The Hogwarts School of Contracting and Wizardry

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.   

Dear Law and Disorder

I had a signed agreement with a promoter to present my artist. The contract provided for two deposits and a final payment on the day of the performance. I worked for over a year with this promoter to put this deal together. Not only did he not pay either of the deposits, but one month before the performance, he called to say he hadn’t sold enough tickets and that it was no longer economically feasible. And he is refusing to pay the money he owes. What am I supposed to do? Sue him? Why should I have to spend the time and money to sue him when we have a signed contract? What’s the point of having a contract in the first place if its not going to protect me?

For many years now I have been climbing the stairs to my secret laboratory trying to create the self-enforcing contract. Upon anyone breaching the terms of such a contract, a magical enforcement beast will materialize, forcing the breaching party into compliance. Sadly, my efforts thus far have proven unsuccessful, resulting only in a few sparks, a bit of ectoplasm still dripping from the ceiling, and a hapless paralegal I may have inadvertently turned into a newt. Until I perfect my spells and enchantments, you’ll have to settle for the fact that contracts are only as valuable as the time, effort, and common sense that goes into them. They do not exist in a vacuum. They do not self-enforce.

The point of a contract is not to get signatures on some form or template littered with extraneous terms that everyone believes are “industry standard”, but no one really reads or understands, in the hopes that it will somehow, in and of itself, stalwartly protect you from the other party cancelling your engagement, refusing to pay, or performing any other courser of unpleasantness. Rather, the point of a contract is the opportunity it creates for you to enter into deals, negotiations, collaborations, engagements, and other relationships knowingly and intelligently. Among other things, it allows you to make sure everyone is on the same page (ie: Do you define net profits the same way I define net profits? Can I cancel if I don’t sell enough tickets?). It allows you to create benchmarks by which you can judge performance and good will (ie: Did the other party pay the deposit on time? Did the check clear?). It allows you to “test the waters” before jumping into a new relationship by first seeing if you and the other party can work together to resolve differences and challenges in the creation of the relationship in the first place.

Sometimes, having a contract can also provide you with leverage. If you can point out that the other party clearly did or didn’t do something which they clearly agreed to do or not do, that pressure alone can often be enough to force compliance. However, if the leverage doesn’t work, you are ultimately left with the sobering fact that the only way to enforce a breached contract is though a lawsuit (or arbitration, if your contract provided for that.) Even then, if you win a lawsuit, you still have to collect the money. A judgment does not automatically guarantee payment. (I’m working on a self-paying judgment, too, as soon as figure out how to change lead into gold.)

The key is not to let the situation get to the enforcement stage in the first place. While some contractual breaches are unavoidable, most are the result of one the parties ignoring warning signs or not taking advantage of the contractual process. For example, a recent client of mine negotiated the terms of an engagement which included the standard items such as dates, time, repertoire, and fees. Everyone agreed. However, when she sent the contract to the presenter, the presenter discovered that the artist expected additional costs to be paid for transportation. My client, on the other hand, discovered that the presenter wanted the artist to obtain insurance to cover all the members of his orchestra. Neither of these topics had been discovered during the initial discussions. Fortunately, both my client and the presenter took the time to read the contract. Even more fortunately, both parties scheduled a time to talk about their respective concerns, worked out compromises, re-drafted the contract, and everything worked out great. Similarly, I was recently negotiation a recording contract on behalf of an artist. When I tried to discuss certain contractual discrepancies and concerns with the other party, rather than engage in solutions, they merely insisted I should trust them and enter into the deal based on “good faith.” That made me trust them even less. My artist really wanted this deal, but I convinced them not to take the risk. In the end, we wound up finding a better deal.

In your case, if your contract provided for two deposits, and the promoter didn’t pay either one, at what point did you not realize that this train was going to jump the tracks? That’s like sending off a contract, not getting a response back from the presenter or manager, having the other party  ignore your phone calls and emails, and the pretending to be shocked to find out the deal is being cancelled…you can’t cancel what was never a deal in the first place. At the time the deadline for the first deposit came and went, that was your time to stop and evaluate whether or not to proceed. If, your professional judgment, it was worth waiting until the second deposit was due, great. However, by the time the second deposit deadline came, that should have been the time to bail. If you decided to rely solely on the contract to protect you, then you were also accepting the fact that if the presenter didn’t pay or cancelled at the last minute, you would have to enforce payment by filing a lawsuit. There are many times that rolling the dice makes legitimate business sense, but you have to accept that for what it is—gambling. Unless you want to incur legal fees and court costs, not to mention lost time, if you gamble and lose, move on.

This is inherently a risky business. Contracts allow you evaluate and, in some instances, minimalize risk, but never eliminate it. Only you can protect you. You and a little pixie dust.


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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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