What's Needed in a Band Agreement?


In this article, I provide a roadmap for bands. You will learn the key aspects of a band agreement which will hopefully push you to have that awkward conversation with your band NOW (otherwise you could become a horror story like these bands). The following questions are addressed:

  • Who owns the band name?

  • Who owns the music?

  • Who makes the decisions for the band?

  • What happens when a band member leaves?

  • Partnership or LLC?

Please make a note! Every explanation of law should start with “With some exceptions.” There are many exceptions and distinctions that exist, and it is far too burdensome to explain each one. It is important to know the basics so you know when legal consequences exist, but it’s also important to hire a lawyer to guide you through the exceptions and distinctions.


Who Owns the Band Name?

Or more importantly, who owns the band name if the band breaks up or a band member leaves?

This is the question haunting some famous bands of the seventies even today. As I always preach to my clients, you have to think of your band a multi-million dollar company NOW. You may not think your band name is worth much now, but either did the Rolling Stones when they first got started.


You must consider the circumstances surrounding your band. One member may be so important it makes sense for him/her to take the name when he leaves or the band breaks up. Or you could say the band name can only be continued to be used if a majority of members remain together.


Who Owns the Music?

What are the splits when it comes to publishing?

This usually gets tricky when every member is not contributing to the songwriting of the band. Keep in mind, publishing income is split into a publisher’s share and a writer’s share.


Scenario 1: Sometimes, the band will receive the entire publisher’s share (to be divided equally to every band member) and the actual songwriters keep all of the songwriter’s share. The breakdown would look like this.

Band Members: A, B and C.

Songwriters: A and B

Total Publishing Income: $120,000

Publisher’s Share: $60,000

A: $20,000

B: $20,000

C: $20,000

Songwriter’s Share: $60,000

A: $30,000

B: $30,000

C: $0


Scenario 2: The non-songwriting member of the band does not participate in publishing revenue. With the same scenario above:

Total Publishing Income: $120,000

Publisher’s Share: $60,000

A: $30,000

B: $30,000

C: $0

Songwriter’s Share: $60,000

A: $30,000

B: $30,000

C: $0


Scenario 3: Everyone participates equally in the publishing revenue, regardless of whether you are a songwriter. With the same scenario again.

Total Publishing Income: $120,000

Publisher’s Share: $60,000

A: $20,000

B: $20,000

C: $20,000

Songwriter’s Share: $60,000

A: $20,000

B: $20,000

C: $20,000


I often get asked “What’s fair?” But it is not a one-size-fits all analysis. Sometimes the non-writing member does other things he doesn’t get compensated for like social media or booking, and thus should obtain something in return. Other times the non-writing member is not as essential and may not necessarily deserve publishing income at the time. Keep in mind, you can always amend your agreement in the future to adjust for changed circumstances.


Decision Making?

Which members make what decisions?

Band decisions can be made by majority vote, unanimous vote, or votes made by key members of the band. Again, it is not a one-size-fits-all analysis. You may want the decision to be unanimous for major decisions like signing a record deal or voting out a member (unanimous other than the member being voted on of course) while majority voting required for branding and tour stop decisions.


When Happens to a Terminated Member?

Did he leave on his own or was he terminated and what does he still get?

The key items to consider when a member is leaving:

  • Keep obligations obtained while in band (i.e. tour commitment)?

  • Does he continue to receive revenue after leaving?

  • Buy-out provisions for assets of the band?

  • Use of band name by leaving member (you usually allow “former member of BAND”)?


Partnership or LLC?

The benefit of an LLC is the fact that, if run properly, your LLC limits the individual band members’ liability.


Therefore, one bandmember can’t get sued personally for issues that arose for acts by the other bandmembers, even when it relates to the band.


Keep in mind, a partnership is usually formed when two persons operate as if they co-own a business for profit, even if they don’t intend to form the partnership. Therefore, a partnership is formed without a formal agreement. The problem without a formal agreement: your state’s laws will automatically answer the questions asked above, rather than by an agreement in writing between the band members.


About Colin

Colin is the founder of Whiskey Ghost Entertainment Law based in Nashville, TN. Colin has represented independent musicians, record labels and publishers with a wide array of representation including the drafting, review and negotiation of record/publishing deals, distribution and band agreements. He has also assisted in the formation of LLC’s, trademark registration and much more. If you have a legal question, please don’t hesitate to email Colin at cmaher@whiskeyghost.com or call him at 615-721-2233.

This article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and me. Your use of this website is intended for general information purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act upon any information contained on this website without seeking professional counsel, licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for a particular problem.

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