5 Must-Have Documents for the Working Musician

5 Must-Have Documents for the Working Musician

There’s no denying it - we live in a litigious society. There’s red tape and dotted lines littering the very ground we walk on, and unfortunately there's not really any way around it, even for us free-spirited musicians. To keep afloat on the seas of legal fees and court cases, you’re going to need to cover all your basses, or whichever instrument you wield in public.

The short-term pain of paying a little extra a month and the often lengthy application processes for legal protection is far outweighed by the long-term gain of not being stung by a multi-thousand pound lawsuit because somebody slipped over your cables and hurt their back at your gig.

Filling in forms doesn’t exactly sound like the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but if you can bring yourself to tear your pen away from your lyrics notebook check a few boxes with it, you’ll be giving yourself the greatest gift of them all: peace of mind.

Here are a few of the major documents you’ll come across in your quest to become a fully protected performer:

1. Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)

First things first, make sure you can prove your equipment is safe to use! All electrical equipment should be PAT tested before you use it in public: guitar amps, lighting, PA system - the lot. It’s just not worth plugging yourself in and receiving a nasty shock, or blowing a fuse halfway through a song. And it’s especially not worth electrocuting someone in the audience.

There’s no requirement in place which dictates how often you need to get your electricals checked out, simply because different appliances have different life spans, and some are used more frequently than others. You can however view guidelines for different classes of appliance, as well as how to arrange a PAT test, here.

If working through an agency such as Bands For Hire you'll find that having a valid PAT certificate for your equipment is a requirement on all booking contracts – so best not to wait until it's requested from the venue.

2. Instrument Insurance

Once you know your instrument is not going to hurt other people, make sure you’re covered in case other people hurt it. The instrument is the pride and joy of any serious musician - often the end result of months, even years, of scrimping and saving. So how devastated would you be if you reached for your guitar case after your performance, only to find it was damaged, or stolen? Pretty devastated indeed.

There are all sorts of ways of protecting your instruments from damage and theft, from general Business Equipment Insurance to specific Musical Instrument Insurance. It’s always worth comparing policies online to make sure you get the deal that’s most cost effective and most suited to your specific needs.

Organsiations such as the Musicians Union and ISM include instrument cover as part of their membership so that's also a route to consider.

3 Public Liability Insurance (PLI)

Whenever you’re dealing with the public, you’re putting yourself at their mercy, as well as putting them at risk, so some kind of cover is essential. It's essential that all performers take out PLI in case something goes wrong and the audience or venue decides to take legal action. Generally, PLI covers you the performer if a member of the public is injured, for example, by an unstable speaker or faulty electrical equipment. If you're careful to set up your equipment as per the manufacturer’s instructions and the venue’s own health and safety regulations, then you’re in the clear - as long as you can produce a valid PLI certificate.

Larger venues naturally can house a larger audience, which in turn poses a larger risk. You’ll find as you climb your way up the venue ladder that some venues require you to be covered for a minimal £5 million, but some set the bar at £10 million. The yearly costs are still far from astronomical - signing up with the Musician’s Union or ISM is an affordable way of doing this, and they'll also give you access to further protection and advice.

4. Risk Assessment Method Statement (RAMS)

Now you’re safe to be unleashed onto the unsuspecting public, it’s time to make sure they’re going to be safe too - sometimes from themselves. A Risk Assessment (RA) is just what it sounds like - you assess any risks at the venue, and write them down. Your Risk Assessment is often accompanied by a Method Statement, essentially a complete breakdown of how you work, the risks involved and the preventative measures that have been taken to minimise that risk.

This shows you’re considering the safety of your audience members and that you’re complying with the law and demonstrates that you’re taking due care, which absolves you from the bulk of the blame in the eventuality that something does go wrong.

In the world of musical performance, you will either encounter a RA:

  • As a self-employed freelance musician. When you perform, the venue or client may ask you to produce a RAMS, as you’ll be responsible for your audience’s safety
  • As an employed musician. When you’re hired by an orchestra or another kind of ensemble, it’s your employer’s responsibility to carry out an RA to make sure you’re not at risk of overexposure to noise, musculoskeletal exertion and other workplace hazards. You have the right to request to see this at any point.

If your self-employed self is wondering how on Earth you go about producing a RAMS, you can view an example RAMS document from the MU here.

5. Performance Contract

You’re now covered from head to toe in legal protection, but there’s one final line for you to sign on – the performance contract.

Whether going through an entertainment agency or working directly for the end client, a live performance contract is an absolute must. A contract will outline in detail exactly what's expected of both you and the client, giving both parties clarity and peace of mind. A performance contract will usually cover the dates and times of performance, number of musicians, band rider, requirements at the venue, cancellation fees and many other points to protect both the artiste and client.

By going through an agency such as Bands For Hire, you'll find this side of things is done for you, but if working direct for a venue or client, you'll find a number of guides online along with access to templates through the Musicians Union.