Pre-Nuptial Management Agreements

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq. Dear Law and Disorder: I just received an email that an artist is leaving my roster for another manger, effective in two weeks. I’ve been working with this artist for over five years. We’ve never had a signed contract because we’ve never needed one. Isn’t it customary to give at least 3 months notice? Also, the new manager is offering to let us keep our commissions on any engagements that are “contracted.” What does that mean? Everyone knows that engagements are often confirmed without their being contracts! Help! Actually, you’ve always needed a signed contract. You just didn’t realize you needed one until now. A contract is your opportunity to memorialize all the terms of a relationship…including how to get out of one. An artist/manager relationship is like a marriage and, when it ends, it’s like a divorce—all too often a bitter and nasty divorce. If there is no pre-nuptial agreement, then any disputes will be resolved by the application of legal rules and concepts. In these situations, such rules are quite basic: what you didn’t negotiate for in advance, you don’t get! Many in our industry like to believe that there exists a magic book of customs, traditions, and rules which govern everything from artist-manager relationships to engagement cancellations, and that, in the absence of a contract, this book will determine how everyone should behave. Nothing can be further from the truth. What may be “customary” for one person or situation may not be “customary” for another. Nor would you want it to be otherwise. The arts and entertainment industry is too diverse, too broad, and too delightfully fluid for that degree of uniformity. To the extent there exists a set of rules which govern relationships in the absence of a contract, such rules consist of the laws of contracts, agency, and a myriad of other legal concepts—all of which are fairly arbitrary and none of which will provide an outcome better than the parties could have devised for themselves through advanced contractual negotiation. Whether its exclusivity, the right to be reimbursed for expenses, the authority of the manager, or the calculation of the manager’s commissions, such issues need to be agreed upon…in advance…and memorialized in a written contract. If you want an artist to be required to give you three months notice before leaving your roster, that needs to be agreed upon and written down as well. (While an agreement does not have to be written to be enforceable, its very hard to prove the terms of any agreement without something in writing—especially when you’re in the midst of a bitter divorce when everyone’s memories will suddenly and conveniently become quite spotty.) In your case, without a written contract setting forth a specific length of time an artist is obligated to remain on your roster (ie: 1 year, 2 years, etc.) and without a requirement that the artist has to give you advance notice before terminating the agreement, then the artist can leave your roster whenever they want with no notice at all. As for the new manager’s offer to let you keep your commissions on any engagements that are “contracted”, this, too, is something that should and could have been defined in an artist management agreement. Otherwise, the definition of “contracted” will be the legal definition: a “contracted” engagement is one where there is an enforceable agreement (either written or oral), which means there has been an offer and an acceptance of that offer and the parties have agreed upon all key terms. While its true that engagements are often confirmed without their being contracts, a confirmation of an engagement may not necessarily constitute a “contracted” engagement. A “hold” may or may not be an enforceable contract. If the parties have agreed upon the date and the fee, it may not be “contracted” if there are other important issues that have not yet been agreed upon—ie: insurance, licensing, technical requirements, etc. In other words, what you consider to be “contracted” may or may not be what the law of contracts considers to be “contracted.” In the absence of a written agreement with defined terms and obligations, your best and most practical course of action is to accept that this is a bit of a mess and enter into a dialogue with your “former” artist and his or her new manager to come up with a mutually agreed upon list of “contracted” engagements on which you will receive your commissions. I can almost guarantee that such a list will have fewer dates that you believe is fair and more dates than your former artist and his/her manager believe is fair. However, if everyone believes they are giving up too much, its probably a fair settlement. Then, focus your time on getting agreements in place for your remaining artists. Pre-nuptial agreements are never sexy, but neither is finding yourself sleeping with the enemy. _________________________________________________________________ For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit To ask your own question, write to All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. GG Arts Law reserves the right to alter, edit or, amend questions to focus on specific issues or to avoid names, circumstances, or any information that could be used to identify or embarrass a specific individual or organization. All questions will be posted anonymously. __________________________________________________________________ THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE! The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!

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