often this can lead to expensive litigation when a band breaks up or a member leaves because there exists a question as to how profits are to be split, or who actually owns the group name. This being the case, bands should be encouraged to enter into a simple partnership agreement early on when everyone is getting along. This article will briefly explain the contents of a basic partnership agreement.

First, there needs to be a name for the partnership. Generally, this will be the name of the band.

Second, there needs to be an official location selected as the place of business. A band member's address will do.

Third, the complete name and address of each partner must be specified.

Fourth, ownership of the group name must be discussed. Normally, the group as a unit owns the name and a majority of the members performing together can use the name. The common problem which arises is when a member leaves the band and feels that he or she has the right to perform under that name. A situation such as this needs to be addressed in the agreement.

Fifth, profit splits are very important. In most cases an equal percentage of the net profits (i.e., after expenses) as well an equal division of any losses is the most equitable approach. The splits can be different, however, if certain members contribute more than others (such as songwriting, etc.).

Sixth, leaving member issues need to be anticipated. A way of handling this would be to allow a leaving member to receive the same percentage for activities he or she participated in before departing, but no percentage for any future activities of the group.

Seventh, voting is also crucial to any partnership agreement. It is probably best to provide that any band decisions - such as hiring or firing a new member, buying a piece of equipment, etc. - be approved by a majority vote. If there is a deadlock situation, this can be overcome by a third party vote (such as a manager) or by a coin flip.

Finally, every member of the group would need to sign and date the agreement.

As explained above, this is merely a guideline for some provisions that should be in a band partnership agreement. Obviously, each group situation is different and may require additional - and perhaps more complicated - terms. Although a partnership agreement might seem unnecessary when everyone is friendly and there is no money being made, if the band considers it to be like an insurance policy to prevent possible future disagreements, it can certainly make any transition in the group happen much smoother and without the threat of a lawsuit.

Copyright 1998, Ben McLane
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